Ego Analysis, A Formal Introduction

“Ego analysis” sounds familiar, but is a term now rarely used. Although it is not listed in the index to the Standard Edition, Freud did use the term once, in Analysis Terminable and Interminable (l937, p. 238), there recommending that interpretations must swing “backwards and forwards like a pendulum between a piece of id analysis and a piece of ego analysis.” So the first thing to say about the distinction between ego analysis and id analysis is that it refers to two different kinds of interpretations.

Fenichel (l94l) took this distinction further four years later, in his classic small monograph, Problems of Psychoanalytic Technique, using the term ego analysis to refer to a whole strategy of interpretation, typically referred to as defense-before-drive, that he believed followed directly from Freud’s post-l920 insights into the ego and superego. This is to say that, flowing from the structural theory, ego analysis was a new technical paradigm. Thus, Fenichel could even say that “all analysis is really ego analysis” (p. 56). He meant all analysis that incorporated the new principles. He specifically cited as examples of id analysis, that is the earlier paradigm, the work of Nunberg, Bergler, and Alexander.

No one has followed Fenichel’s lead in identifying ego analysis as a new analytic paradigm, although in his time his authority in the field rivaled that of Freud and his monograph is still required reading. The received version has been that ego analysis and id analysis complement one another (for a discussion of the two versions of ego analysis, see Apfelbaum & Gill, 1989). Had it not been for Fenichel’s untimely death at the age of 48 in l946, his monograph would not have had to stand on its own as the only treatise on ego analysis.

From Fenichel’s point of view the fact that even the term “ego analysis” has fallen into disuse reflects the persistence of the classical, that is, id analytic paradigm. For Fenichel that means a neglect of the surface, as in his famous dictum that when an interpretation is ineffective, one should ask oneself the question: “How could I have interpreted more superficially?”

Before l920, in what we can call the id analysis period, when the goal was to make the unconscious conscious, interpretations took the form of naming the warded-off contents. Fenichel’s thesis was that Freud’s post-l920 insights into the functions of the ego/superego demanded a new respect for the resistance to this naming of the warded-off contents, but many analysts simply assimilated the new insights into the original model, as illustrated by Alexander’s (l935, p. 234) proposition that: “Mostly the verbalization [by the analyst] of what the patient is resisting diminishes the resistance itself.” This is the id analytic argument that depth interpretations go to the heart of the matter, making resistance interpretations—or, more broadly, ego interpretations—less necessary.

The ego psychologists and the self psychologists have accepted the id analytic premise that interpretation invariably causes shock to the ego, and therefore have cautioned against using interpretation without taking into account ego strength, developmental level, and degree of self-cohesiveness.

The ego analytic position is that these cautions only apply to interpretations from the side of the id. However, our argument is that this kind of interpretation is never appropriate and, further, that interpretations are especially called for in cases of disturbed ego functioning, but the interpretations must be from the side of the ego. This is illustrated in Ego Analysis Vs. Self Psychology.


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