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Psychoanalysis (or Freudian psychology) is a body of ideas developed by Austrian

neurologist Sigmund Freud and continued by others. It is primarily devoted to

the study of human psychological functioning and behavior, although it can

also be applied to societies. Psychoanalysis has three main components:

• a method of investigation of the mind and the way one thinks;

• a systematized set of theories about human behavior;

• a method of treatment of psychological or emotional illness.

Under the broad umbrella of psychoanalysis, there are at least 22 theoretical

orientations regarding human mentation and development. The various

approaches in treatment called “psychoanalysis” vary as much as the theories

do. The term also refers to a method of studying child development.

Theoretical Models

The predominant psychoanalytic theories can be grouped into several theoretical

“schools.” Although these theoretical “schools” differ, most of them continue to

stress the strong influence of unconscious elements affecting people’s mental

lives. There has also been considerable work done on consolidating elements of

conflicting theory. As in all fields of healthcare, there are some persistent conflicts

regarding specific causes of some syndromes, and disputes regarding the best

treatment techniques. Some of the most influential theories are described below

Basic Human Drives

According to Sigmund Freud, there are only two basic drives that serve to motivate

all thoughts, emotions, and behavior. These two drives are (i) sex and (ii)

aggression. Also called Eros and Thanatos, or life and death, respectively, they

underlie every motivation that humans experience.

Freud’s theory emphasized sex as a major driving force in human nature. While

this seems overdone at times, sexual activity is a means to procreation, to bringing

about life and therefore assuring the continuation of human bloodline. Even in

other animals, sex is a primary force to assure the survival of the species.

Aggression, or the death instinct, on the other hand serves just the opposite goal.

Aggression is a way to protect us from those attempting harm. The aggression

drive is a means to allow us to survive while at the same time eliminating our

enemies who may try to prevent us from doing so.

While it sounds very primitive, it must not be looked at merely as sexual activity

and aggressive acts. These drives entail the whole survival instinct and could,

perhaps, be combined into this one drive:

The drive to stay alive, procreate, and prevent others from stopping or

reducing these needs.

Looking at the animal kingdom it is easy to see these forces driving most, if not

all, of their behaviour.

Let us look at a few examples. Why would an adult decide to get a college

degree? According to Freud, we are driven to improve ourselves so that we may

be more attractive to the opposite sex and therefore attract a better mate. With a

better mate, we are more likely to produce offspring and therefore continue our

bloodline. Furthermore, a college degree is likely to bring a higher income,

permitting advantages over others who may be seen as our adversaries.

Structural and Topographical Models of Personality

Sigmund Freud’s Theory is quite complex and although his writings on

psychosexual development set the groundwork for how our personalities

developed, it was only one of five parts to his overall theory of personality. He

also believed that different driving forces develop during these stages which

play an important role in how we interact with the world.

Structural Model (id, ego, superego)

According to Freud, we are born with our Id. The Id is an important part of our

personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud

believed that the Id is based on pleasure principle. In other words, the Id wants

whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the

situation. When a child is hungry, the Id wants food, and therefore the child

cries. When the child needs to be changed, the child cries and the Id wants that

the change is done immediately. When the child is uncomfortable, in pain, too

hot, too cold, or just wants attention, the Id speaks up until his or her needs are

met. The Id does not care about reality, about the needs of anyone else, only its

own satisfaction. If you think about it, babies are not real considerate of their

parents’ wishes. They have no care for time, whether their parents are sleeping,

relaxing, eating dinner, or bathing. When the Id wants something, nothing else

is important.

Within the next three years, as the child interacts more and more with the world,

the second part of the personality begins to develop. Freud called this part as the

Ego. The Ego is based on the reality principle. The ego understands that other

people have needs and desires and that sometimes being impulsive or selfish can

hurt us in the long run. It’s the Ego’s job to meet the needs of the id, while

taking into consideration the reality of the situation.

By the age of five, or the end of the phallic stage of development, the Superego

develops. The Superego is the moral part of the personality and develops in

response to the moral and ethical restraints placed on the individual by the

caregivers. Many equate the Superego with the conscience as it dictates our

belief of right and wrong.

In a healthy person, according to Freud, the Ego is the strongest so that it can

satisfy the needs of the id, not upset the Superego, and still take into consideration

the reality of every situation. If the Id gets too strong, the impulses and self

gratification take over the person’s life. If the Superego becomes too strong, the

person would be driven by rigid morals, would be judgmental and unbending in

his or her interactions with the world.

Ego Defense Mechanisms

We stated earlier that the Ego’s job was to satisfy the Id’s impulses, not offend

the moralistic character of the Superego, while still taking into consideration the

reality of the situation. We also stated that this was not an easy job. Think of the

Id as the ‘devil on your shoulder’ and the Superego as the ‘angel of your shoulder.’

We don’t want either one to get too strong so we talk to both of them, hear their

perspective and then make a decision. This decision is the Ego talking, the one

looking for that healthy balance.

Before we can talk more about this, we need to understand what drives the Id,

Ego, and Superego. According to Freud, we only have two drives; sex and

aggression. In other words, everything we do is motivated by one of these two

drives. Sex, also called Eros or the Life force, represents our drive to live, prosper,

and produce offspring. Aggression, also called Thanatos or our Death force,

represents our need to stay alive and stave off threats to our existence, our power,

and our prosperity.

Now the Ego has a difficult time satisfying both the id and the superego, but it

doesn’t have to do so without help. The ego has some tools it can use in its job

as the mediator; tools that help defend the ego. These are called Ego Defense

Mechanisms or Defenses. When the ego has a difficult time making both the Id

and the Superego happy, it will employ one or more of these defenses mentioned

in the table given below. Ego defenses are not necessarily unhealthy as you can see by the examples above.

In face, the lack of these defenses or the inability to use them effectively can

often lead to problems in life. However, we sometimes employ the defenses at

the wrong time or overuse them, which can be equally destructive.

Limitations

Some of the limitations typically raised in response to Freudian theory are:

Freud’s hypotheses are neither verifiable nor falsifiable. It is not clear what would

count as evidence sufficient to confirm or refute theoretical claims.

The theory is based on an inadequate conceptualization of the experience of

women.

LACANIAN PSYCHOANALYSIS

Lacanian psychoanalysis, which integrates psychoanalysis with semiotics and

Hegelian philosophy, is especially popular in France and parts of Latin America.

Lacanian psychoanalysis is a departure from the traditional British and American

psychoanalysis, which is predominantly Ego psychology. Jacques Lacan

frequently used the phrase “returner à Freud” (“return to Freud”) in his seminars

and writings, as he claimed that his theories were an extension of Freud’s own,

contrary to those of Anna Freud, the Ego Psychology, Object relations and “self”

theories and also claims the necessity of reading Freud’s complete works, not

only a part of them. Lacan’s concepts concern the “mirror image”, the “Real”,

the “Imaginary” and the “Symbolic”, and the claim that “the unconscious is

structured as a language”.

Though a major influence on psychoanalysis in France and parts of Latin America,

Lacan and his ideas have had little to no impact on psychoanalysis or

psychotherapy in the English speaking world, where his ideas are most widely

used to analyses texts in literary theory. Due to his unorthodox methods and

theories, Lacan was expelled by the International Psychoanalytic Association,

and many of Lacan’s psychoanalytic concepts have been described as nonsensical,

inconsistent or pseudoscientific.

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