Research Topic

Recent Empirical Research and Methodologies in Defense Mechanisms

About this Research Topic

The importance of unconscious defense mechanisms in protecting individuals from anxiety related to internal conflicts and external stressors has been extensively studied. Defense mechanisms are relevant indicators of psychological functioning across the lifespan, with adaptive defensive functioning being associated with myriad positive outcomes. Maladaptive or inadequate defenses are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms, personality disorders, impairment in occupational functioning, problematic relationships, passivity in psychotherapy, and poorer physical health outcomes.

Examining defense mechanisms in action within clinical settings has the potential to help identifying patients’ defensive profiles and detect changes that underlie successful treatment outcomes. Changes in defense mechanisms during psychotherapy provide information about patient responses to treatment and may be used as outcome indicators of patient adjustment. Progress has been made in developing valid measures assessing defense mechanisms, some of which are able to detect the complex unconscious nature of defenses referring to the empirically validated hierarchy of defense mechanisms.

Despite the increase of research findings proving the validity of theoretical background, defense mechanisms have been excluded from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) because of insufficient empirical evidence. Further studies are needed to fill this gap and reconsider the analysis of defensive functioning within the diagnostic process.

This Frontiers in Psychology Research Topic will include interdisciplinary scholarship, from a range of theoretical orientations (i.e. dynamic, cognitive, systemic, psychoanalysis, etc.), that has investigated defense mechanisms in both clinical and non-clinical populations. Research investigating the impact of defensive functioning on psychological well-being, symptoms, treatment, and outcome are welcome. Relevant studies that bridge various psychological constructs with defense mechanisms will also be considered.

We are interested in both empirical and theoretical contributions related to:
• Assessment of defensive functioning in clinical population (e.g. inpatients, outpatients, clients)
• Validation studies of measures for defense mechanism assessment
• The role of defense mechanisms and adjustment in children, adolescents and young adults
• Psychological health and defensive functioning
• Process-outcome research involving defense mechanisms (e.g. research in psychotherapy, follow-up studies)


Keywords: Defense Mechanism, Personality, Psychological Functioning, Adjustment, Psychotherapy, Outcome, Assessment, Development, Distress


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

The importance of unconscious defense mechanisms in protecting individuals from anxiety related to internal conflicts and external stressors has been extensively studied. Defense mechanisms are relevant indicators of psychological functioning across the lifespan, with adaptive defensive functioning being associated with myriad positive outcomes. Maladaptive or inadequate defenses are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms, personality disorders, impairment in occupational functioning, problematic relationships, passivity in psychotherapy, and poorer physical health outcomes.

Examining defense mechanisms in action within clinical settings has the potential to help identifying patients’ defensive profiles and detect changes that underlie successful treatment outcomes. Changes in defense mechanisms during psychotherapy provide information about patient responses to treatment and may be used as outcome indicators of patient adjustment. Progress has been made in developing valid measures assessing defense mechanisms, some of which are able to detect the complex unconscious nature of defenses referring to the empirically validated hierarchy of defense mechanisms.

Despite the increase of research findings proving the validity of theoretical background, defense mechanisms have been excluded from the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) because of insufficient empirical evidence. Further studies are needed to fill this gap and reconsider the analysis of defensive functioning within the diagnostic process.

This Frontiers in Psychology Research Topic will include interdisciplinary scholarship, from a range of theoretical orientations (i.e. dynamic, cognitive, systemic, psychoanalysis, etc.), that has investigated defense mechanisms in both clinical and non-clinical populations. Research investigating the impact of defensive functioning on psychological well-being, symptoms, treatment, and outcome are welcome. Relevant studies that bridge various psychological constructs with defense mechanisms will also be considered.

We are interested in both empirical and theoretical contributions related to:
• Assessment of defensive functioning in clinical population (e.g. inpatients, outpatients, clients)
• Validation studies of measures for defense mechanism assessment
• The role of defense mechanisms and adjustment in children, adolescents and young adults
• Psychological health and defensive functioning
• Process-outcome research involving defense mechanisms (e.g. research in psychotherapy, follow-up studies)


Keywords: Defense Mechanism, Personality, Psychological Functioning, Adjustment, Psychotherapy, Outcome, Assessment, Development, Distress


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

31 July 2020 Abstract
31 December 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

31 July 2020 Abstract
31 December 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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