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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).

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 "Prcis of The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique," Grnbaum
(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 simply not a science and many of the principles upon which it is based are

Criticisms of Freud's Evidence

Grnbaum (1986) believes that the reasoning on which Freud based his entire psychoanalytic
theory was "fundamentally flawed, even if the validity of his clinical evidence were not in
question" but that "the clinical data are themselves suspect; more often than not, they may be
the patient's responses to the suggestions and expectations of the analyst" (p. 220). Grnbaum
(1986) concludes that in order for psychoanalytic hypotheses to be validated in the future,
data must be obtained from extraclinical studies rather than from data obtained in a clinical
setting (p. 228). In other words, Grnbaum and other critics assert that psychoanalysis lacks
in empirical data (Colby, 1960, p. 54).
Other critics disagree with Grnbaum and insist that although extraclinical studies must and
should be performed, clinical data are a reliable and necessary source of evidence because the
theory of psychoanalysis would be impossible to test otherwise (Edelson, 1986, p. 232).
Shevrin (1986) insists that "Freud's admirable heuristic hypotheses did not come out of the
thin air or simply out of his imagination" (p.258) as other critics might have the reader
believe. Instead, Shevrin (1986) continues, "extraclinical methods must be drawn upon in
addition to the clinical method because the clinical method is the only way we can be in

touch with certain phenomena" (p. 259). Only with quantification, many critics assert, can
supposedly scientific theories even begin to be evaluated based on their empirical merits.
Additional critics contend that Freud's clinical data are flawed or invalid. 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. 240). In
addition, Freud fully presented only twelve cases, but he mentioned over one hundred minor
cases. Greenberg asserts that many of the presented cases would not even be considered
acceptable examples of psychoanalysis and, in short, that virtually all of the case studies had
basic shortcomings (p. 240). Finally, Greenberg finds it "both striking and curious" (p. 240)
that Freud chose to illustrate the usefulness of psychoanalysis through the display of
unsuccessful cases. "We were forced to conclude," maintains Greenberg, "that Freud never
presented any data, in statistical or case study form, that demonstrated that his treatment was
of benefit to a significant number of the patients he himself saw" (p. 241). Many other
powerful criticisms about Freud's inaccurate and subsequently flawed evidence have been
published. These critics contend that Freud's evidence is flawed due to the lack of an
experiment, the lack of a control group, and the lack of observations that went unrecorded
(Colby, 1960, p. 54). In addition, critics find fault with the demographically restricted sample
of individuals on which Freud based the majority of his data and theory (Holt, 1986, p. 242).

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.
According to Storr (1986), "Grnbaum forcefully argues that free association is neither free
nor validating evidence for psychoanalytic theory" (p. 260). "For my own part, however,"
Grnbaum (1986) concludes, "I find it unwarranted to use free association to validate causal
inferences" (p. 224). Grnbaum (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. 226).
Spence (1986) is critical of Grnbaum's argument, although he acknowledges that

we simply do not know the amount of contamination, the spread of infection within the
session, and the extent to which suggested responses are balanced by unexpected
confirmations which support the theory and take the analyst by surprise. (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, and schooled in a tradition which places an emphasis on minimal
comment and redundant examples" (p. 259). 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.
In addition to his criticism of free association, Grnbaum (1986) finds fault with Freud's
theory of dreams. In spite of Freud's view that this theory represented his greatest insight and
success, it has very much failed in the eyes of most of today's critics.
Finally, many people feel that a major flaw of psychoanalysis is that, according to Farrell
(1981), "it appears to encourage analytic and psychodynamic practitioners to overlook the
place and great importance of ordinary common sense" (p. 216). Because psychoanalysis
deals chiefly with unconscious motives and repressed emotions, common sense no longer
seems to be applicable. 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, should, and does
play in psychoanalysis (p. 216).

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,"
and that, " understand persons cannot be a scientific enterprise" (p. 260). Although many
psychoanalysts themselves would undoubtedly consider psychoanalysis to be a science, many
critics would disagree.
Popper, by far one of psychoanalysis' most well-known critics and a strong critic of
Grnbaum, insists that psychoanalysis cannot be considered a science because it is not
falsifiable. He claims that psychoanalysis' "so-called predictions are not predictions of overt
behavior but of hidden psychological states. This is why they are so untestable" (Popper,

1986, p. 254). Popper (1986) claims that only when individuals are not neurotic is it possible
to empirically determine if prospective patients are currently neurotic (p. 254). 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. 255). However, this concept of ubiquitous repression is
impossible to test because there is no overt behavioral method of doing so (p. 254).
Other critics claim that psychoanalysis cannot be considered a science due to its lack of
predictions. Psychoanalysts, critics maintain, state that certain childhood experiences, such as
abuse or molestation, produce certain outcomes or states of neurosis. To take this idea one
step further, one should be able to predict that if children experience abuse, for instance, they
will become characterized by certain personality traits. In addition, this concept would
theoretically work in reverse. For instance, if individuals are observed in a particular neurotic
state, one should be able to predict that they had this or that childhood experience. However,
neither of these predictions can be made with any accuracy (Colby, 1960, p. 55).
Additional critics insist that psychoanalysis is not a science because of the lack of interpretive
rules or regulations. Colby (1960) contends that critics of psychoanalysis have difficulties
with the idea that "there are no clear, intersubjectively shared lines of reasoning between
theories and observations" (p. 54). For instance, one psychoanalyst will observe one
phenomenon and interpret it one way, 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, p. 54). Colby (1960) concludes that if analysts
themselves cannot concur that a certain observation is an example of a certain theory, then the
regulations that govern psychoanalytic interpretation are undependable (p. 55).
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, closely followed by the success of alternative methods of
treatment, such as behavior therapy. (p. 236)
Whereas critics, such as Popper (1986), insist that Freud's theories cannot be falsified and
therefore are not scientific, Eysenck claims that because Freud's theories can be falsified, they
are scientific. Grnbaum (1986) concurs with Eysenck that Freud's theory is falsifiable and

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.

Evaluating the Strengths of Psychoanalysis

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

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

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. Like Farrell (1981), I agree that sometimes it appears
as if common sense does not have a place in psychoanalytic theory and, as a result, I believe
irrelevant and false assumptions are made all too frequently. In addition, parts of Freudian
theory are too generalized and fail to leave adequate room for exceptions to the general rule.
Finally, I find it hard to accept that all mental problems stem from issues concerning aspects
of sex, such as unresolved Oedipal and Electra complexes. I believe that this is a gross
exaggeration and overgeneralization.
Despite the weaknesses of psychoanalysis, I believe that the many strengths of the theory are
extremely significant. Therefore, I maintain that psychoanalysis is a theory that should not be
disregarded. Because psychoanalysis was developed a century ago and is still considered to
be a credible and effective method of treating mental illnesses, I contend that at least
significant parts of the theory are accurate. Second, I believe that psychoanalysis is a
scientific theory due to the fact that it is falsifiable and has, in fact, been proven false because
other methods of treatment have been proven effective. Third, I believe that psychoanalysis is
comprehensive, can be applied in practical ways, and contains valid arguments. Finally, 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.
Psychoanalysis is widely disputed, but perhaps it is necessary to return to the founder of
psychoanalysis himself. Freud (1949) wrote in his Outline of Psychoanalysis
the teachings of psychoanalysis are based on an incalculable number of observations and
experiences, 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. (p. 11)
Although I am hardly an expert on psychoanalysis, 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