The History of Psychology: Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is a system of therapy as well as a concept for personality. Psychoanalysis is not directly comparable to other schools of thought since it is not a product of universities or a pure science. Heavy emphasis in psychoanalysis is made on the role and power of the unconscious. The theories of the unconscious mind can be traced back to G. Leibnitz (1646-1716). He developed a system that he called monadology. In his system, there are separate psychic entities, called monads, which have different levels of consciousness. F. Herbart (1776-1841) expanded this concept and added the idea of thresholds or limen of consciousness. Herbart thus declared that ideas are unconscious if the monads act within certain strengths of consciousness. The borderline between conscious and unconscious is the threshold.

Freud was influenced from a wide range of fields. He was interested in treating mentally disturbed patients. Briad (1795-1860) used hypnosis to make the patients report freely their past experiences without any inhibitions. Freud identified the use of catharsis, too. However, Freud noticed that not all patients can be hypnotized and therefore he advocated the use of free association. With free association, the patients could talk about whatever comes to their mind—this mirrored the activity of the unconscious. Then, catharsis could be applied to identify the past experiences that caused the mental discomfort. In addition, Freud used dream as indicators for hidden unconscious activities.

The strongly deterministic and mechanistic view of Freud’s personality system is reflected by many parts of his theory. The Feudian Slip, for example, is expressing the real thought of an individual. There is no accidental mistake.

In his lecture at Clark University, he used several examples emphasizing and demonstrating his points. His famous example of Anna O. was used to show how a “psychic trauma” elicited an illogical, abnormal behavior. Anna O. was not able to drink water from a glass. Her fear, so Freud, resulted from extreme disgust when she had seen a dog drinking out of a glass. By finding out the origin of her anxiety, it was possible for the therapist to help her overcome it. Freud noted that most abnormal behavior develops because the individuals “cannot free themselves from the past; by dwelling on it they neglect the reality of the present. This fixation … on pathogenic traumas is one of the most important and practically significant characteristics of neurosis” (pg. 380). The fixation on pathogenic traumas occurs because the patients repress these ideas from conscious awareness.

In Freud’s personality system, drives were the origin of motivation. Freud put strong emphasis on the sex drive. Freud used the term libido to refer to psychic energy that gets lost in the consecutive psychosexual stages such as oral or anal stage. In those stages, libido can fixate and cause an alternation in the individual’s personality.

Freud divided consciousness into three parts that interact with each other and form the personality of a person. The id (dt. Es) is represents the natural drives and instincts. It itself is not controllable. Furthermore, it is the source of psychic energy. The ego (dt. Ich) is the rational “thinker” and tries to control the id. Moral aspects and societal values of behavior are incorporated to the superego (dt. Ueber-Ich).

Freud argued that any attack to the ego is a form of anxiety. To defend against anxiety, the ego develops methods to protect itself, which are called defense mechanisms. Those defense mechanisms are responsible for the equilibrium of psychic energy and tension within the individual.

Neo-Freudians did not fully agree with Freud’s concept. Many of Freud’s former supporters broke up with him and derived their own theory of personality. Among those was Carl Jung (1875-1961). In his concept of Analytical Psychology, he introduced a second form of the unconscious: the collective unconscious. Through extensive research on the myths of several independent cultures, Jung found many forms of social behavior, such as the hero, that occurred in all the cultures. He concluded that this kind of knowledge that we have is inherited from past generations going back to our animal ancestors. Jung also proposed a personality model that distinguishes between two groups of personality types: the introverted vs. extroverted type and the thinker vs. feeler type.

Another former participant of the Freudian meetings in the beginning of psychoanalysis was Alfred Adler (1870-1937). He completely disagreed with Freud because his childhood experiences were different from Freud’s. Adler emphasized on the social factors that contribute to personality development. He stated that individuals have a social interest, which is to cooperate with other people. However, people suffer from inferiority complexes and to compensate this, they strive for superiority. Completely against Freud’s theory, he proposed that the self has the creative power of forming its own personality. Thus, he went against Freud’s basic idea of the determinism of human nature. Additionally, Adler noticed that the birth-order of a child might indicate a tendency in the child’s social and intellectual development.

Karen Horney (1885-1952) also disagreed with Freud. Her fundamental concept was that there is a basic anxiety in each of us that occurs when we feel lonely and helpless. This anxiety is the foundation for neuroses. Horney distinguished between three personality types with different neurotic needs—modes of defense against anxiety: the compliant, detached, and aggressive personality.

One of the brilliant successors of the Freud era was Erik Erikson (1902-1994). He introduced the concept of psychosocial stages that involve certain conflicts. These conflicts have to be resolved; otherwise, if an individual fails to resolve the conflicts of a stage, he/she remains in that stage and the personality remains unchanged. Persons must identify their ego within adolescence. If they don’t it will lead to an identity crisis. Erikson’s concept integrates many social factors to a personality system; a fact that was completely neglected in Freud’s psychoanalytic theory.