General Problems of Acting-out : May 1949 (Montreal, Canada) : Phyllis Greenacre

by Julia Evans on May 1, 1949

Adapted from a paper read at the meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, May 1949, in Montreal.


Psychoanalytic Quarterly: IV : Vol 19 Pt 4 : 1950 : p455 – 467

Available here

Referred to by Jacques Lacan

Seminar X: 23rdJanuary 1963:

pIX 85 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : For people who may have to interest themselves in the near future in acting-out, I note the existence, in the Psychoanalytic Quarterly, of the article by Phyllis Greenacre; “General Problems of Acting-Out”. It is in Number IV of Volume 19 of 1950, so it is not impossible to find. It is a very interesting article in many ways, and evokes a memory for me: it was at the time about ten years ago [See reference below] when we had already received a visit from some investigators. Phyllis Greenacre, who was one of them, gave me the opportunity to observe a lovely acting-out, namely the frenetic masturbation, which she carried out before my eyes, of a little Japanese mussel fisherman, which I owned and which still carries the traces of it, I mean this object does.

pIX 86 of Cormac Gallagher’s translation : Acting-out is the sign all the same that one is preventing a lot of things. Is this what is involved, when Mrs Greenacre speaks about allowing a more solid transference to be established?

See also Minutes of the meeting of the International Psychoanalytical Association : 30th July 1953 : Dr Heinz Hartmann (IPA President & Chairman of the Meeting) or here

References to Sigmund Freud & others

FREUD: Psychopathology of Everyday Life. Chapters VIII, IX, London: Ernest Benn, 1914. : p455 of Greenacre : ‘Perhaps the earliest extensive discussion of acting out appeared in Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901) under the headings, Erroneously Carried-out Actions, and Symptomatic and Chance Actions. Particularly the Iatter chapter included some illustrations of what was later called acting out.’

The Psychopathology of Everyday Life : 1901 : Sigmund Freud : SE Vol. 6. pp. 8-12 :

Translated by Alan Tyson, Edited by James Strachey :

Chapter VIII : Bungled Actions

Chapter IX : Symptomatic ad Chance Actions

FENICHEL, OTTO : Neurotic Acting Out. Psa. Rev., XXXII, 1945b, p. 197 : also Collected Papers of Otto Fenichel, II : p296-304 : New York : Norton, 1954

FREUD : Further Recommendations in the Technique of Psychoanalysis : Recollection, Repetition and Working Through. Coll. Papers, II, Chapter XXXII.  :  Remembering, Repeating and Working Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psychoanalysis II) : 1914 :

p462-463 of Greenacre’s paper : In one of his early papers on technique, Freud discussed the subject of acting out, in accordance with the technical developments of that period (1914), and advised against encouraging it : ‘Allowing “repetition” during analytic treatment, which is the latest form of technique, constitutes a conjuring into existence of a piece of real li[e, and can therefore not always be harmless and indifferent in its effect on all cases. The whole question of “exacerbation of symptoms during treatment”, so often unavoidable, is linked up with this. . . .
[For the physician] recollection in the old style, reproduction in the mind, remains the goal of his endeavors. . . He sets about a perpetual struggle with the patient to keep all the impulses which he would like to carry into action within the boundaries of his mind, and when it is possible to divert into the work of recollection any impulse which the patient wants to discharge in action, he celebrates it as a special triumph for the analysis’.

Freud, S. (1914) Remembering, Repeating and Working Through (Further Recommendations in the Technique of Psychoanalysis II) SE 12:145 -156 [p1976] :

It has not been possible to find this exact quote. Here are some which are near, from James Strachey’s translation.

[p1978 Footnote 1] : …. There are some cases which behave like those under the hypnotic technique up to a point and only later cease to do so; but others behave differently from the beginning. If we confine ourselves to this second type in order to bring out the difference, we may say that the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as a memory but as an action; he repeats it, without, of course, knowing that he is repeating it.

[p1979] :  But if, as the analysis proceeds, the transference becomes hostile or unduly intense and therefore in need of repression, remembering at once gives way to acting out. From then onwards the resistances determine the sequence of the material which is to be repeated.

FREUD, ANNA : The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense, Chapter II. London: Hogarth Press, 1936. : From Page 28 : “CHAPTER 2  The Application of Analytic Technique to the Study of the Psychic Institutions

In my first chapter I have described the conditions under which psychoanalytic observation of the psychic processes has had to be conducted. In what follows I propose to give an account of the way in which our analytic technique, as it has developed, has accommodated itself to these conditions. : HYPNOTIC TECHNIQUE IN THE PREANALYTIC PERIOD”

GREENACRE, PHYLLIS : The Predisposition to Anxiety, Part II. This QUARTERLY,  X, 1941


Julia Evans

Practicing Lacanian Psychoanalyst, Earl’s Court, London


Other texts

Use of power here

Lacanian Transmission : here

Some Lacanian History : here

Topology : here

By Phyllis Greenacre here

By Sigmund Freud here

Notes on texts by Sigmund Freud : here

By Jacques Lacan here

Notes on texts by Jacques Lacan here