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, 47 (4), 1061-106

The Scientific Status of Unconscious Processes: Is Freud Really Dead?

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The Scientific Status of Unconscious Processes: Is Freud Really Dead?

D Westen. J Am Psychoanal Assoc.

Abstract

At regular intervals for over half a century, critiques of Freud and psychoanalysis have emerged in the popular media and in intellectual circles, usually declaring that Freud has died some new and agonizing death, and that the enterprise he created should be buried along with him like the artifacts in the tomb of an Egyptian king. Although the critiques take many forms, a central claim has long been that unconscious processes, like other psychoanalytic constructs, lack any basis in scientific research. In recent years, however, a large body of experimental research has emerged in a number of independent literatures. This work documents the most fundamental tenet of psychoanalysis--that much of mental life is unconscious, including cognitive, affective, and motivational processes. This body of research suggests some important revisions in the psychoanalytic understanding of unconscious processes, but it also points to the conclusion that, based on controlled scientific investigations alone (that is, without even considering clinical data), the repeated broadside attacks on psychoanalysis are no longer tenable.

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