Freud’s methods of psychoanalysis were based on his theory that people have repressed, hidden feelings. The psychoanalyst’s goal is to make the patient aware of these subconscious feelings. Childhood conflicts that are hidden away by the patient, become revealed to both the analyst and the patient, allowing the patient to live a less anxious, more healthy life. Methods of hypnosis were originally used by Freud to find the cause for anxiety, but he dismissed them as being too inaccurate. He started to use methods of free association to delve into the patient’s sub-conscious.
By assessing the patient’s reactions to the analyst’s suggestions, Freud saw that the analyst could help the patient become consciously aware of his repressed childhood conflicts and impulses. By interpreting the patient’s dreams, the analyst can provide an insight into the patient’s conflicts as well. The therapist’s interpretations of the patient’s free associations and dreams are known as psychoanalysis. Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, however, does have its problems. One of its drawbacks is that it is based on the assumption that repressed conflicts and impulses do in fact exist.
Today this assumption is being challenged, and is provoking intense debate. Freud first developed these methods of psychoanalysis when he met with patients whose disorders did not make neurological sense. A patient, for example, may have suddenly gone blind. The problem is that there is no damage to either of his eyes. Freud began to wonder if this disorder might be psychological rather than physiological. A patient not wanting to see something that aroused anxiety might have caused his own blindness, he hypothesized.
In order to find out what the anxiety stemmed from, he used methods of free association where the patient would say whatever came into his mind. Through the slips made when the patient was told to carry out the free-association process, and some of the patient’s beliefs and habits, Freud could delve into the patient’s subconscious. These thoughts produced a chain directly into the patient’s subconscious, and unearthed memories and feelings. This process soon became known as psychoanalysis. Freud also believed that dreams were an important way of getting into the patient’s subconscious.
By analyzing dreams, he could reveal the basis of conflict within the patient. Freud believed the mind was made up of three main parts: the conscious, the preconscious, and the subconscious. The conscious region is the part that people are most aware of and what others can see. The preconscious region holds thoughts and feelings that a person can become aware of but that are mostly hidden away. Finally, the subconscious region consists of thoughts and feelings which are completely hidden away and which one is mostly unaware of.
Some believe that the preconscious region is really a small part of the much larger subconscious region. Freud said that the mind is like an iceberg, with most of it, the subconscious, hidden away, and only a small part, the conscious, showing above the water, able to be seen. Why, then, would the majority of the mind be hidden; why is the subconscious region so much larger than the conscious region? Freud explained that the answer is that one forcibly blocks thoughts and feelings that he does not want others to become aware of.
Although the person is not fully aware of these feelings, he still expresses them in disguise through the way he makes his choices. Using psychoanalytic methods, Freud was able, he said, to learn what feelings the patient had blocked and hidden in his subconscious. Freud developed one of his most famous theories of the mind when he realized the source of conflict in a person. He theorized that there were three interacting systems within the mind: the id, ego, and superego. The id is the largest part of the unconscious, and operates mainly on the need to gain pleasure and satisfaction.
It mainly is the driving force behind a newborn infant who has no cares of the outside world, and will start to cry the moment it needs to be satisfied. The id is mostly the instincts that are part of a person for his whole life. The ego develops in a young child as a method to cope with the real world and satisfy the id’s impulses in more realistic ways other than crying. The ego can be seen as the moderator between the id and superego. Finally, the superego is the region of the mind that is mostly conscious. The superego forces the ego to consider the most ideal way of dealing with a problem.
It is made up of morals, values, and culture’s influence on a person. The superego’s demands are very much opposed to those of the id, and it is the ego that must struggle to balance the ideas of the two. To live in a society one must be able to control the sexual impulses of the id. The roots of the anxiety in most of Freud’s patients, he discovered, had usually come from conflicts that they had been subject to in early childhood. He concluded that in a growing child, the id begins to focus on certain pleasure-seeking areas of the body. These areas Freud called the erogenous zones.
The id’s constant changing of erogenous zones he called psychosexual stages. From birth to around 18 months old is known as the oral stage, when pleasure is focused on oral stimulation through biting, sucking, and chewing. The anal stage, which lasts from 18 months to around three years old, is when pleasure shifts to the bowels and the new-found ability to control his internal muscles. The next stage in a child’s development is known as the phallic stage, which usually lasts to around six years old. The child’s subconscious sexual desire for his mother takes over and the erogenous zone shifts to the genitals.
The child begins to see his father as a rival and grows to fear that his father will punish him. The child eventually copes with this problem of having his father as a rival by identifying with his father and trying to act like him. By identifying with the father the child acquires a sense of being a male. In this stage, the ego begins to strongly develop by adopting some of the parents’ values and characteristics. This identifying with the father and the collection of feelings against the father is known as the Oedipus complex.
A problem arises here in Freud’s ideas, as he said that it is only males that go through a stage of love for one and hatred for the other parent. Many psychoanalysts believe that girls too go through a similar complex, the Electra complex, but Freud did not believe this. After the phallic stage comes the latency stage. In this stage a child will begin to interact with peers of the same sex. It is in this stage that the superego begins to develop as the child learns to deal with problems that arise between him and his peers. The latency stage usally lasts from six years old until puberty.
Latency eventually gives way to the genital stage. At this stage, youths generally start exhibiting sexual feelings towards one another. Problems can arise in people during any of the psychosexual stages. By being over- or under-indulged in the erogenous zone during one of the psychosexual stages, a strong conflict can arise and the person may become fixed to that stage. One, for example, who has become locked on the oral stage, may suck his thumb as a growing child, or even as an adult may start smoking or overeating to fulfill his oral desires.
When the ego fears losing control of the demands of the ego and superego, anxiety develops. Anxiety is a price that we pay for living in society. Anxiety differs from a specific fear because it is not focused on a specific area but is rather diffused over a large area. One may try to cope with anxiety by consciously holding back his thoughts, and eventually these thoughts become part of the subconscious. This holding back is known as repression. Repression, however, is not complete, as through methods of psychoanalysis the hidden feelings seep out through slips of the tongue.
Another way people try to cope is to retreat to a place where they feel safe. This retreat is known as regression. Repression and regression are examples of defense mechanisms, which are used by some to redirect their anxiety. Psychoanalysis itself is a long, hard process. There are very few traditional psychoanalysts who practice today, who follow all of Freud’s theories about the mind, although most practitioners in the psychological field were influenced by the ideas set forth by Freud.
Why do most of today’s modern psychologists not follow the teachings of Freud, and what problems do they see in Freud’s theory? The answer is that many specific ideas of Freud’s theory have been refuted by recent medical research. Firstly, there is new research that shows that the development of the human mind is a life-long process and does not last, as Freud said, only through childhood. Conflicts can arise at any time of life, and can be rooted to any specific incident. Also, the idea that a boy resolves the Oedipus complex during the phallic stage is under scrutiny.
Boys gain an idea of being male at an earlier age and gain this identity even without a father present. The same holds true for girls and the Electra complex. Freud’s theory of dreams is also disputed today, as many psychologists believe that dreams are a method of disguising wishes and are not, as Freud said, to be viewed as a method for determining the source of conflict. Some critics of psychoanalysis say that the assumptions made by psychoanalysts in response to a free-association session can be viewed in two ways.
If a psychoanalyst would point out that a repressed feeling exists in the patient, the patient can either respond that the repressed feeling does in fact exist, or he can answer that it does not exist. The denial of the existence of that particular repressed feeling given by the patient, can be viewed as a way of blocking a feeling the patient does not want the psychoanalyst to know about, or can possibly be a feeling that does not exist at all. The fact that a clear and definite solution cannot be derived from the patient’s response is another reason why there are many dissenters to Freud’s theories.
Another problem with psychoanalysis is that it makes the assumption that repressed feelings exist within the patient’s mind. Today, many psychologists say that the idea that memories can be repressed is unproven and untestable, although many laboratory tests have shown that people are more likely to forget experiences that were unpleasant than they are to forget pleasant ones. In real life, however, most people seem never forget their traumatic experiences. One well-known example of this phenomenon is that of Holocaust survivors who can recall every detail of their suffering.
Furthermore, study of memories also shows that willful blocking of memories is unlikely, as the more people try to forget painful experiences, the more they remember. Freud, of course, did not have the advantage of today’s modern research. Contemporary critics of Freud, such as Alfred Adler and Karen Horney, did not dispute his entire theory, but differed only as to certain portions of it. They believed that the conscious mind was of greater importance in interpreting experience and in dealing with one’s circumstances and surroundings than the subconscious mind.
They also believed that aggression and sex were not the overriding motivations that Freud maintained they were, and they placed more emphasis on social interaction and on higher motives such as love and security. Although his theories have been subject to criticism from his contemporaries and from later generations of specialists in the workings of the human mind, Freud was a giant of our age whose ideas set in motion a burst of experimentation, theorizing, investigation, and discovery. Freud is justifiably described as the father of modern psychology, as he was responsible for the birth of an entirely new way of thinking about the mind.