Ego psychology is the aspect of psychoanalytic theory concerned with how people adapt to the demands and possibilities of their worlds in accordance with their inner requirements. All substantial theories of personality refer to adaptation, but there are several features special to ego psychology. It offers by far the most elaborate picture of the adaptive apparatus and of the varied devices humans have for negotiating among their drives and their life situations. More than any other theory of psychology, it emphasizes the complicated transactions that go on in people's minds, of which many are outside conscious awareness. Norman A. Polansky argues that we must be disciplined enough to commit ourselves to one consistent line of theory if we are to harness reasoning to go beyond what we can directly observe.
Few who are, or aspire to be, caseworkers, therapists or counselors come to this book innocent of all the ideas contained herein. Much will seem familiar from previous training and from experiences with people. Moreover, many Freudian terms have been adopted into the working vocabularies of all educated people. Words like instinctual drive, defense mechanism, anxiety, guilt, conflict, unconscious, and the like, are used all the time in estimating each other. One task of Integrated Ego Psychology is defining such terms with precise meanings, as well as showing the logical connections among them.
Psychoanalytic theory has envolved for about a century, and some "grand simplicities" have finally emerged. This book, for practitioners, indicates the need for a theory to guide work if we are to help people effectively. The theory must be elaborate enough to cover a very wide range of human activity and it must meet certain other standards as well.