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J Am Psychoanal Assoc. 2007 Winter;55(1):199-228.

Unconscious fantasy: a once and future concept.

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Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis, USA.


The concept of unconscious fantasy should be retained as fundamental to any psychoanalytic approach. The concept is reexamined in the face of two challenges: today's theoretical pluralism and the recent integration of findings from academic research. The first section reviews post-Freudian theoretical contributions to Freud's original concept, concluding that in its evolved form it is flexible enough to serve multiple perspectives. The second section examines four features identified with primary process thinking, demonstrating that a model of early mentation based on adult dream work cannot be supported by research on early development. However, the contemporary concept of unconscious fantasy is compatible with research findings from child development studies and cognitive neuroscience, permitting psychoanalysts to enter dialogue with those fields. Our contribution is not the posit of a new form of thinking (primary process) but an understanding of how general cognitive processes are enlisted for motivated purposes.

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