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Ego-psychology

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French: psychologie du moi

School

Ego-psychology is a school of post-Freudian psychoanalysis, derived from child psychology, Freud's second topography and Anna Freud's work on the ego and its defences. It is based on an elaboration of Freud's structural model of the mind, which focuses almost entirely on the function of the ego in mediating between the conflicting demands of the instinctual id, the moralistic superego and external reality.

Ego psychology developed in the United States in the years following the Second World War and focused on ways of strengthening the defence mechanisms of the conscious mind rather than the unconscious motivation of our actions, as in classical psychoanalysis.

Rudolph Loewenstein, Lacan's training analyst, had been one of the founding fathers of Ego psychology, having fled Nazi persecution in the 1940s.

Autonomous Ego

Founded by European immigrants, this school of psychoanalysis overemphasized adjustment and adaptation of the individual to existing social conditions. In the view of the American analysts the ego is to be protected, the job of analysis is to reinforce the ego against the demands of the instinctual id, the moralistic superego and external reality. Ego-psychologists, like Heinz Hartmann, Ernst Kris and Rudolph Loewenstein, asserted that the ego had an aspect that was not tied up with the individual's neurotic conflicts. There was a conflict-free zone (the "autonomous ego"), which seemed free to act and choose, independent of constraints.

Treatment

In their view the analyst's role was to become an ally of the 'healthy' ego forces in their struggle to dominate instincts and drives. It was said that the patient, in order to strengthen his or her "autonomous ego", should identify with the ego of the psychoanalyst. Hence it was the analyst's job to develop a powerful ego.

History

Ego-psychology was taken to the United States by the Austrian analysts who emigrated there in the late 1930s, and since the early 1950s it has been the dominant school of psychoanalysis not only in the United States but also in the whole of the IPA. This position of dominance has enabled ego-psychology to present itself as the inheritor of Freudian psychoanalysis in its purist form, when in fact there are radical differences between some of its tenets and Freud's work.

For much of his professional life, Lacan disputed ego-psychology's claim to be the true heir to the Freudian legacy, even though Lacan's analyst, Rudolph Loewenstein, was one of ego-psychology's founding fathers.

Criticism

Lacan attacks this position with many arguments. First, he criticizes the ego-psychologist's concept of a "healthy part" of the ego. How, asks Lacan, can they know which "part" is "healthy"? Lacan challenged all the central concepts of ego-psychology, such as the concepts of adaptation and the autonomous ego. Does this not assume that the purpose of analysis is achieved by an identification with the analyst's ego? Is the goal of psychoanalysis to bring the patient to see the world as the analyst sees it? Lacan traces most of ego-psychology's problems and contradictions to the idea that there is an "objective", "knowable" reality.

For Lacan, the ego is the enemy. The origin of the ego is in the mirror phase. The mirror, held by the mother, proffers the developmentally half-formed and muscularly uncontrolled child its first idea of itself as a stable unified appearance. The ego is constituted by "alienating identifications". Lacan's own conception of the ego suggests that it must be profoundly distrusted because it is unable to discriminate the subject's own desires from the desires of others.

According to Lacan, the ego is not autonomous, but subordinated and alienated to the people and images with which it has identified during its development. He thought that an analysis had failed if it ended with the analysand identifying with the analyst. At the conclusion of therapy, what should have disappeared is the armour of the ego, the glass cage of narcissistic illusions.

See Also

References