Studies mind and behaviour

Psychoanalysis, like psychology, studies mind and behaviour in a very radical yet structural and in depth manner. The difference between the two, however, is that psychology considers the conscious processes as opposed to psychoanalysis, which also concerns itself with the unconscious. The concept of the unconscious arose from Sigmund Freud’s creation of the psychodynamic approach to personality. Freud once likened personality to an iceberg with the visible tip above the surface of the water and a large part remaining hidden underneath (Bernstein,1997).

From this simplistic introduction to classical psychoanalysis subsequent theories have evolved. Alongside these theories developments in therapeutic technique have arisen, which both coincide with and are a contrast to Freud’s original theory. This relationship between classical psychoanalysis and its contemporary variations will be examined, paying particular attention to geo analysis, interpersonal therapy and object relations therapy.

Freud opened his extensive career in psychoanalysis with a background in medicine and a period of research at the Institute of Cerebral Anatomy. It was an interest in nervous diseases, which led him to work with a man named Charcot in Paris, who was considering the idea of hysteria (Patterson and Watkins,1996). Hysteria can be described as the root from which psychoanalysis grew and through which Freud produced three systems: ego, id and superego. Freud perceived the ego as a mediator between the id’s desire, the superego’s moral dictates and the external world. In Freud’s words, the ego is a “…poor creature owing service to three masters and consequently menaced by several dangers”(Freud,1923,p.82), hysteria being the product of this conflict the ego continually faces.

Freud used psychoanalysis, gradually constructed during the late nineteenth century, in order to explain, examine, ease and eradicate the unconscious conflicts as well as their effects upon the individual. This practice became widely known as classical psychoanalysis, due to modifications and alterations since as early as 1910 (Patterson and Watkins,1996). The dilemma for Freudian psychoanalysis is that although this field produces insightful and theoretically valid results, it fails to significantly prove them. Freud’s various methods of analytical investigation are often criticised for their lack of empirical evidence and unreliability.

“Much as Freud desired it otherwise, psychoanalysis simply does not and cannot fit within the empiricist or rationalist models of science or knowledge” (Flax,1990,p.66). This has created a trend for theorists in psychoanalysis to move away from Freud and classical psychoanalysis in an attempt to develop alternative theories and therapies. The aim of these pioneers is to discover a better, more analytical tool than that of hysteria; the inspiration behind psychoanalysis that was later discarded by Freud because of its complexity.

Freudian psychoanalysis, though extensively criticised and not as prevalent (Jensen, Bergin and Graves,1990), is a strong foundation upon which contemporary psychoanalytic theories have been built. Freud himself said, towards then end of his life, “Looking back, then, over the patchwork of my life’s labours, I can say that I have made many beginnings and thrown out many suggestions. Something will come of them in the future, though I cannot myself tell whether it will be much or little. I can, however, express a hope that I have opened up a pathway for an important advance in our knowledge” (Freud,1935,p.129-130).

Contemporary psychotherapy, in any form, derives from the basic structure Freud introduced. Therapy is a personal, one to one, psychological and proposed treatment of a behaviour disorder. Contemporary psychoanalysis constitutes a move to the ego for the explanation and exploration of human behaviour. A potent example is found in ego analysis, for one of its contributors was Freud’s daughter, Anna. Of the ego, Anna Freud writes that it is “…the medium through which we try to get a picture of the other two institutions” (Freud, A.,1941,p.6) and made the ego the focal point of her analysis and study.

In accordance with this, Freud has been criticised for his failure to recognize the autonomy of the ego, which ego analysis stresses as it believes the ego possesses its own energy, interests, motives and objectives (Patterson and Watkins,1996). Hartmann was an influential character in the establishment of the concept that the ego had its “…own constitutional base” (Frosh,1987,p.91). Hartmann’s book “Ego Psychology and the Problem of Adaptation”, incidentally, was published with 1939; the year of Freud’s death.

Though Freud believed therapy should be a process that strengthens the ego, Ego analysis was a marked change from classical psychoanalysis since it saw the ego’s link with the outside world as having an impact upon personal development. Hartmann placed great emphasis upon reality and followed the Darwinian approach, being of the opinion that just as humans are preordained to adapt to their environment through evolution, so the ego has been biologically programmed to adapt to the social environment (Frosh,1987).

Though ego psychology holds an element of Freud’s biological basis, humans are viewed as more logical and rational beings rather than subjects of impulse, fantasy and desire. Ego analysis, therefore, rejects Freud’s purely deterministic and biological approach and shifts to accommodate social and cultural influences (Hjelle and Ziegler,1985), realising that Freud overgeneralised from nineteenth century Vienna to the whole of humanity and ignored cultural difference in human development (Patterson and Watkins,1996). This, in turn, means that ego psychoanalysts take into account the whole life span when considering ego development, whereas Freud believed “…it is constructed in early childhood out of our earliest desires and losses” (Minsky,1996,p.3).

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