psychoanalysis

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.
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psychoanalysis

psychoanalysis, name given by Sigmund Freud to a system of interpretation and therapeutic treatment of psychological disorders. Psychoanalysis began after Freud studied (1885–86) with the French neurologist J. M. Charcot in Paris and became convinced that hysteria was caused not by organic symptoms in the nervous system but by emotional disturbance. Later, in collaboration with Viennese physician Josef Breuer, Freud wrote two papers on hysteria (1893, 1895) that were the precursors of his vast body of psychoanalytic theory. Freud used his psychoanalytic method primarily to treat clients suffering from a variety of mild mental disorders classified until recently as neuroses (see neurosis). Freud was joined by an increasing number of students and physicians, among whom were C. G. Jung and Alfred Adler. Both made significant contributions, but by 1913 ceased to be identified with the main body of psychoanalysts because of theoretical disagreements with Freud's strong emphasis on sexual motivation. Other analysts, including Melanie Klein and Jacques Lacan, also have contributed greatly to the field. Psychoanalysis and its theoretical underpinnings have had an enormous influence on modern psychology and psychiatry and in fields as diverse as literary theory, anthropology, and film criticism.

Psychoanalytic Therapy and Theory

The basic postulate of psychoanalysis, the concept of a dynamic unconscious mind, grew out of Freud's observation that the physical symptoms of hysterical patients tended to disappear after apparently forgotten material was made conscious (see hysteria). He saw the unconscious as an area of great psychic activity, which influenced personality and behavior but operated with material not subject to recall through normal mental processes. Freud postulated that there were a number of defense mechanisms—including repression, reaction-formation, regression, displacement, and rationalization—that protect the conscious mind from those aspects of reality it may find difficult to accept. The major defense mechanism is repression, which induced a "forgetfulness" for harsh realities. Observing the relationship between psychoneurosis and repressed memories, Freud made conscious recognition of these forgotten experiences the foundation of psychoanalytic therapy. Hypnosis was the earliest method used to probe the unconscious, but due to its limited effectiveness, it was soon discarded in favor of free association (see also hypnotism). Dreams, which Freud interpreted as symbolic wish fulfillments, were considered a primary key to the unconscious, and their analysis was an important part of Freudian therapy.

To clarify the operation of the human psyche, Freud and his followers introduced a vast body of psychoanalytic theory. In considering the human personality as a whole, Freud divided it into three functional parts: id, ego, and superego. He saw the id as the deepest level of the unconscious, dominated by the pleasure principle, with its object the immediate gratification of instinctual drives. The superego, originating in the child through an identification with parents, and in response to social pressures, functions as an internal censor to repress the urges of the id. The ego, on the other hand, is seen as a part of the id modified by contact with the external world. It is a mental agent mediating among three contending forces: the outside demands of social pressure or reality, libidinal demands for immediate satisfaction arising from the id, and the moral demands of the superego. Although considered only partly conscious, the ego constitutes the major part of what is commonly referred to as consciousness. Freud asserted that conflicts between these often-opposing components of the human mind are crucial factors in the development of neurosis.

Psychoanalysis focused on early childhood, postulating that many of the conflicts which arise in the human mind develop in the first years of a person's life. Freud demonstrated this in his theory of psychosexuality, in which the libido (sexual energy) of the infant progressively seeks outlet through different body zones (oral, anal, phallic, and genital) during the first five to six years of life.

Criticisms of and Changes in Freudian Psychoanalysis

Orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis was challenged in the 1920s by Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, and Wilhelm Reich; later, in the 1930s, by Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and Harry Stack Sullivan. These critics of Freud stressed the interpersonal aspect of the analyst-patient relationship (transference), and placed more emphasis on the processes of the ego. Despite a number of detractors and a lack of controlled research, Freudian psychoanalysis remained the most widely used method of psychotherapy until at least the 1950s.

Today, Freud's method is only one among many types of psychotherapy used in psychiatry. Many objections have been leveled against traditional psychoanalysis, both for its methodological rigidity and for its lack of theoretical rigor. A number of modern psychologists have pointed out that traditional psychoanalysis relies too much on ambiguities for its data, such as dreams and free associations. Without empirical evidence, Freudian theories often seem weak, and ultimately fail to initiate standards for treatment.

Critics have also pointed out that Freud's theoretical models arise from a homogeneous sample group—almost exclusively upper-class Austrian women living in the sexually repressed society of the late 19th cent. Such a sample, many psychologists contend, made Freud's focus on sex as a determinant of personality too emphatic. Other problems with traditional psychoanalysis are related to Freud's method of analysis. For Freudian analysis to reach its intended conclusions, the psychoanalyst required frequent sessions with a client over a period of years: today, the prohibitive costs of such methods compels most to seek other forms of psychiatric care.

Traditional psychoanalysis involved a distancing between therapist and client—the two did not even face each other during the sessions. In recent years, many clients have preferred a more interactive experience with the therapist. The subject matter of Freudian analysis has also fallen into disuse, even among those who still practice psychoanalysis: early childhood receives much less emphasis, and there is generally more focus on problems the client is currently experiencing. By the early 21st cent., various kinds of psychoanalysis continued to be practiced, but the theory and practice of psychoanalysis was increasingly overshadowed by cognitive psychology and discoveries in neurobiology.

Bibliography

See the works of Freud; A. Bernstein and G. Warner, An Introduction to Contemporary Psychoanalysis (1981); J. Reppen, ed., Beyond Freud (1984); C. G. Jung, The Collected Works, Vol. 4: Freud and Psychoanalysis (tr. 1985); S. Marcus, Freud and the Culture of Psychoanalysis (1984, repr. 1987); O. A. Olsen and S. Koppe, The Psychoanalysis of Freud (1988); C. Badcock, Essential Freud (1988); E. Kurzweil, The Freudian Establishments (1989); G. Makari, Revolution in Mind: The Creation of Psychoanalysis (2008).

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