The psychoanalytic approach

      The psychoanalytic approach is the most famous approach in psychology, and usually when you mention psychology people tend to view it through this approach despite the fact that the creator of this approach was not a psychologist.

           Sigmund Freud is one of the famous thinkers of the 20’s century. He is known for his ideas on dreams, childhood, sexuality and the role of the unconscious mind. Freud distinguished himself academically at a very young age; he was an avid reader in the arts humanities and sciences. He attended the University of Vienna to study medicine, one of the few opportunities that Jewish people had back then and this actually granted him the chance to be a neurologist. However his interest in research was stopped by his professors who warned him that the research alone would not make him enough money so they encouraged him to work with patients and open a private practice.     

 Freud worked for several years in psychiatric clinics which made him grow an interest in hysteria “a nervous disorders in which people experience physical symptoms but have no physical disorder” therefore he goes to the “Salpêtrière” in Paris a place where Charcot had his famous studies on hysteria. Here Freud was taken away by the method used which is hypnosis, a method that he will let go later on in order for psychoanalysis to begin.

          At first Freud used to talk to his patients while they were in a hypnotic state. He believed that hysterical symptoms were related to painful events from childhood and he thought that if the patients could remember and talk about the first time they experienced their symptoms they would be relieved of their suffering.

        Discouraged by the results of hypnosis Freud used to discuss these problems with his colleagues and his friend Joseph Breuer and actually it was these discussions that marked the start of psychoanalysis.

          Gradually Freud abandoned the use of hypnosis and he used another method to help patients recall their earliest memories “free association”. In this technique he encouraged patients to talk freely without interruption or suggestion.

In 1895 Freud and Breuer publish a book “studies on Hysteria” where we can find an interesting case who they called “Anna O” in order to keep her identity unknown. Anna was first treated by Breuer between the years 1880-1882. She is a well educated woman who develops all kind of bizarre psychological symptoms like aphasia, paralysis of some parts of her body, visual impairment, amnesia and eating disorders. While treating her Breuer came up with a way of dealing with these symptoms which he called “the talking cure” a way of therapy in which the patient talks about the sources of his symptoms. However Breuer did not share his interpretations which caused the separation of the two men. Next to Anna O Freud detailed the cases of six patients in this book and outlined for the first time the techniques that will be later on the foundation of psychoanalysis, these techniques included the free association and another important concept “transference”, a process in which a patient transfers feelings from past relationships onto the relationship with the analyst.

         This actually marked the start for Freud, because later on he will announce another concept “the seduction theory” he thought that hysteria was caused by sexual abuses that happened during childhood, and this theory of course was based on the testimonies of his patients. However his patients were not the only source of his conclusions; he also practiced free association and dream interpretation on himself. In one of the letters he used to write to his friend Fleece he told him the important details of his self analysis. He had discovered intense feelings of love for his mother and jealousy and hatred for his father something that he will call later the “Oedipus complex”. He also believed that dreams provided access to a deeper understanding of behavior. He concluded that dreams revealed sexual and aggressive wishes from childhood. This idea actually was published by him in 1900 in his famous book “interpretation of dreams”.    

He also wrote another important book “psychopathology of everyday life” in which he described important mechanisms in psychoanalysis like slips of the tongue and forgetfulness. He also explained how these mechanisms reveal our hidden thoughts and feelings. Freud believed that when unconscious wishes were in conflict or when blocked they come out anyway as slips of the tongue, dreams or as neurotic symptoms.

       And of course Freud would not stop at this point, actually he will make the psychoanalytic approach not only a therapy approach but rather a broad theory that talks not only about pathologies but also about development. He will describe the five stages of psychosexual development oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital. He also created a new model of the mind the id, the ego and the super-ego which represent passion, rationality and moral judgment.

         While Anna Freud the daughter of Sigmund Freud continued the legacy of Freud with an emphasis on the ego and defense mechanisms Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, students of Freud, had different point of view.

          Alfred Adler talked about the inferiority complex instead of the Oedipus complex, he thought that it is the feeling of inferiority, inadequacy and insecurity that determines the goals of individual existence. On the other had Carl Jung talked about another concept which is the “collective unconscious”.

        The other American psychologists that came later and was influenced by the psychoanalytic approach extended this theory manly in its interaction with social context rather than its interaction with the self, and one of the famous names here is Erick Ericson.

       The work of Freud was and still highly criticized by academics due to its subjective method and bold ideas. However we cannot say that all the ideas of Freud were wrong because psychoanalysis has been developed and studied more like I said before and actually it is a theory that is still alive and an approach that is still used by some psychologists specially in therapy.

             Well it may sound confusing but I will sum up with the quotation of the famous physicist Wolfgang Pauli who in my oppinion explaid all this theory in one sentence. When asked about the theory of Freud he said "That guy’s work is crap. He’s not right. He’s not even wrong" and this is an idea to think about when studying psychoanalys.

See Also:

Structuralism and functionalism


Cognitive Revolution