The Development of Psychic Structures from the Perspective of Psychoanalytical Developmental Psychology

Abstract of the lecture of

Psychoanalyst, Institute for Medico-Psychology, University of Vienna (Austria)

In the introduction I relativize the basic anthropological assumptions used in traditional psychotherapeutical methods, due to their generally speculative basis. I am conviced that a more serious empirical basis brings the different schools closer to one another. As the essential foundations for a generally acceptable theoretical foundation for the different schools, I hold out on the one hand system theory, and on the other hand, the empirical infant research of the past 20 years. The former creates for us the theoretical basis to understand the processes of living beings; the latter as delivered in countless studies, provides a completely new perspective of the capabilities and needs of a neonate, or small child. And, what is especially important is that this new perspective works well with the considerations of system theories. Nonetheless, numerous, perhaps even a majority of central psychoanalytical hypotheses are called into revision.

In system theory one works on the assumption that there is no initial state which is unorganized. Life is always connected in some kind of organization and is thereby proceeding with regulatory activities (self and mutually regulating). With this in mind, the examination today of neonates calls for numerous capabilities and needs. In this lecture, thirteen such capabilities present from birth or practically so, will be described, as will seven further capabilites which especially enable interpersonal contact for the neonate.

Certain capabilities, or "intuitive parenting", on the part of the caretaker are also called for, and are perhaps even genetically based. The sensiblility of the parental reaction may be divided into four components, which will be presented in the lecture.

The first two up to three months are mainly determined by the hetero-regulatory activities of the caretaker, who regulates the physiological processes of the infant. This, however, takes place within the context of a relationship; accordingly, then, in the interaction of two subject beings, even when the subjectivity of the infant is still rudimentarily formed in comparison. Should these regulatory processes occur more or less regularly (for example, forming a pattern), this leads to expectations of the motherly reactions. As the perceptions of the infant are stocked with scenes, which in turn are composed of a self, an object, a perception and an affect, the expectations are scenic in nature. They function as internal working models of the world, they regulate experiences and behaviours, and accordingly, are to be designated basic elements of that which we call psychic structure or organization.

Should the first phase be successfully mastered, a second type of contact emerges between mother and infant which is clearly more tinted by affect. Accordingly, affective regulatory elements of the relationship become predominant in this phase. This stirred M. MAHLER to speak of 'symbiotic consciousness', although in the meantime there has been a clear pulling away from this notion/term.

In light of the representations of both of these phases a general regularity of development will be worked out (the further developmental steps can not be presented due to lack of time). The less organized level is contained in the higher organized level; consequently, it remains activated while, nonetheless, taking a step into the background.

The development of higher levels of organization in the psychic structure leads to an increased capability for self-regulation, whereas, however, hetero-regulating elements contain fundamental meaning (which is nonetheless, not to be mistaken for dependence).

This is a provisional abstract of the lecture. The final and complete version has been published in German in GTA's journal GESTALT THEORY, 19, pp 165-177: Die Entwicklung psychischer Strukturen aus der Sicht der empirischen Säuglingsforschung.

Back to conference program 1997 in English.
Zum Tagungsprogramm 1997 in Deutsch.

Click here for a list of on-line abstracts of lectures at the Scientific Conventions of the GTA since 1997

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Most recent revision: 19.8.2000