Newport Beach, Orange County- With the publication of The Ego and The Id (1932), Freud introduced his structural model of the mind consisting of three parts- the Ego, the Superego, and the Id. Years later, theorists began examining the processes of the unconscious, with emphasis on understanding the processes of the Ego. This school of thought is known as Ego Psychology. Ego psychologists were less interested in the deeply unconscious material of the Id, and more concerned with the wishes, fantasies, and fears that are closer to our consciousness and could be accessible if the defensive functions of the patient’s ego were worked on in psychotherapy. Ego psychologists also augmented the work of Freud by discovering the autonomous, conflict free functions of the Ego, such as reality testing and memory.
Unlike the Id, the Ego is a set of functions that adapt to life’s demands, finding ways that are acceptable within one’s family to handle the Id’s strivings. The Ego is developed throughout a person’s lifetime but patterns are often set in childhood. With the structural theory of Ego Psychology, theorists have a new way of understanding pathology, namely that the defenses that may be adaptive to childhood circumstances are maladaptive in adulthood. Some unconscious defensive processes include repression, regression, and denial. We all use these defense mechanisms at times, as all defense mechanisms can be adaptive and maladaptive, depending on the character style of the person.
Clinically speaking, the Ego psychologist helps the patient strengthen their Ego so that they can better cope with pressures from the Id, Superego, and society in general. Another clinical observation hailing from the Ego Psychology movement is the idea that psychological health involved not only having mature defenses but also being able to use a variety of defensive processes. Defense mechanisms arise to combat anxiety; if an individual only uses denial and projection to manage their anxious feelings, for example, one can be said to have Ego Rigidity. The purpose of therapy is to allow the patient to have several defense mechanisms in his or her arsenal when emotional conflict arises. Throughout the psychotherapeutic process, ego strength should improve, meaning a person’s capacity to accept reality even when it is extremely unpleasant.
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