Psychoanalysis – An Overview

Psychoanalysis – An Overview

What Is Psychoanalysis? – Sigmund Freud has a historical significance as it regards psychoanalysis. He is the father of psychoanalysis from whose theory all other psychoanalysts developed their own theories. Psychoanalysis as a concept has been appreciated with diversified views. Some have appreciated it to have a positive value to man while some see it as unrealistic and an alien theory of personality. An instance of the negative views on psychoanalysis is seen in the words of an earlier teacher that “Every thing you do is determined by forces inside you of which you are totally unaware.”[1]1 That is to say that man is a mask unto himself. This kind of approach makes psychoanalytic ideas seem esoteric and alien, with the claims made by psychoanalytic theorists being arrogant and ominous.


Four major myths about psychoanalysis have arisen as a result of the misleading notions, which psychoanalysts have contributed greatly to. The first is that psychoanalysis is largely the work of one man. For the first five decades in the history of psychoanalytic thought (up till the death of Freud in 1939), it would have been tenable to argue that psychoanalysis was largely the invention of Freud’s singular genius.

Secondly, contemporary psychoanalysis, in both Theory and Clinical Practice, is virtually the same as it was in Freud’s day. Psychoanalysis is sometimes presented as if it were fundamentally unchanged since Freud’s time. This is as a result of some analyst striving to maintain their loyalty to tradition.

Thirdly, psychoanalysis has gone out of fashion. This myth is based on partial truth. Orthodox, classical Freudian psychoanalysis is going out of fashion. This is because orthodox psychoanalysis is not of our time; its methods and its understanding were fashioned almost a hundred years ago. As the world around psychoanalysis has changed, the psychoanalysis itself has changed. The fourth myth is that psychoanalysis is an Esoteric Cult requiring both conversion and year of study. Most of the post-Freudian texts are written in a style that encourages a view of psychoanalysis as an esoteric, impenetrable world unto itself, its self proclaimed riches accessible to only selected few. The language is thick, dense with jargon and complex argumentation. [2]

Irrespective of all these negative notions, psychoanalysis has existed with tremendous positive values to the world at large. As Nietzsche rightly asserts that “One’s own self is well hidden from one’s own self; of all mines of treasure one’s own is the last to be dug up,”2 there exists a need to help man discover his hidden self. Psychoanalysis becomes not only necessary but also imperative since it will help man to discover himself in the unconscious, which he couldn’t do in his conscious state. Psychoanalytic concepts have the capacity to enrich rather than to deplete, to empower rather than diminish, to deepen experience rather than to haunt it. It is with this ideal in mind that Freud delved into his psychoanalytical theory, hoping that his disciples and clients or analysands will find his views stimulating, challenging and fundamentally therapeutic. [3]


Freud began by acknowledging the fact that the unconscious is a mystery whose effort to be penetrated is nothing but futility and impossibility. He testified to this in his saying that “The unconscious is the true psychical reality; in its innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality of the external world, and it is incompletely presented by the data of consciousness as is the external world by the communications of our sense organs”. 3

“To know thyself is to be known by another.”4 This was Freud’s powerful revision of the Delphic injunction, and by which he intended to make psychoanalysis the most disenchanting of sciences. What Copernicus had done to man’s ancestry, Freud claimed to have done to man’s ultimate source – reason.

Movies and cartoons offer images of a patient lying on a couch, speaking endlessly into a vacuum, while a silent, colorless, older gentleman with a beard takes notes. Many people who are unfamiliar with psychoanalysis fear it as a coward’s way out, an admission of defeat, a ceding of control and authority to a stranger.5[4]

But what of those who have benefited from or who practice psychoanalysis? Their voices are not often heard. The problem is that psychoanalytic concepts are derived from and are concerned most fundamentally with experience of the analytic process, an intensely emotional, highly charged, deeply personal experience for both participants. From the inside, in the eyes of those who study and practice psychoanalysis as well as those who have undergone a “successful” (i.e., personally meaningful) analysis, the world of psychoanalysis is a rich and intriguing place. Its basic concepts and modes of thought are imbued with an experimental vividness, a conceptual clarity, and a continual practical applicability to the day – to – day conduct of their lives. Psychoanalytic thought helps knit together different domains of experiences: past and present, waking and sleeping, thinking and feeling, interpersonal events and the most private fantasies.

Psychoanalytic concepts provide useful tools for expanding, consolidating and enriching one’s own life and one’s relationships with others. Yet it is hard to convey this to some one who has not experienced it. To those to whom psychoanalytic concepts can seem odd, abstract, alien, and out of reach, it is sometimes hard to believe they are, themselves, derived from actual human experience. Psychoanalytic formulation is an effort to grasp and portray some piece of human experience, some aspect of the workings of the mind. Each formulation refers to real people, their way of organizing experience, their difficulties in living, their struggle to shape and maintain a personal self in relations to other people.

In the introductory lectures, Freud writes: “Symptoms are not produced by conscious processes; as soon as the unconscious processes involved are made conscious the symptom must vanish”. 6 Hence the need of penetrating people’s unconscious mind through psychoanalysis.. [5]

The aim of psychoanalytic therapy is to bring these rejected drives and wishes, together with the patient’s individual and environmental moral standards, which are the instruments for his rejections; into consciousness and in this way place them at his free disposal. In doing this the conscious self becomes strengthened, since it is no longer involved in continuous job of repressing mental content from his own awareness. The patient can then decide independently which he wishes to regret, his personality no longer being warped or dominated by uncontrollable drives and moral standards. This process permits growth and maturation.7[6]

Nevertheless, psychoanalysis is a face-to-face dialogue between the psychoanalyst and the client. It is an exercise in which the analyst tries to discover the experiences repressed in the unconscious mind of a client through a careful procedure of obtaining information from his conscious experiences. Through PSYCHOANALYSIS, discovery has been made that the essence of the process of repression lies, not in abrogating or annihilating the ideational presentation of an instinct, but in withholding it from becoming conscious. We then say of the idea that it is in the state of unconsciousness, of being not apprehended by the conscious mind. How is the knowledge of the unconscious attained? It is attained only as something conscious that we know anything of it, after it has undergone transformation and translation into something conscious.


Freud was born on May 6 1856, at Freibury in what is now Czechoslovakia. When he was four, the family moved to Vienna, and his father continued his trade as a small merchant. While following the usual course of studies at the Gymnasium, where for seven years he was first in his class, Freud was attracted by Darwin’s theories to the study of science. Although he had no “particular predilection or liking for the career of a physician, Freud later noted that, it was upon hearing Goethe’s beautiful essay On Nature … … just before I left school that I decided to become a medical student.”8[7]In 1873 he entered the University of Vienna, where he records in his autobiographical sketch; he experienced the effects of anti-Semitic prejudice.

While pursuing his medical studies, Freud began experimental investigation by studying the nervous system of the fish in the physiological laboratory of Ernest Brucke. After taking his medical degree in 1881, financial reasons compelled him to become an intern at the general hospital. With little spare time he had as an intern, he pursued research at the Institute of Cerebral Anatomy on the subject of nervous diseases. The publication of several monographs on cerebral paralysis in children won him the post of lecturer on neuropathology at the university, and in 1885 he was awarded a travelling fellowship to advance his studies.

Upon his return to Vienna, Freud married and to provide for a rapidly growing family, established himself as a specialist in nervous diseases. In the first year of his practice his principal technique “aside from haphazard psycho-therapeutic methods” was hypnotic suggestion. He resumed his friendship with Breuer and in collaboration with him published in 1895 the studies in Hysteria. The partnership was dissolved after the book was completed, and soon afterwards Freud took the decisive step of replacing hypnotism by method of “free association”. Largely as a result of his extensive clinical practice, he turned to the analysis of dreams, and in 1900 provided the first statement of his doctrine on the interpretation of Dreams.

By 1908, Freud had colleagues throughout Europe, including Adler, Brill, Ferenczi, Ernest Jones, Carl Jung, Sadger and Stekel, and in that year the first international Congress of Psychoanalysis was held at Salzbury. In the following year at the invitation of Clark University, Freud visited the United States and gave five lectures on his discoveries, which were later published as the Origin and Development of Psycho-Analysis. With the establishment of the International Psycho-Analytic Association in 1910 Freud devoted his efforts with increasing success to the development of the psychoanalytic movement.

Disagreement later led to a severance of relations between Freud and several of his closest associates, including Adler, Stekel, Rank, and Jung, but Freud was the acknowledged founder of psychoanalysis as the leader of the movement.

After 1912, Freud gave most of his time to directing the Psycho-Analytic Society, editing its various journals, and writing many monographs. Although his clinical practice was not as extensive as in previous years, he still remained active as an analyst, and his patients cover almost fifty years. At the University of Vienna during the winter sessions between 1915 and 1917, he again explained his theories before a general public, as he had in the United States, in lectures afterwards published in General Introduction to Psychoanalysis.

Until the end of the First World War Freud was mainly occupied with special problems concerning the unconscious, and it was not until 1920 that he began to deal with the more general problems raised by his studies, particularly with the factors making for what he called repression. In 1920 he published ‘Beyond the Pleasure Principle’ and three years later the ‘Ego and the Id’. As early as 1913, Freud had attempted in ‘Totem and Taboo’ to make use of the newly discovered findings of analysis in order to investigate the origin of religion and morality”. He now “returned to the cultural problems which had fascinated him long before” and published the Future of an Illusion (1927), Civilization and its Discontents (1929), and Moses and Monotheism (1939), which was his last book.

With the award of the Goethe Prize in 1930, when he was also given the freedom of the city of Vienna, Freud reached what he described as “the climax of my life as a citizen”. But soon afterwards, Freud notes, “the boundaries of our country narrowed, and the nation would know us no more”. Upon the Nazi invasion of Austria in 1938, Freud’s books were burnt, the psychoanalytische Verlag, directed by his son, was destroyed, and his passport confiscated. For years Freud had lived in virtual seclusion, largely because of the development of cancer of the mouth, which caused him great pain. He was finally allowed to leave Austria in 1938 after the payment of a large ransom. With his wife, a nephew, and his daughter, Anna, who took after him, he went to England, where another of his son lived. He died in September 23, 1939, in Hamstead, London.


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Psychoanalysis – An Overview

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