Sigmund Freud (Psychoanalysis)

This post is an attempt (on my part) to make the most of a very “UN-FUN” goal – to study for the NCE exam. Since I loathe the idea of rote memorization, I’ve decided to use this blog, to make the study process less boring. I begin this studying by listening to a series of CD’s by Howard Rosenthal (2005). He starts of reviewing Sigmund Freud’s works…

Biographical Overview

Freud lived from 1856 – 1939 and is considered the father of psychoanalysis.  “Originally, Freud has intended to pursue a career as a biological research scientist” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 22).  Therefore, Freud was trained formally as a doctor and did neuropsychological research in Vienna, Austria (Corsini & Wedding, 2010; Rosenthal, 2005).  Prior to Freud, “psychology was dominated by phrenology and mesmerism” (Rosenthal, 2005).  Phrenology pertains to an assessment of mental faculties by examining bumps on the skull.  Mesmerism is based on the idea that “special magnetic fluids could be liberated via a technique of animal magnetism” (Rosenthal, 2005).  As you can see, these Freudian precursors are far from scientific.  While many of his concepts have since been proven to hold water, his impact cannot be ignored.  He brought into the field of psychology a scientific spirit while asserting that the stuff occurring behind the ears was worth of analysis and understanding.

It is also worth noting the historical context within which Freud’s entry to the psychology field occurred.  “During his formative years great strides were being made in neurophysiology…psychology separated from philosophy as an independence science” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 22).   During this point in psychology’s history, Freud became interested in studying emotional disorders after participating in neuropsychological research as a doctor in Vienna (Rosenthal, 2005).   Through his career, Freud had revised his theories continually & his many writings reflect this evolution…

Freud’s Psychoanalysis

Psychodynamic Theories

Freud’s psychoanalysis falls under the umbrella of “psychodynamic theories” which refers to the work of Freud as well as his followers: (Jung, Adler, etc).  Psychodynamics is the…interplay of forces in the mind…symptoms in psychodynamic theory are seen as an expression of inner conflict” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 17).    Additionally, since all behaviors, emotions, and thoughts pertain to unconscious and our mind is structured accommodate both conscious and unconscious elements.

Psychoanalysis Defined.

According to Rosenthal (2005) Freud called his psychoanalytic theory “dynamic” in nature.  This term was inspired by developments in physics at the time.  “In physics dynamic is the study of motion and forces impacting movement.  In therapy dynamic refers to the energy or mental forces of the mind, (Rosenthal, 2005).”  

Freud’s Psychoanalysis is based on the idea that individual’s aren’t aware of many factors affecting their feelings thoughts and behaviors.  The goal of Psychoanalysis is to “seek to understand human behavior through an investigation of inner experience” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 16).  This allows the client to release any repressed information within the unconscious.

According to Rosenthal, (2005), Freud’s approach is a long and expensive process that requires sessions 3-5 times weekly for several years.   In Freud’s psychoanalysis, a couch is utilized and the client is facing away from the therapist.   In contrast, psychodynamic therapy is performed face-to-face and requires fewer sessions.  Rosenthal, (2005) states that it works best on clients who are highly motivated and not facing crisis situations.

Early Career – “Studies in Hysteria”

Early in his career, Freud worked with hypnotist Josef Breuer (Corsini & Wedding, 2010; Rosenthal, 2005).  Breuer was an Austrian doctor that utilized hypnosis in order to understand oppressed traumatic and emotionally impactful events within the client’s minds.  Corsini & Wedding (2010) state the following about how Breuer’s work left an impression on Freud:

“While awake, the patient was completely aware of the ‘traumatic’ event or its connection with her disability, but after relating it under diagnosis, the patient was cured of her disability.  The report made a deep impression on Freud” (p. 23).

After learning about this, Freud was inspired to learn more about hypnosis, however discovered later he was “not very good at it” (Rosenthal, 2005).  He eventually hooked up with Breuer at some point again to further verify his research findings.  The result of this collaboration was a work titled “Studies in Hysteria”.    It is interesting to note that “hysteria” is an ancient Green root word that means “womb or uterus”.  At the time that this work was published, “hysteria” was a general term referring to “mental illness”.  In other words, one might infer from this f’d up term that mental illness was – at this time in history – likened to “acting like a woman”.  ((However, I’m getting off track aren’t I 🙂 )) …

untitledAt any rate, Freud came to several conclusions as a result of this collaborative work, while working with the famous “Anna O / Bertha Pappenheim” (See pic).  These conclusions were to be key elements of his psychoanalytic theory:

FIRSTLY, knowledge of a traumatic event isn’t enough (Rosenthal, 2005).

“The discharge of the appropriate amount of emotion was also necessary” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 23).  This insight led Freud to eventually utilize catharsis (talking cure) and free association (saying whatever comes to mind) in is psychoanalytic therapy (Rosenthal, 2005).

SECONDLY, Freud noticed that “traumatic events were forgotten or excluded from consciousness” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010, p. 23).

This insight led Freud to conclude that client’s desired to defend (consciously or unconsciously) their psyche from traumatic memories.  The result was a series of ego defense mechanisms and a repressed memory that would complicate their lives until the traumatic memories could be resolved.  Essentially, he felt the mind desired to maximize pleasure (pleasure principle), minimize pain, and is structured accordingly.

THIRDLY, Freud noted these cases of hysteria were related early traumatic childhood sexual experiences.

These early “clinical experiences laid a foundation for the theory he later developed. He was convinced that the traumas and conflicts of early childhood can have lasting effects, that we are ruled by unconscious forces.” (Kassim, 2001, p580).  As a result, in Freud’s psychoanalysis he desired to examine key events in a person’s childhood and the lasting effect it had on the remainder of their lives (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010).   Additionally, he felt a cases of “hysteria” were generally related to early childhood sexual experiences and included these concepts in his developmental theory.  Rosenthal (2005 ) notes that while these concepts have been debunked, it is worth reviewing as a foundational element in psychology’s history.

2nd Phase of Career – Interpretation of Dreams.

In 1900 Sigmund Freud published a book titled “Interpretation of Dreams”, considered the “bible of psychoanalysis” (Rosenthal, 2005).  by those who study his work.  Freud was interested in learning how dreams and how might be utilized to interpret symptoms within the unconscious.  According to Howard Rosenthal, (2005), “Freud called the dream the royal road to the unconscious mind.”   Freud felt that dreams reflected the mind’s structure and were products of “conflicting forces in the mind – between unconscious wishes and the repressive activity.” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010 p. 24).  Dreams can be thought of distorted versions of the repressed desires and memories, residing in our unconscious.  Dream interpretation became a key element of Freud’s psychoanalysis and involved deciphering between manifest and latent content.  While manifest content refers to the dream’s actual subject matter, the latent content referred to its hidden meaning (Rosenthal, 2005).  In this work he includes the concept of “self-analysis”, and provides the following commentary:

“Freud remained ambivalent of the possibility of usefulness of self-analysis.   My self-analysis is the most essential thing I have at present [however] remains interrupted.   I can analyze myself only with the help of knowledge obtained objectively…True self analysis is impossible.” (Erwin, 2002, p. 570).

The Topographical Hypothesis

dscf9020Rosenthal (2005) notes that while Freud’s structural theory (id, ego, & superego), has received widespread attention, his topographical notion has also made a huge impact on the behavioral sciences.  Essentially he states that we are like iceberg’s since much of makes us “who we are”,  resides below the surface.  This is known as “Depth Psychology” (Rosenthal, 2005).  According to the Freud, the mind contains both conscious, preconscious and unconscious elements (Broderick, 2010; Kassim, 2010).   The conscious mind is that portion of our mind we are aware of in the moment (Broderick, 2010; Kassim, 2010). It is the portion of the iceberg popping out of the water for all to see.  The preconscious is information that can be recalled with some effort. Our unconscious mind, on the other hand, exists outside our own awareness and is comprised of drive and instinct (Broderick, 2010; Kassim, 2010).  It is the largest part of the iceberg and exists below the matter, outside our awareness (Rosenthal, 2005).

Structural Theory

Freud believed that people are perpetually driven by inner conflicts…and that compromise is a necessary solution. (Kassim, 2001, p581).  As a result, Freud conceived the human mind as a “psychic apparatus containing of three parts, the Id, ego and superego…psychological constructs and not physical entities” (Rosenthal, 2005).  The balance of these three entities is essential to minimize intrapsychic energy conflict (Rosenthal, 2005).

img_2900The id the most basic part of the psych and the first to develop (Broderick, 2010; Kassim, 2001). It is driven by the pleasure principle.  Its primary goal is need fulfillment.   It predominates in the first few years of life, and focuses around an infant’s immediate needs (Broderick, 2010; Kassim, 2001).  It is best described as a reflection of our basic instinctually driven needs.  On its on, the id is chaotic, unconscious, and is driven by the satisfaction of needs.  It has no sense of time or morals.  We experience it as neurotic symptoms, in dreams, and during cathartic free association utilized during Freud’s psychoanalysis.
img_2902The second component of the mind to develop is the EGO.  It comprises as an emerging understanding of the consequences of behavior.  As the ego develops, children display a greater sense of rationale is exercised in interaction with others (Broderick, 2010; Kassim, 2001). While the id represents our instinctual drive, the ego runs on the basis of a “reality principle” and operates as the executive administrator of the mind (Rosenthal, 2005).  Our ego-based defense mechanisms reside here as a result of the mind’s efforts to separate repressed memories from the superego’s conscious self.  In this respect, it is the face we present to the world, and represents our moment-to-moment conscious awareness. It is logical and reasonable.  It uses judgment to reign in the id’s desires.  it is a mediator between the person and their reality (Rosenthal, 2005).
img_2903Finally is a psychic construct that reflects our moral conscience.  In this respect, it represents an internalization of cultural and social values we learn from others growing up.  It contains our ego-ideal, or our idealized self and represents a set of moral standard s.  According to Freud’s theory “it is a byproduct of the child’s successfully passing through the Oedipus complex (Rosenthal, 2005).”  Providing an individual of a strong moral code of right and wrong, it represents the internalization and internalization of our parental figures (Rosenthal, 2005).

Eros & Thanatos

According to Freud, two major instincts motivate all human behavior, the first are collectively referred to as life instincts, which include the need for food, water, air and sex….a second darker side of human nature….is a death instinct, a need to reduce all tensions. (Kassim, 2001, p581).  The life energy created by these instincts is defined as the libido (Rosenthal, 2005).   Freud called the life instinct “eros” and it signified for him our instinct for self-preservation.  Thanatos, in contrast, is our self-destructive death wish, however he stated that this instinct was unconscious (Kassim, 2001).


“Freud was the first to recognize the therapeutic value of transference phenomena, in which the patient comes to experience others, the analyst in particular, in ways that are colored by…early experiences with [others]” (Corsini & Wedding, 2010 p. 20).   Rosenthal, (2005) defines transference as reacting to the therapist as if they were a significant other from the past.  Transference feelings can be positive, negative or ambivalent in nature (Rosenthal, 2005).  Finally, countertransference is a therapist’s transference issues upon the client as if they were somebody from the past (Corsini & Wedding, 2010; Rosenthal, 2005).  Therapists are all susceptible to countertransference with their clients, and need to be aware of them and address these issues honestly.  There’s definitely more than a grain of truth to the fact that “every therapist needs their own therapist”.

Concluding comments..

This overview is by no means comprehensive.  In future posts, I intend to review his ego defenses and four stages of psychosexual development….


Erwin, E. (2002). The Freud encyclopedia: Theory, therapy, and culture. Taylor & Francis.
Broderick, P.C. & Blewitt, P. (2010). Life Span Development: Human Development for Helping Professionals. (3rd. Ed.) Boston, MA: Pearson.
Corsini , R.J. & Wedding, D. (2010). Current psychotherapies. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Kassin, Paul. (2001). Psychology. (3rd Ed.). Upper Saddle Creek River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Rosenthal, H. (2005). Vital Information and Review Questions for the NCE and State Counseling Exams. Routledge.

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