When you think of psychoanalysis, do you automatically think of the ominous psychiatrist's couch? Many people do, and still picture a long leather couch in all therapists’ offices. In fact, the psychoanalyst's couch derives from Sigmund Freud’s patients during hypnosis. It provided his patients with the peaceful mindfulness needed for the capability to lend themselves to the altered state of consciousness required for a successful session of psychoanalysis.
Sigmund Freud and his famous psychoanalytic theory has been a household topic since the late 19th century. Freud is probably best known for his fascination in unconscious wishes and desires that he automatically attributed to repressed sexuality and violent tendencies. These topics are just a few theories Freud based his theory of psychoanalysis on. With his highly controversial yet simultaneously fascinating beliefs, it is difficult not to be lured into the provocative world of psychoanalysis.
Freud first became interested with hypnosis in 1885 while being mentored by his teacher Joseph Breuer. He followed Breuer’s teachings in 1892 by using hypnotic techniques with his own patients. He quickly discovered however that deep hypnosis was not always necessary; equally effective, with his insistence and while placing pressure on back of his patients’ head, to be just as beneficial. He soon invented a new technique.
Psychoanalysis is based on Freud’s belief that people could be cured of their emotional or mental angst by bringing their unconscious thoughts into their consciousness. He passionately believed bringing forward repressed emotions would free the individual of any emotional malaise.
This marked the beginning of the early era of psychoanalysis. By 1896, Freud developed the free association technique. This technique had patients continuously speaking and verbalizing anything that entered their mind during the session. These words could be anything, and not necessarily coherent. However, the object of this technique of psychoanalysis is that one word can bring about further words that are not apparently connected. Using this technique, ultimately the analyst and / or patient will begin to see a pattern of causal relation to what he is saying. Another interesting part of free association is that eventually, the patient will begin to censor what they are saying, and will eventually stop speaking ‘freely’. Seeing an association with the thoughts they decided not to speak of during the session were just as important as the thoughts being freely expressed. Free association is still used in some forms of therapy today.
The Id, Ego and Superego
In psychoanalysis, there is a structure of personality that consists of three significant systems; the id, ego, and superego. These systems are responsible for every action or thought we have.
- The id - This personality level resides from deep within the unconsciousness, we are born with this system, and this is responsible for housing the most carnal animal instincts. It is the id that is concerned only with pleasure, and will do anything to avoid pain. To break down the id even further, and going to an even darker place in Freud’s theory, the id contains two instincts: Life instinct which is fueled by sex and the death instinct which is fueled by aggression. The id system of basic human personality is what holds forbidden and hedonistic thoughts and desires. The id also hides these forbidden thoughts and desires because they are too unspeakable to bring to consciousness.
- The superego - This level in the psychoanalytic structure of personality is present within us within the first five years of life and is far on the other end of the spectrum. The superego houses the personality’s morals and conscience, the superego is also unconscious, but it is responsible for feelings of guilt and feelings of pride. The superego however is too moralistic, there is no balance, The superego is highly ethical and critical and is derived from parental morals and learning between right and wrong during the early formative years.
- The ego - In response to the id, and the superego, the ego has to keep the two balanced otherwise there would be a discord in personality. The ego is responsible for a healthy personality and balance between morality and pleasure. When there is conflict between the hedonistic id and the highly ethical superego, the ego will come up with what is termed as Defence Mechanisms:
Repression - This mechanism protects traumatic or frightening experiences from entering consciousness. Repression is responsible when someone forgets a terrible incident.
Projection - Protects oneself from embarrassing or uncomfortable feelings. An extreme homophobic person for example, one who slanders and uses derogatory words and names, could possibly be projecting his own embarrassment of being attracted to the same sex, and will therefore subconsciously project this discomfort onto another.
Displacement - This is used when one has feelings they cannot express. These could be feelings of anger towards their employer; as a result they will displace this anger toward another individual or into a high impact sport for instance.
Reaction Formation - An individual in an unhappy marriage may use this unconscious defense when asked how their husband / wife is doing. The individual may ‘over state’ how wonderful everything is. Their reaction would be so over the top that they’ve formed a new truth, rather than accept the actual dismal reality.
Regression - This mechanism occurs when there is a need to avoid stress or discomfort; the individual will revert to former behavior. For example, a child when traumatized may regress to bed wetting, or baby type behaviors.
Denial - a very common defense mechanism used to avoid painful thoughts or reality. For example, someone who has an addiction problem will deny it; someone that has been diagnosed with a terminal illness may deny this to themself and others. This is a strong defensive attribute.
Observing resistance during therapy, such as during free association, is also a fundamental area of psychoanalysis. Resistance refers to the patient refusing to discuss certain aspects of his life, or thoughts with the therapist. Resistance is also defined when the patient resists change and growth in their treatment. Sometimes change can cause emotional pain within the patient and therefore even if the very reason they are at therapy is to change toward a certain direction, they may resist due to this emotional pain.
A patient in therapy may transfer certain feelings, attitudes or impulses onto his therapist through this theory called transference. It is very common to have mixed feelings in an authority figure as he or she may view this person as a recreation or new version of a former important person in their lives, such as a parent. These feelings could be either positive or negative; sometimes the feelings could be amorous or hostile. It is latent, not conscious as the patient or individual outside of therapy sessions will have no idea they are transferring such emotions. This can be beneficial in therapy sessions as the patient may now want to please their therapist, and work harder to gain their approval. This can also offer great insight as more information is quite often released due to transference than otherwise possible.
The Unconscious Mind
The foundation of psychoanalysis is the focus on the unconscious thoughts, desires, urges, secrets, motives and conflicts between desire and morals. Freud has based his entire theory on his beliefs that human behavior stems from the unconscious. According to Freudian theory, the unconscious mind holds all the evil and unfathomable thoughts that the conscious mind could not handle. These thoughts, according to Freud, are most always based on sexual desires and taboos that would be so unacceptable that the mind could not cope with such thoughts. Psychoanalysis also states that behavior, thoughts and motives are from events that occur from childhood. And it is in this holding place that Freud believes is the foundation of human behavior.
Psychosexual Stages of Development
There is no denying the controversial topics of psychoanalysis and Freud’s beliefs. The psychosexual stages are not exempt of controversy. There are five distinct stages in the psychoanalytic theory of development in which if these stages are not successfully accomplished, then as an adult, they can remain ‘fixated’ within that stage.
Oral (0 – 1.5 years of age):
Fixation on anything oral, the stage of nursing, and if the child does not successfully pass this phase during the specified ages then problems later in life will occur as the adult remains fixated within the oral stage. They will form negative oral habits such as an adult that chews pencils or smokes cigarettes, even perhaps develops to be exceptionally clingy and needy like that of a child that nurses.
Anal (1.5 to 3 years of age):
This stage pertains to toilet training, and if this phase isn’t successful then the adult may remain in the anal stage, meaning that they become obsessive with cleanliness and tidiness, they become ‘anal retentive’ and very particular.
Phallic (3 – 5 year of age):
In this stage, Freud refers to it as the oedipal stage which explains that a young child will have desire for the parent of the opposite sex followed by jealousy of the parent of the same sex. This does not last however, but is a healthy phase of development. The young girl might push her mother away when her father is holding her as she is subconsciously jealous of her mother. The young boy similarly will harbour feelings of anger towards his father resulting from desire for his mother.
Latency (5 – 12 years of age):
This stage is during the child’s early school years, and sexuality has been set aside. Instead they focus on many other hobbies and activities.
Genital (12 – adulthood):
This is the development of puberty and the healthy preoccupation of sexual thoughts that last through adulthood. Freud believed that if an individual passed through these stages successfully, then one would quite possibly have an emotionally and sexually healthy adult life.
Carl Jung was another theorist in psychoanalysis. However, he disagreed with his once very close friend Freud about the unconscious. He took a more collective view on consciousness, viewing all human beings as sharing one collective unconscious. He believed this collective unconscious would be portrayed through international culture and themes which he called archetypes.
- The shadow archetype: a dark shadowy place within humans that may be represented through dreams or hallucinations. The shadow archetype represents villainous and evil beings.
- The anima archetype: represents femininity, which can also reside in men.
- The animus archetype: represents masculinity which can also reside in women
- The self-archetype: represents oneself as a part of the universe, and universality of everyone.
Jungian theory also introduced extroversion and introversion personality dimensions. And he viewed humanity as not only based on unconscious motives and desires, but more so on goals and aspirations. His beliefs in ‘unity of life’ and ‘totality of the self’ were much more accepted at the time than Freud’s version of psychoanalysis.
Karen Horney was also one of the fundamental leaders in psychoanalysis. She was greatly against Freud’s theories, and focused on neurosis and how one would navigate through inner conflicts. Neurotics have a need for love, acceptance, power, control, social recognition, accomplishments and independence.
Psychoanalysis was without a doubt one of the most phenomenal fields in psychology to date. It is full of controversy and disbelief, however, Sigmund Freud was a brilliant man, and his teachings and theories have continued on, perhaps with a few tweaks, but his life and those that followed in his steps added richness to the psychology field that remains strong today.
- Wade,Tavris,Saucier,Elias;Psychology Second Canadian Edition(2007);Prentice Hall.Toronto
- Moore, Burness E.MD; Fine, Bernard D.MD.Psychoanalysis the Major Concepts(1995);Yale University Press.New Haven