Nathaniel C. Thorn, PsyD, is a 2012 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University New England.

Dissertation Committee

  • Theodore Ellenhorn, PhD (Committee Chair)
  • Robert May, PhD (Committee Member)
  • Colborn Smith, PhD (Committee Member)


psychoanalysis, repetition, regression, involuntary memories, transitional phenomena, generative returns

Document Type


Publication Date



This is a theoretical dissertation about the psychology of returning to the past. The purpose of this work is to examine the growth potential of psychological returns and to clarify and contribute to psychoanalytic theory. Special attention is given to involuntary memories, or integrative returns, which are illustrated by four vignettes taken from a mixture of sources. These experiences provide a contrast to familiar pathological returns, such as the return of the repressed and the repetition compulsion. Accordingly, generative returns are differentiated from non-generative returns. With this distinction in mind, psychoanalytic theories are reappraised. A variety of psychoanalytic concepts and practices are reinterpreted as instances of generative returns, including (but not limited to) Freud’s early cathartic method, transference repetition, regression in the service of the ego, and regression to dependence. Other psychoanalytic concepts, particularly those stemming from the theories of Klein and Bion, are applied to the psychology of returning in general. The literature converges on some basic themes that cohere in each of the two classifications of returns, generative and non-generative. The following themes are prevalent in generative returns: expanded range of experience; rediscovery and resumed development; open interaction between different levels of organization; disorganization and reorganization; recognition; continuity; sense of individual truth; and reflective distance. By contrast, non-generative returns tend to eclipse meaning and have a non-elaborative character; these are experiences of discontinuity and fragmentation; they have a quality of “itness,” and occur outside the borders of self-feeling, or the “I.” Based on the complementary study of both experience and theory, it is possible to identify a typical sequence in generative returns. This sequence or progression constitutes a basic model of generative returns. Throughout this study, many generative returns follow a general progression from an initial phase of receptivity, to one of reimmersion and reexperiencing, to a concluding phase of self-reflection and reconfiguration. This mode of returning in the psychological sphere is representative of a basic principle of psychological growth. The electronic version of this dissertation is freely accessible through the OhioLINK ETD center (