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Psychoanalysis: Freud's Revolutionary Approach to Human Personality

This project 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).

in my opinion. the founder of psychoanalysis.The value and validity of psychoanalysis as a theory and treatment have been questioned since its inception in the early 1900s. the value of the data upon which Freud. 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. and the method and effectiveness of psychoanalytic treatment. . Critics dispute many aspects of psychoanalysis including whether or not it is indeed a science. that psychoanalysis is indeed a "great idea" in personality that should not be overlooked. based his theories.

p. and methodology. dream interpretation. 1989. Through psychoanalysis. he left behind a legacy unmatched by any other.The Origins of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud was the first psychoanalyst and a true pioneer in the recognition of the importance of unconscious mental activity. Freud succumbed to cancer after a lifetime dedicated to psychological thought and the development of his many theories (Gay. 1989. techniques. like Freud. he was soon accepted and well-known worldwide as a leading expert in psychoanalysis (Gay. In 1896. Whereas new ideas have enriched the field of psychoanalysis and techniques have adapted and expanded over the years. Freud's many writings detail many of his thoughts on mental life. and by 1925. In 1939. a legacy that continues very much to this day. he worked on thoroughly developing its main principles. Freud coined the term "psychoanalysis." and for the next forty years of his life. Although Freud's life had ended. xii). which seemed so revolutionary at the turn of the century. p. and assorted other topics. psychoanalysts today. xx). patients free themselves from terrible mental anguish and achieve greater understanding of themselves and others. including the structural theory of the mind. objectives. Eventually psychoanalysis began to thrive. 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. are now widely accepted by most schools of psychological thought. the technique of psychoanalysis. believe that psychoanalysis is the most effective method of obtaining knowledge of the mind. His theories on the inner workings of the human mind.

societal. 1949. Following the phallic phase is a period of latency. the sadistic-anal phase. The young girl. 14). 1949. 1949. and serving as a link between the id and the external world. During the sadistic-anal phase. the purpose of the death instinct is to undo connections and unity via destruction (Freud. and role models. In addition. everything that is present at birth. teachers. p. During the phallic phase. Freud (1949) explains the principal tenets on which psychoanalytic theory is based. During the oral phase. which often culminates in her turning away from sexual life altogether. 23). Freud (1949) contends that sexual life begins with manifestations that present themselves soon after birth (p. The purpose of Eros is to establish and preserve unity through relationships. where she experiences penis envy. which emerges as the first erotogenic zone (Freud.Principles of Freud's Theory of Psychoanalysis In An Outline of Psychoanalysis. 1949. and cultural traditions (Freud. the young boy enters the Oedipus phase where he fears his father and castration while simultaneously fantasizing about sexual relations with his mother (Freud. Finally. the superego. as well as the impact of racial. and the superego. The two instincts can either operate against each other through repulsion or combine with each other through attraction (Freud. p. the phallic phase. the ego. satisfaction is sought through aggression and in the excretory function. 14-15). the individual places emphasis on providing satisfaction for the needs of the mouth. p. 25). whose demands are managed by the id. is responsible for the limitation of satisfactions and represents the influence of others. and the instincts (Freud. regulates activity. p. and strives to achieve pleasure and avoid unpleasure (Freud. 1949. 1949. enters the Electra phase. becoming aware of stimuli. Freud states that the instincts are the ultimate cause of all behavior. The id has the quality of being unconscious and contains everything that is inherited. He begins with an explanation of the three forces of the psychical apparatus--the id. 15). The four main phases in sexual development are the oral phase. 18). p. and each phase is characterized by specific occurrences. The ego has the quality of being conscious and is responsible for controlling the demands of the id and of the instincts. p. On the other hand. in which sexual . and the genital phase. such as parents. The two basic instincts are Eros (love) and the destructive or death instinct. 19). in contrast. the ego responds to stimulation by either adaptation or flight. 24). p. 1949.

45). Transference causes patients to become concerned with pleasing their analysts and. 1949. p. An aspect of analysis that has both positive and negative repercussions is transference. Ideas considered to be conscious are those of which we are aware. 23). patients lose their rational aim of getting well (Freud. 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. p. 31). preconscious. in the genital phase. p. p. or unconscious (p. according to Freud (1949). which are fulfillments of wishes. Dreams are undoubtedly caused by conflict and are characterized by their power to bring up memories that the dreamer has forgotten. 1949.development comes to a halt (Freud. analysts gather material with which to work from patients' free associations. or other figures from their past. results of transference. patients tell analysts both what they feel is important and what they consider to be unimportant. First. In contrast. 32). role models. 27). p. Preconscious ideas are defined as those that are capable of becoming conscious. a process that often takes many years. p. Errors occurring in the development of the sexual function result in homosexuality and sexual perversions. p. 40). In addition. are capable of bringing up impressions that cannot have originated from the dreamer's life (Freud. 1949. recognized. according to Freud (1949. 38). and explained through analysis (Freud. The method of psychoanalysis involves several significant steps. 51). The basic objective of psychoanalysis is to remove neuroses and thereby cure patients by returning the damaged ego to its normal state (Freud. 52). including the acknowledgment that what is recalled from a dream is only a facade behind which the meaning must be inferred. During analysis. dreams. yet they remain conscious only briefly. Freud spent many years hypothesizing about the role of dreams and their interpretation. 1949. their strong use of symbolism. p. dream . the sexual function is completely organized and the coordination of sexual urge towards pleasure is completed. unconscious ideas are defined as those that are not easily accessible but can be inferred. which occurs when patients view their analysts as parents. In order to interpret a dream. 1949. and their ability to reproduce repressed impressions of the dreamer's childhood (Freud. as a result. which develops from either the id or the ego. Freud (1949) defines the qualities of the psychical process as being either conscious. Finally. certain assumptions must be made. 1949. 1949.

83). 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. He claims that although his theory is correct to the best of his knowledge. "reality will always remain unknowable" (p. Second. "it is unlikely that such generalizations can be universally correct" (Freud. resistance due to repression occurs. 56). they are cured (Freud. Freud (1949) insists that it is neither practical nor fair to scientifically define what is normal and abnormal. p. 1949. Should analysts reveal their conclusions to patients too soon. 1949. . In the final chapters of An Outline of Psychoanalysis. and despite his theory's accuracy. Overcoming this resistance requires additional time and effort by both the analysts and the patients. 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.interpretation. and the patients' slips and parapraxes (Freud. 96). Once patients accept the conclusions. p. 57). 1949. p.

more often than not. 220). whereas others assert that even Freud's clinical data are flawed. Second. it is currently hardly well" (p. 228). "extraclinical methods must be drawn upon in addition to the clinical method because the clinical method is the only way we can be in . critics contend that Freud's theory is lacking in empirical evidence and relies too heavily on therapeutic achievements. even if the validity of his clinical evidence were not in question" but that "the clinical data are themselves suspect. Criticisms of Freud's Evidence Grünbaum (1986) believes that the reasoning on which Freud based his entire psychoanalytic theory was "fundamentally flawed.258) as other critics might have the reader believe.Evaluating the Criticisms of Psychoanalysis In his "Précis of The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique. they may be the patient's responses to the suggestions and expectations of the analyst" (p. p. The criticisms of Freud's theory can be grouped into three general categories. First. Other critics disagree with Grünbaum and insist that although extraclinical studies must and should be performed. 232). Grünbaum and other critics assert that psychoanalysis lacks in empirical data (Colby. such as Freud's ideas on the interpretation of dreams and the role of free association. Grünbaum (1986) concludes that in order for psychoanalytic hypotheses to be validated in the future. have been criticized. Shevrin (1986) continues. p. Instead." Grünbaum (1986) asserts that "while psychoanalysis may thus be said to be scientifically alive. some critics assert that psychoanalysis is simply not a science and many of the principles upon which it is based are inaccurate. clinical data are a reliable and necessary source of evidence because the theory of psychoanalysis would be impossible to test otherwise (Edelson. inaccurate. data must be obtained from extraclinical studies rather than from data obtained in a clinical setting (p. Finally. the actual method or techniques involved in psychoanalysis. In other words. 1960. Shevrin (1986) insists that "Freud's admirable heuristic hypotheses did not come out of the thin air or simply out of his imagination" (p. 54). 1986. 228). and selective at best.

"Grünbaum forcefully argues that free association is neither free nor validating evidence for psychoanalytic theory" (p. Additional critics contend that Freud's clinical data are flawed or invalid. Greenberg asserts that many of the presented cases would not even be considered acceptable examples of psychoanalysis and. 224). although he acknowledges that . "We were forced to conclude. 240). 1960. that demonstrated that his treatment was of benefit to a significant number of the patients he himself saw" (p. These critics contend that Freud's evidence is flawed due to the lack of an experiment. p. but he mentioned over one hundred minor cases. In addition. "I find it unwarranted to use free association to validate causal inferences" (p. 1986. 241). Grünbaum (1986) contends that free association is not a valid method of accessing the patients' repressed memories because there is no way of ensuring that the analyst is capable of distinguishing between the patients' actual memories and imagined memories constructed due to the influence of the analyst's leading questions (p." maintains Greenberg. p. 240) that Freud chose to illustrate the usefulness of psychoanalysis through the display of unsuccessful cases." Grünbaum (1986) concludes. 226). "For my own part. many critics assert.touch with certain phenomena" (p. "that Freud never presented any data. Greenberg finds it "both striking and curious" (p. 242). in short. In addition. can supposedly scientific theories even begin to be evaluated based on their empirical merits. Finally. that virtually all of the case studies had basic shortcomings (p. in statistical or case study form. Only with quantification. Spence (1986) is critical of Grünbaum's argument. Freud fully presented only twelve cases. According to Storr (1986). 240). 260). however. Criticisms of Freud's Technique "Free association" is a method employed in psychoanalysis where the patients speak about any subject matter whatsoever and the analyst draws conclusions based on what is said. 54). and the lack of observations that went unrecorded (Colby. Many other powerful criticisms about Freud's inaccurate and subsequently flawed evidence have been published. critics find fault with the demographically restricted sample of individuals on which Freud based the majority of his data and theory (Holt. the lack of a control group. 259). Greenberg (1986) believes that Freud's case studies do not place enough stress on revealing the outcome of the treatment and that Freud's aim was more to illustrate his theoretical points (p.

the spread of infection within the session. . Spence concludes that the answer to the important question concerning the validity of free association will only be realized through close inspection of the transcripts of meetings between the patient and analyst." and that. and schooled in a tradition which places an emphasis on minimal comment and redundant examples" (p. Grünbaum (1986) finds fault with Freud's theory of dreams. Criticisms of the Principles of Psychoanalysis Storr (1981) insists. "Only a few fundamentalist psychoanalysts of an old-fashioned kind think that Freud was a scientist or that psychoanalysis was or could be a scientific enterprise. 216). (p. "it appears to encourage analytic and psychodynamic practitioners to overlook the place and great importance of ordinary common sense" (p. 259) Spence contends that free associations are not necessarily contaminated and also makes note of the fact that psychoanalysts "are particularly sensitized (in the course of their training) to the dangers of suggestion. Finally. should. 260). In spite of Freud's view that this theory represented his greatest insight and success. by far one of psychoanalysis' most well-known critics and a strong critic of Grünbaum. 259). many people feel that a major flaw of psychoanalysis is that. ". This is why they are so untestable" (Popper. Popper.we simply do not know the amount of contamination.to understand persons cannot be a scientific enterprise" (p. according to Farrell (1981). it has very much failed in the eyes of most of today's critics. many critics would disagree. In addition to his criticism of free association. and the extent to which suggested responses are balanced by unexpected confirmations which support the theory and take the analyst by surprise. insists that psychoanalysis cannot be considered a science because it is not falsifiable.. 216).. Farrell (1981) and other critics believe that it is increasingly important for analysts to be aware of common sense and the role that it can. Because psychoanalysis deals chiefly with unconscious motives and repressed emotions. He claims that psychoanalysis' "so-called predictions are not predictions of overt behavior but of hidden psychological states. and does play in psychoanalysis (p. Although many psychoanalysts themselves would undoubtedly consider psychoanalysis to be a science. common sense no longer seems to be applicable.

However. For instance. one should be able to predict that if children experience abuse. insist that Freud's theories cannot be falsified and therefore are not scientific. whereas another psychoanalyst will observe the same phenomenon and interpret it in a completely different way that is contradictory to the first psychoanalyst's interpretation (Colby. 1960. 55). However. one should be able to predict that they had this or that childhood experience. p. To take this idea one step further. they are scientific. 254). critics maintain. Psychoanalysts. such as abuse or molestation. such as Popper (1986). Eysenck (1986) maintains: I have always taken it for granted that the obvious failure of Freudian therapy to significantly improve on spontaneous remission or placebo treatment is the clearest proof we have of the inadequacy of Freudian theory. one psychoanalyst will observe one phenomenon and interpret it one way. neither of these predictions can be made with any accuracy (Colby. this concept would theoretically work in reverse. Popper (1986) asserts that psychoanalysis has often maintained that every individual is neurotic to some degree due to the fact that everyone has suffered and repressed a trauma at one point or another in his or her life (p. 236) Whereas critics. Additional critics insist that psychoanalysis is not a science because of the lack of interpretive rules or regulations. intersubjectively shared lines of reasoning between theories and observations" (p. produce certain outcomes or states of neurosis. Grünbaum (1986) concurs with Eysenck that Freud's theory is falsifiable and . this concept of ubiquitous repression is impossible to test because there is no overt behavioral method of doing so (p. for instance. p. Other critics claim that psychoanalysis cannot be considered a science due to its lack of predictions.1986. For instance. Colby (1960) concludes that if analysts themselves cannot concur that a certain observation is an example of a certain theory. Popper (1986) claims that only when individuals are not neurotic is it possible to empirically determine if prospective patients are currently neurotic (p. 255). state that certain childhood experiences. such as behavior therapy. 54). 54). then the regulations that govern psychoanalytic interpretation are undependable (p. 254). they will become characterized by certain personality traits. if individuals are observed in a particular neurotic state. 254). Eysenck claims that because Freud's theories can be falsified. closely followed by the success of alternative methods of treatment. p. In addition. 55). Colby (1960) contends that critics of psychoanalysis have difficulties with the idea that "there are no clear. 1960. (p.

.therefore scientific. but he goes one step further and claims that Freud's theory of psychoanalysis has been proven wrong and is simply bad science.

psychoanalysis remains as a valid option for patients suffering from mental illnesses. can be applied in practical ways. Shakespeare's character "Hamlet. As a direct result of psychoanalysis. approaches to psychological treatment now considered routine or commonplace were developed worldwide (Farrell. explains the nature of human development and all aspects of mental functioning. religion. Psychoanalysis. leads to new theories and ideas. and is recognized by others in the field. 1981. and clearly has withstood the test of time. Freud coined the term "psychoanalysis" in 1856. Clearly psychoanalysis meets many of these criteria. As noted previously. 202). fits with other theories. Perhaps even more noteworthy than the longevity of psychoanalysis is the fact that it has served as a catalyst to many professionals in the field of psychology and prompted them to see connections that they otherwise would have missed. By far one of the greatest strengths of psychoanalysis is that it is a very comprehensive theory. according to many philosophers of science. many experts contend that psychoanalysis can also be used to describe or explain a vast array of other concepts outside of the realm of the psychological field. In addition. one must consider a few of the qualities that make a theory of personality or behavior "great. or an artist's paintings can all be explained by the principles of psychoanalysis. organizations. Psychoanalysis enlightened health professionals about many aspects of the human mind and its inner workings." the nature of companies and their leaders. is falsifiable. The theory of psychoanalysis was innovative and revolutionary. able to be generalized. phenomena that had previously been inexplicable. originally intended as a theory to explain therapeutic or psychological concepts. and withstands the test of time. This . p. as we are rapidly approaching the twenty-first century. Even today. For example. and conferences established around the world with psychoanalysis as their focus.Evaluating the Strengths of Psychoanalysis In order to evaluate the strengths of Freud's theory of psychoanalysis. The acceptance and popularity of psychoanalysis is apparent through the existence of numerous institutes. a good theory. However." Among the many qualities that people consider to be important are that the theory addresses its problem.

pointing in the general direction of the truth (Farrell.comprehensiveness suggests that the theory of psychoanalysis is. 1981. at least to some extent. 195). . p.

Because psychoanalysis was developed a century ago and is still considered to be a credible and effective method of treating mental illnesses. I agree that sometimes it appears as if common sense does not have a place in psychoanalytic theory and. Psychoanalysis is widely disputed. Freud (1949) wrote in his Outline of Psychoanalysis the teachings of psychoanalysis are based on an incalculable number of observations and experiences. In addition. and contains valid arguments. (p. Finally. such as unresolved Oedipal and Electra complexes. I contend that at least significant parts of the theory are accurate. I find it hard to accept that all mental problems stem from issues concerning aspects of sex. as a result. in fact. and only someone who has repeated those observations on himself and on others is in a position to arrive at a judgment of his own upon it. can be applied in practical ways. 11) Although I am hardly an expert on psychoanalysis. Despite the weaknesses of psychoanalysis. I maintain that psychoanalysis is a theory that should not be disregarded. Finally.Conclusion I concur with the many critics who insist upon the invalidity of Freud's evidence due to the lack of empirical data and the demographically restricted sample of individuals on which Freud based the majority of his ideas. I believe that this is a gross exaggeration and overgeneralization. Third. Second. I believe that psychoanalysis is a scientific theory due to the fact that it is falsifiable and has. Therefore. I believe that psychoanalysis is comprehensive. I believe that psychoanalysis is a substantial theory of personality because it is directly responsible for the development of additional psychological theories and hypotheses that otherwise may have been missed. Like Farrell (1981). I believe irrelevant and false assumptions are made all too frequently. I believe that to dismiss the theory completely would be a tremendous oversight because without it many other valuable psychological techniques and theories most likely would have remained undiscovered . but perhaps it is necessary to return to the founder of psychoanalysis himself. parts of Freudian theory are too generalized and fail to leave adequate room for exceptions to the general rule. I believe that the many strengths of the theory are extremely significant. been proven false because other methods of treatment have been proven effective.