Ego-Psychology and the Psychoses

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Ego-Psychology and the Psychoses consists of Edoardo Weiss's compilation of sixteen of Paul Federn's papers on ego psychology, his primary field. Federn (1871-1950), a member of Freud's inner circle, was one of the first psychoanalysts to treat psychotics. His psychoanalytic understanding was influenced by a phenomenological focus, his definition of the ego was experiential, and his major concepts were ego feelings, ego boundaries and ego states. As he understood it, in schizophrenia the ego is too weak to sustain the dominance of advanced ego states essential for mature functioning, due to overly-strong fixations on primitive ego states. Federn saw the prodromal phase of psychosis as beginning with a loss of ego cathexis, while Freud (1911c [1910]) emphasized the withdrawal of object cathexis. Federn supported his position by the observation that psychotics may maintain object interest in the presence of feelings of estrangement. Part of the difference in their respective formulations lay in the fact that Freud was attempting to explain the rapid appearance of delusions following a traumatic disappointment, while Federn focused on the incremental development of delusional ideas.

Federn recognized that psychotics were capable of strong transferences, which rendered them analyzable, but he also emphasized the challenge presented by the psychotic's mal-developed ego, idiosyncratic understanding of reality, and excessive, pathological narcissism. Federn held that these factors require a different application of psychoanalytic knowledge than the approach developed for the neurotic. His detailed treatment recommendations for psychotics were based on the implications of ego weaknesses. Regarding the understanding of the treatment of psychoses, Federn's concept of ego feelings preceded later interest in the sense of self, his view of faulty ego cathexis anticipated deficit theories of schizophrenia, and his work on the outer ego boundary shed light on contemporary concerns with narcissistic object relations. His phenomenological insights and the problems with which he grappled have been of more lasting value than some of his detailed theoretical formulations.

Marvin Hurvich

See also: Ego alterations; Ego; Ego (Ego psychology); Ego feeling; Federn, Paul.

Source Citation

Federn, Paul. (1952). Ego psychology and the psychoses. (Edoardo Weiss, Ed.). New York: Basic Books.


Bergmann, Martin S. (1963). The place of Paul Federn's ego psychology in psychoanalytic metapsychology. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 11, 97-116.

Freud, Sigmund. (1911c [1910]). Psychoanalytic notes on an autobiographical account of a case of paranoia. SE, 12: 3-82. London: Hogarth Press.

Pao, Ping-Nie. (1979). Schizophrenic disorders: Theory and treatment from a psychodynamic point of view. New York: International Universities Press.

Weiss, Edoardo. (1966). Paul Federn: The theory of the psychoses. In F. Alexander, S. Eisenstein and M. Grotjan (Eds.), Psychoanalytic pioneers (pp. 142-159). New York: Basic Books.