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Bion first mentioned a beta-screen in his description of the contact-barrier in Learning from Experience (pp. 17-23, 1962). A beta-screen forms when there is a deficiency in alpha-functioning and beta-elements replace the contact-barrier.

When a beta-screen is formed there is no communication between the conscious and unconscious. Rational thought up to a point can exist, but cut off from emotional meaning. A beta-screen forms an impenetrable barrier. It is a defense against any meaningful emotional experience. As the beta-screen is composed of beta-elements which lend themselves to projective identification, it also manifests itself in a bombardment directed both against the alpha-functioning of the patient himself and against any external object susceptible to arousing meaningful feelings. In analysis, the patient bombards the analyst with confused fragmentary material imbued with violence and directed against the analyst's attempt to get in touch with an emotionally significant experience.

Hanna Segal

See also: Beta-elements; Contact-barrier.


Bion, Wilfred R. (1962). Learning from experience. London: Heinemann; New York: Basic Books.

. (1963). Elements of psycho-analysis. London: Heinemann.