Psychoanalysis: Freud’s Revolutionary Approach to Human Personality
This paper focuses on Freud’s revolutionary theory of psychoanalysis and whether psychoanalysis should be considered a “great” idea in personality. The fundamental principles of the theory are developed and explained. In addition, the views of experts are reviewed, and many of the criticisms and strengths of various aspects of Freud’s theory are examined and explained. Upon consideration, the author considers psychoanalysis to be a valuable theory despite its weaknesses because it is comprehensive, serendipitous, innovative, and has withstood the test of time. Consequently, the author contends that psychoanalysis is indeed a “great” idea in personality.
As a therapy, psychoanalysis is based on the concept that individuals are unaware of the many factors that cause their behavior and emotions. These unconscious factors have the potential to produce unhappiness, which in turn is expressed through a score of distinguishable symptoms, including disturbing personality traits, difficulty in relating to others, or disturbances in self-esteem or general disposition (American Psychoanalytic Association, 1998).Psychoanalytic treatment is highly individualized and seeks to show how the unconscious factors affect behavior patterns, relationships, and overall mental health. Treatment traces the unconscious factors to their origins, shows how they have evolved and developed over the course of many years, and subsequently helps individuals to overcome the challenges they face in life (National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, 1998).
In addition to being a therapy, psychoanalysis is a method of understanding mental functioning and the stages of growth and development. Psychoanalysis is a general theory of individual human behavior and experience, and it has both contributed to and been enriched by many other disciplines. Psychoanalysis seeks to explain the complex relationship between the body and the mind and furthers the understanding of the role of emotions in medical illness and health. In addition, psychoanalysis is the basis of many other approaches to therapy. Many insights revealed by psychoanalytic treatment have formed the basis for other treatment programs in child psychiatry, family therapy, and general psychiatric practice (Farrell, 1981, p. 202).
The value and validity of psychoanalysis as a theory and treatment have been questioned since its inception in the early 1900s. Critics dispute many aspects of psychoanalysis including whether or not it is indeed a science; the value of the data upon which Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, based his theories; and the method and effectiveness of psychoanalytic treatment. There has been much criticism as well as praise regarding psychoanalysis over the years, but a hard look at both the positive and negative feedback of critics of psychoanalysis shows, in my opinion, that psychoanalysis is indeed a “great idea” in personality that should not be overlooked.
The Origins of Psychoanalysis
Sigmund Freud was the first psychoanalyst and a true pioneer in the recognition of the importance of unconscious mental activity. His theories on the inner workings of the human mind, which seemed so revolutionary at the turn of the century, are now widely accepted by most schools of psychological thought. In 1896, Freud coined the term “psychoanalysis,” and for the next forty years of his life, he worked on thoroughly developing its main principles, objectives, techniques, and methodology.Freud’s many writings detail many of his thoughts on mental life, including the structural theory of the mind, dream interpretation, the technique of psychoanalysis, and assorted other topics. Eventually psychoanalysis began to thrive, and by 1925, it was established around the world as a flourishing movement. Although for many years Freud had been considered a radical by many in his profession, he was soon accepted and well-known worldwide as a leading expert in psychoanalysis (Gay, 1989, p. xii). In 1939, Freud succumbed to cancer after a lifetime dedicated to psychological thought and the development of his many theories (Gay, 1989, p. xx).
Although Freud’s life had ended, he left behind a legacy unmatched by any other, a legacy that continues very much to this day. Whereas new ideas have enriched the field of psychoanalysis and techniques have adapted and expanded over the years, psychoanalysts today, like Freud, believe that psychoanalysis is the most effective method of obtaining knowledge of the mind. Through psychoanalysis, patients free themselves from terrible mental anguish and achieve greater understanding of themselves and others.
Principles of Freud’s Theory of Psychoanalysis
In An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud (1949) explains the principal tenets on which psychoanalytic theory is based. He begins with an explanation of the three forces of the psychical apparatus–the id, the ego, and the superego. The id has the quality of being unconscious and contains everything that is inherited, everything that is present at birth, and the instincts (Freud, 1949, p. 14). The ego has the quality of being conscious and is responsible for controlling the demands of the id and of the instincts, becoming aware of stimuli, and serving as a link between the id and the external world. In addition, the ego responds to stimulation by either adaptation or flight, regulates activity, and strives to achieve pleasure and avoid unpleasure (Freud, 1949, p. 14-15). Finally, the superego, whose demands are managed by the id, is responsible for the limitation of satisfactions and represents the influence of others, such as parents, teachers, and role models, as well as the impact of racial, societal, and cultural traditions (Freud, 1949, p. 15).Freud states that the instincts are the ultimate cause of all behavior. The two basic instincts are Eros (love) and the destructive or death instinct. The purpose of Eros is to establish and preserve unity through relationships. On the other hand, the purpose of the death instinct is to undo connections and unity via destruction (Freud, 1949, p. 18). The two instincts can either operate against each other through repulsion or combine with each other through attraction (Freud, 1949, p. 19).
Freud (1949) contends that sexual life begins with manifestations that present themselves soon after birth (p. 23). The four main phases in sexual development are the oral phase, the sadistic-anal phase, the phallic phase, and the genital phase, and each phase is characterized by specific occurrences. During the oral phase, the individual places emphasis on providing satisfaction for the needs of the mouth, which emerges as the first erotogenic zone (Freud, 1949, p. 24). During the sadistic-anal phase, satisfaction is sought through aggression and in the excretory function. During the phallic phase, the young boy enters the Oedipus phase where he fears his father and castration while simultaneously fantasizing about sexual relations with his mother (Freud, 1949, p. 25). The young girl, in contrast, enters the Electra phase, where she experiences penis envy, which often culminates in her turning away from sexual life altogether. Following the phallic phase is a period of latency, in which sexual development comes to a halt (Freud, 1949, p. 23). Finally, in the genital phase, the sexual function is completely organized and the coordination of sexual urge towards pleasure is completed. Errors occurring in the development of the sexual function result in homosexuality and sexual perversions, according to Freud (1949, p. 27).
Freud (1949) defines the qualities of the psychical process as being either conscious, preconscious, or unconscious (p. 31). Ideas considered to be conscious are those of which we are aware, yet they remain conscious only briefly. Preconscious ideas are defined as those that are capable of becoming conscious. In contrast, unconscious ideas are defined as those that are not easily accessible but can be inferred, recognized, and explained through analysis (Freud, 1949, p. 32).
Freud spent many years hypothesizing about the role of dreams and their interpretation. He defines the states of sleep to be a period of uproar and chaos during which the unconscious thoughts of the id attempt to force their way into consciousness (Freud, 1949, p. 38). In order to interpret a dream, which develops from either the id or the ego, certain assumptions must be made, including the acknowledgment that what is recalled from a dream is only a facade behind which the meaning must be inferred. Dreams are undoubtedly caused by conflict and are characterized by their power to bring up memories that the dreamer has forgotten, their strong use of symbolism, and their ability to reproduce repressed impressions of the dreamer’s childhood (Freud, 1949, p. 40). In addition, dreams, which are fulfillments of wishes, according to Freud (1949), are capable of bringing up impressions that cannot have originated from the dreamer’s life (Freud, 1949, p. 45).
The basic objective of psychoanalysis is to remove neuroses and thereby cure patients by returning the damaged ego to its normal state (Freud, 1949, p. 51). During analysis, a process that often takes many years, patients tell analysts both what they feel is important and what they consider to be unimportant. An aspect of analysis that has both positive and negative repercussions is transference, which occurs when patients view their analysts as parents, role models, or other figures from their past. Transference causes patients to become concerned with pleasing their analysts and, as a result, patients lose their rational aim of getting well (Freud, 1949, p. 52).
The method of psychoanalysis involves several significant steps. First, analysts gather material with which to work from patients’ free associations, results of transference, dream interpretation, and the patients’ slips and parapraxes (Freud, 1949, p. 56). Second, analysts begin to form hypotheses about what happened to the patients in the past and what is currently happening to them in their daily life. It is important that analysts relay the conclusions at which they arrive based on their observations only after the patients have reached the same conclusions on their own accord. Should analysts reveal their conclusions to patients too soon, resistance due to repression occurs. Overcoming this resistance requires additional time and effort by both the analysts and the patients. Once patients accept the conclusions, they are cured (Freud, 1949, p. 57).
In the final chapters of An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud (1949) insists that it is neither practical nor fair to scientifically define what is normal and abnormal, and despite his theory’s accuracy, “reality will always remain unknowable” (p. 83). He claims that although his theory is correct to the best of his knowledge, “it is unlikely that such generalizations can be universally correct” (Freud, 1949, p. 96).
Evaluating the Criticisms of Psychoanalysis
In his “Précis of The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique,” Grünbaum (1986) asserts that “while psychoanalysis may thus be said to be scientifically alive, it is currently hardly well” (p. 228). The criticisms of Freud’s theory can be grouped into three general categories. First, critics contend that Freud’s theory is lacking in empirical evidence and relies too heavily on therapeutic achievements, whereas others assert that even Freud’s clinical data are flawed, inaccurate, and selective at best. Second, the actual method or techniques involved in psychoanalysis, such as Freud’s ideas on the interpretation of dreams and the role of free association, have been criticized. Finally, some critics assert that psychoanalysis is