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Defensive process and defensive organization: Their place in psycho-analytic technique

Author(s): Hoffer W


This reprinted article originally appeared in (International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 1954, 35, 194-198). (An abstract of this original article appeared in record 1955-02527-001.) During analysis, from beginning to end, both the analyst and the analysand are confronted with the latter's defensive organization. Perhaps the increased interest in the defensive processes of the ego may be attributed to this very fact. Hoffer remarks that all this concern is to be expected, for as long as psychoanalysis continues to deal with the phenomena of resistance and transference, curiosity about the ego's mechanisms of defense will be in the forefront. Freud's description of defenses as (1) patterned, (2) directed toward the interior, and (3) aimed at the prevention of mental pain still seems to be a most useful one. Hoffer suggests that the defensive processes and mechanisms be conceived of as being part of and operating within a defensive organization which is, in turn, a part of, though not identical with, the total ego organization. He warns against the ready tendency to regard all defenses as pathogenic, pointing out that some of the mechanisms (called successful defenses) are also "indispensable" to the patient's mental health. Anna Freud's schematic presentation of the contribution of certain defenses to personality organization is an excellent illustration of this well-taken thesis. Concluding with a discussion of technique, Dr. Hoffer finds that indiscriminate interpretation of the defensive aspects of personality may stimulate new, but not necessarily more expeditious, defenses, or cause the patient to adjust to the analytic situation and the technique of the individual analyst. He feels that the best technical management involves acquainting the patient with those mechanisms which he employed in his conflicted childhood and with their associated anxieties. Defenses are not in themselves pathological formations and should be handled as necessary and constructive concomitants of analytic reconstruction.

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