Discuss How Freud Described Mental Health Problems

Sigmand Freud, also known as ‘’golden siggie’ by his mother was, in his time, a strong cocaine user, but he was also an incredible medical doctor, he was extremely interested in mental health problem that the people were aware of. His aim was always to create a psychological theory that applied to everybody. Nowadays Freud is known in psychology as the father of psychoanalysis. Freud’s psychodynamic theory focuses on both development and the unconscious mind which is where mental health problems are supposedly formed. Although this theory doesn’t apply to everyone, Freud followed it strongly when concerning his various case studies.

In Freud’s theory he stated that there were three levels of consciousness, the conscious which includes everything that is inside of our awareness. Preconscious which contains our memories which generally remains outside of our thoughts and our unconscious which we are unaware of and therefore contains thoughts, feelings and urges which are outside of our awareness entirely. Freud believed that within our unconscious mind lay traumatic and unpleasant thoughts or feelings which are in our unconscious mind so that they do not affect the conscious mind, which would find these feelings distressing.

According to the psychodynamic theory repressed memories in the unconscious mind can still affect people’s behaviour; this could lead to further issues and even mental illnesses. Freud believed in order to stop this unwanted behaviour one must bring the memory into the conscious so that it can be dealt with. Anna O was a case study in which Freud analysed. She had many physical symptoms such as a severe cough; paralysis of the extremities on the right side of her body as well as disturbances of vision, hearing and speech, yet these all appeared to have no physical cause.

As well as this she also displayed a phobia of drinking from glasses. When Freud looked into her case he conducted psychoanalysis (a method of accessing the unconscious) and discovered repressed memories in Anna O’s unconscious mind which made her refrain from drinking out of a glass. The memory she was hiding in her unconscious mind was that of a dog licking a glass, Freud believed this was the cause of her phobia. Once bought to the conscious mind Anna O was able to understand her problem and hence overcome her phobia.

The process in which Anna O’s memory of a dog licking the glass entered her unconscious is called ‘repression’. This is one of the ‘defence mechanisms’ Freud believed protected the conscious mind. Repression is where thoughts are pushed back into the unconscious mind; other defence mechanisms also focus on pushing memories back into the unconscious mind in order to avoid dealing with them. By doing this though it may cause problems due to a disturbed thought or memory that can’t be recognized. Repression isn’t the only defence mechanism that keeps thoughts in the unconscious mind.

Projection and denial are also defence mechanism that pushes thoughts out of the conscious mind either through denying it occurring or pretending these thoughts are someone else’s in order to protect themselves. However if the memory being repressed is highly negative the influence it has within the unconscious could cause a mental disorder such as a phobia. Freud believed that the first few years of a child’s life were the most important as that is when they go through the psychosexual stages one goes through as a child, starting from the oral stage and ending in the genital stage.

He stated that if progression through these stages did not happen or unresolved issues occurred in a stage it could affect their behaviour as adults, even leading to mental illnesses. For instance if one becomes stuck in the oral stage as a child they may become obsessed with stimulating their mouth, for instance smoking, chewing, talking or even overeating, they can also tend to be very needy and often sarcastic with a hard personality. Eating disorders are significant mental health issues which could originate in an individuals psychosexual development.

Similarly if a child becomes stuck in the anal stage they may either become anally expulsive which means they would become messy people, reflecting their jobs and personality, or anally retentive, portraying them to be stubborn, obsessively clean and tidy as well as being tight with money and their emotions. One could also become stuck in the phallic stage which could possible lead to homosexuality or a vain and proud personality. An example of mental health issues forming during an unresolved psychosexual development is from Freud’s case study of ‘Little Hans’.

The case study of ‘Little Hans’ conveyed Freud’s idea of repressed memories affecting a person’s behaviour as the idea of Little Han’s having a phobia of white horses symbolised his fear of his father. This was analysed by Freud to be a representation of his father who Little Hans not only feared but also wished away due to the Oedipus complex. The Oedipus complex is where a boy desires a possession of his mother sexually and a negative feeling towards his father.

Little Han’s phobia disappeared as he progressed further in the psychosexual development into the latency stage which meant he identified with his father. If he had not progressed smoothly into the latency stage he may have been left with his phobia being associated with mental health problems persisting in the future. In order to resolve any mental health issues created by repressed memories in the unconscious mind such as phobias or eating disorders, Freud believed that psychotherapy was necessary.

Psychotherapy involves methods such as dream analysis and free association. Through these methods Freud believed he could access the unconscious mind by making them accessible by the conscious mind. He believed that dream analysis was helpful as dreams are often symbols to thoughts held in the unconscious mind. Through the use of free association Freud was able to bring Little Han’s thoughts to his conscious mind and that then showed Freud that when he resisted it could be seen as repression or the unconscious mind protecting itself.

Bringing out these thoughts from the unconscious was seen by Freud as one of the most important ways to lessen any possible mental disorder symptoms. During psychotherapy the therapist is able to help the patient gain control over the thoughts and desires hidden within the unconscious mind. Anna O was an example of where psychotherapy has been used as she was made aware of her memory of the dog licking the glass through the use of free association. Due to this she was able to come to terms with what had happened and furthermore understand her phobia.

Once she had dealt with this phobia she became free of her symptoms and henceforth her mental issue was over. According to Freud’s theories, he believed that all mental illnesses could be resolved by accessing the unconscious mind and bringing these thoughts forward into the conscious. Although Freud’s theory may seem full proof on the surface, there have been many criticisms about his work. Freud often uses case studies to make his theories, but by doing this it means that his studies can often not be generalised or applied to all children.

Another criticism is that Freud’s case studies are also highly subjective as well as time consuming which many people could argue makes the study too bias to actually see a scientific result. On the other hand there are many people who believe that psychotherapy is highly beneficial, so although there is little evidence of Freud’s work being scientific it may be argued to be a valid form of therapy when concerning curing mental illnesses such as phobias. By pushing memories, events, thoughts or even feelings to he back of our mind, Freud believed we were repressing them into our unconscious mind so that they could not be accessed in our day to day life, but what we don’t realize is that it can affect our behaviour and even lead to more serious issues such as mental illnesses, such as phobias or eating disorders. In order to deal with these memories and thoughts and prevent them from affecting our behaviour, the thoughts must be brought to our conscious mind through the use of psychotherapy so that we are aware of them and henceforth can deal with them.

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