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A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Trauma: Post-Traumatic Mental Functioning, the Zero Process, and the Construction of Reality
Joseph Fernando
IPA & Routledge / Softcover / Dec 2022
9781032254425 (ISBN-10: 1032254424)
Psychoanalysis / Forthcoming
price: $56.50 (may be subject to change)
304 pages
Not Yet Published

A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Trauma presents a theory of the nature of trauma and post traumatic mental functioning based on the concept of the ‘zero process’.

Joseph Fernando presents a novel, comprehensive, and clinically useful theory of trauma. The author first presents theories of trauma and describes the zero process, related to the breakdown of various ego functions, such as memory and integration, during trauma. Rather than replacing Freud’s ideas of the primary process and repression, Fernando expands on the idea of the mind to include both types of functioning, identifies how they can be differentiated, and examines the different therapeutic techniques they require. He also considers how trauma impacts the construction of reality, the role of human development, the relation of trauma and borderline disorders, and the development of therapeutic technique. Through the unique illustration and narration of cases of three patients, Fernando presents conceptual and clinical innovations.

A Psychoanalytic Understanding of Trauma will be of great interest to psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists in practice and in training.


"Dr. Fernando is an exciting psychoanalytic thinker and contemporary ego psychologist, whose creativity, riveting clinical acumen and scholarship show especially in the presentation of his new concept, "zero process" in illumination of how a traumatized person’s mind functions. This work is fresh and brilliantly helpful to everyday practice." - Rosemary Balsam M.D., Yale Medical School; Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis

"With a deft blending of the modern conflict theory of psychoanalysis with advanced studies of psychic trauma, the perspective of drives, and the work of Bion and contemporary French contributors, Joseph Fernando offers us an expanded and deepened view of the traumatized mind. An original contribution in this setting is his concept of the 'zero process' denoting the mental functioning left over after the ordinary construction of reality is shattered. Providing ample clinical illustrations, he lucidly presents the explicatory and therapeutic value of such conceptualization. This is an important book and deserves our serious attention." - Salman Akhtar, M.D. Professor of Psychiatry, Jefferson Medical College Training and Supervising Analyst, Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia

"With his zero process theory, Joseph Fernando develops a unique psychoanalytic theory of trauma based on Freud's concepts and theories. With his theoretical approach and his detailed clinical descriptions of post-traumatic memories, symptoms, and disorders, he opens up a deeper understanding of how the traumatic mind works. He succeeds in shedding new light on hitherto inadequately understood traumatic phenomena, thus providing new directions for their therapeutic treatment. Fernando's book is an outstanding theoretical and clinically convincing contribution to the field of trauma research." - Werner Bohleber, PhD, Psychoanalyst, Former Editor of the German Psychoanalytic Journal PSYCHE

"There are many ideas in this new book that I totally subscribe to; others that, unsurprisingly, I would formulate differently. What really matters, however, is that the ideas contained here are at once bold, rational, thought-provoking, and clinically useful. Joseph Fernando’s work in general, and this book in particular, demonstrate something of great importance to me: that metapsychology is alive and kicking; that it is a field open to revision and to new and original contributions; that it is inseparable from – and vital for – clinical thinking in psychoanalysis." - Dominique Scarfone, Training and supervising analyst at the Canadian Psychoanalytic Society and Institute

Table of Contents

Series Editor’s Forward by Gabriela Legorreta




Chapter 1 The Traumatic Process

Lack of preparedness, and being overwhelmed

Triggers, repetitions, and conversion symptoms

Repression, dissociation, and ego shut down

Fixation to trauma

Overwhelming from outside versus overwhelming from inside

Chapter 2 Trauma, the Zero Process, and the Construction of Reality

Traumatic memories and the construction of reality

The zero process, the primary process, and the secondary process

Some applications: mourning, intergenerational transmission of trauma, and internal objects

A trip down memory lane

Chapter 3 Zero Process Drives and Zero Process Defenses

The zero process drive



Zero process denial and temporal shifting

Dissociative identity disorder and splitting of the identity

Chapter 4 The Relation of Trauma and the Zero Process to Borderline Disorders

The zero process, the primary process, and the secondary process revisited

Dynamics, deficits, and development in borderline disorders

Repression, Internalization, and trauma

Projective identification, identification with the aggressor, and splitting of the identity

Chapter 5 Therapeutic Technique

Approaching the zero process

The relation of the analysis of the zero process to the analysis of other phenomena

The central post-traumatic complex






About the Author:

Joseph Fernando is Director of the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis, Canada. He has had a full time psychoanalytic clinical practice, and taught and supervised students, for over 30 years. He is a Gradiva award winning author and has published widely and presented his ideas internationally.

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