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Major Psychological Theory: Psychoanalysis By Sigmund Freud And Adlerian Psychology Alfred Adler

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Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The theory I: Psychoanalytic Theory
  3. Theorist’s Biography and Influence
  4. Beliefs about Human Nature
  5. Why do People have a problem?
  6. Role of the Counsellor
  7. Role of the client
  8. Therapeutic Goals
  9. Multicultural Considerations


Amongst the many psychological theories, the oldest and rigorously studied are Psychoanalysis and Adlerian/ Individual Psychology by Sigmund Freud and Alfred Adler. Both these theories made a mark on the history of psychology.

Adlerian therapy refers to a growth model that emphasizes on assuming responsibilities, creating a person’s destiny and finding ways, means, and goals of creating a meaningful life. Psychoanalytic therapy is a theory that put many emphasis on personality development, and a philosophy of nature of human beings. The psychoanalytical theory focuses on unconscious elements that are concerned with motivating human’s behaviors (Corey, 2017).

Freud stated that life is hard and man has unconscious badness which is covered by censorship, which helps them survive life (Adler, 1970). Whereas Adler (Orgler, 1963, pp. 258) said, “man is not bad by nature; whatever his faults have been, faults due to an erroneous conception of life, he must not be oppressed by them. He can change. The past is dead. He is free to be happy in the future and to bring happiness to others.”

The theory I: Psychoanalytic Theory

“Unexpressed emotions will never die, they are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways” - Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud’s work dominated his era and continues to influence the contemporary practice of psychology (Corey 2017; Heer, 1972). According to Corey (2017), many of his basic concepts are still part of the foundation on which other theorists build and develop their ideas. As the originator of psychoanalysis, Freud distinguished himself as an intellectual giant. He pioneered new techniques for understanding of human behavior, and his efforts resulted in the most comprehensive theory of personality and psychotherapy ever developed.

Theorist’s Biography and Influence

Sigmund Freud was the firstborn in a Viennese family of three boys and five girls on 6 May 1856 (Corey, 2017; Jones, 1953-7). As stated by Corey, his father was a very authoritarian man. Due to limited finances, they had to stay in crowded apartments. As a child, Sigmund was powerfully influenced by both Catholic and Judaic traditions. Bible reading, which was gifted by his father also made a deep impression on Feud as a boy. (Heer, 1972. pp.7). Corey (2017) very accurately points out that Freud’s family background can be used to understand the development of his theory.

Born in Moravia, moved to Leipzig and settled in Vienna, a city he both loved and hated, for the next thirty years of his life (Heer, 1972; Jones, 1953-7). Freud had many interests, but his career was restricted because of his Jewish heritage. For eight years he was an outstanding pupil and stood at the head of his class. In 1865, he stated studying gymnasium and finally settled as a student of medicine at University of Vienna. In 1877-8, he got his first professional success with the publication of his discovery connected with the spinal ganglion of Ameocetes, during his fourth year of his graduation. During the early 1880’s he graduated with excellent grades and then started to work at the Vienna General Hospital and in 1883, he was transferred to the psychiatric Clinic (Heer, 1972; Jones 1953-7).

In the next five years, Freud life changed a lot. One of the major events during this period was his meeting with Charcot in Paris, who demonstrated the use of hypnosis on the hysterical patients. Later in those years, he started his private practice in neuropathology. In 1886, he got married to Martha Bernays and had his first child in 1887. Later in that year, Freud started to use hypnotic suggestions on some of his patients with some success. Very slowly and gradually 1892 onwards he began to formulate the theory of ‘free association’ (Jones, 1953-7).

Interestingly, the most creative period of his life corresponds to the time when he was experiencing several emotional problems. In his forties, Freud faced many psychosomatic disorders, as well as exaggerated fears of dying and other phobias. In 1895, he for the first time analyzed his own dream, which lead to ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’. The exploring the meaning of his dream, he gained insight into the dynamics of his personality development. This was the year of the publication of ‘Studies in Hysteria’ written by Freud and Breuer, which marks the beginning of Psychoanalysis. This was also the year when his youngest daughter, Anna Freud was born; who later became the contributor of the ‘Defense Mechanisms’ to his theory.

In 1866, the term “psychoanalysis” was used for the first time in his paper. Freud conducted the psychoanalysis of his own subconscious in 1897. Initially, Freud’s examination of the memories of his childhood made him realize the malevolence towards his father. He also recalled his childhood sexual feelings for his mother, who was an attractive, loving, and protective woman. He then clinically formulated his theory as he observed his patients work through their own problems in analysis (Corey, 2017; Jones, 1953-7).

In 1902, the first meeting of the Psychological Wednesday society was held; this was to become in April 1908, the Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. According to Heer (1972, pp.11), “the Wednesday society was an answer, a conscious or unconscious counterblast to the famous Thursday society which had been founded by Vogelsang and where the inner circle of the ‘Christian Socialists’ met for debate, training and explode their ideological campaign against the ‘Jewish spirit of the age’, the ‘Jewish Hydra’ which – so they thought- was a shadow double eagle standing for the destruction of the monarchy and its Christian basis and the establishment of ‘ Jewish Liberal Capitalism’ and ‘Jewish Socialism”.

Following to this, for the next thirty years, Freud proposed a lot of his idea through publications and lectures. Due to his very little tolerance for the colleagues who diverged from his psychoanalytic doctrine, many of his followers parted their ways. Alfred Adler in 1911 and Jung in 1914 marked the major breaks from Freudian psychoanalysis. Being highly productive, frequently putting 18 hours of work, he collected to fill 24 volumes. Freud productivity remained at this prolific level until late in his life when he was diagnosed with cancer in his jaw. During the last two decades of his life, he underwent 33 operations. He died in London in 1939 (Corey, 2017; Jones, 1953-7).

Beliefs about Human Nature

As stated by Freud (1958), life is too hard, which has pain, disappointments and impossible tasks. Everyone seeks power, success, riches for himself and admires others who attain them, while undervaluing the truly precious thing in life. These general judgments can put ones humanity and mental health in danger.

According to Freud, human behavior is caused by irrational forces, unconscious motivations and biological and instinctual drives; and it was then that psychoanalysis was met with the objection that human beings are not merely sexual creatures but have nobler and higher impulses (Freud, 1965).

The main declaration of Psychoanalysis is of the psychic processes being unconscious, and the ones which are conscious are hardly isolated acts and parts of the entire psychic life. Psychoanalysis is based on the idea of ‘instincts.’ Freud defined libido being analogous to hunger, a force through which the instinct, in this case the sex instinct (as in the case of hunger it is the instinct to eat) expresses itself (Freud, 1917).

Why do People have a problem?

Freud believes that ‘it is not easy to deal scientifically with feelings’ (Freud, 1958, p.2). From the very first, Freud (1965) have said that human beings fall ill of a conflict between the claims of instinctual life and the resistance which arise within them against it; and not for a moment have we forgotten this resisting, repelling, repressing agency, which we thought of as equipped with its special forces, the ego- instincts, and which coincides with the ego popular psychology.

Structure of Personality. The idea that man should receive intimation of his connection with the surrounding world by a direct feeling which aims from the outset at serving this purpose sounds so strange and is so incongruous with the structure of our psychology that one is justified in attempting a psychoanalytic, that is, genetic explanation of such a feeling (Freud 1958).

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Freud (1958) gave three aspects of personality which operate as a whole. These are id, ego and superego. Normally there is nothing a person more certain of than the feelings of our self, our own ego. It seems to us an independent unitary thing, sharply outlined against everything else. This is deceptive appearance, and that on the contrary, the ego extends inwards, without any sharp delamination, into an unconscious mental entity which we call the id and to which it forms a façade. The superego is the voice of consciousness that objects and after the deed punishes with distressing reproaches and causes the feeling of remorse for the deed (Freud 1965).

Psychosexual Stages of Development. A significant contribution of Freud (1917) was the psychosexual stages. It focused on the sexuality of the infant with correspondence to perversions. Infantile sexuality is as potent as in adulthood states Freud. This stage starts before the genitals mature in a child, before the latent period and continue till puberty. The oral is the most primitive stage. It last from the first year of the life. The child is indulged in sucking as the mouth is the erogenous zone at this time. This stage also called the pregenital stage has a loose organization. The next sage is the anal stage. The erogenous zone in this stage is the anus. It is marked by sadistic and controlling characters.

The next stage is the Phallic stage which starts from the third year. During this phase, the genitals start to mature and there is a course of infantile masturbation, which is genital gratification. They develop a choice of object, mainly preference towards one of the two sexes, jealousy- which are established independently and unprejudiced and can be carefully observed. The male phallic stage is known as the Oedipus complex, which involves the mother as love object for the boy and the female phallic stage is known as the Electra Complex, where the girl strives for the father’s love and approval (Freud 1917).

Even though children (three to eight years) learn to hide all these desires but if plaid attention we can notice a sexual orientation in their activities. Without proper knowledge and understanding of these sexual desires, they may develop sexual immaturity in life. The next phase which starts from the sixth or the eighth year is the latent phase. There is a noticeable sexual development and there may or may not be a stop in the sexual interest and activities in the child during this phase. Most of the impulses prior to this phase become the victim of infantile amnesia. The final phase starts at twelve and lasts till eighteen years. The old instincts of phallic stage are revived here. The genital phase is the one where the genitals are the erogenous zone. Curiosity and the instinct to watch are the most powerful at this time (Freud 1917).

Role of the Counsellor

Freud (1917. pp. 6) in one of his lectures stated, “When, however, we undertake psychoanalytic treatment with a neurotic patient we proceed differently. We hold before him the difficulties of the method, its length, the exertions and the sacrifices which it will cost him; and, as to the result, we tell him that we make no definite promises, that the result depends on his conduct, on his understanding, on his adaptability, on his perseverance. We have, of course, excellent motives for conduct which seems so perverse, and into which you will perhaps gain insight at a later point in these lectures.”

Interchanges of words are the most important factor in psychoanalysis. The patient is the one telling their experiences, complaints, desires, confessions, wishes, dreams and emotions. The counsellor mainly focuses on listening to the patient and then directs the thought process of the patient channelizes their attention towards certain dark areas of consciousness and providing explanation and understanding to the patient (Freud. 1917).

A special effective relationship is developed between the physician and the patient. This is because the patient needs to feel impartial acceptance from the physician to express the most intimate parts of their life which might not been able to express to themselves or others. Therefore Freud says that the physician may never “listen in” but only “hear it” in psychoanalysis. So as Freud suggests, you cannot, therefore, 'listen in' on a psychoanalytic treatment. There is a strict format of words chosen to be used by the physician in therapy (Freud, 1917).

One of the major tasks of a psychoanalyst is dream interpretation. On the assumption that the dream is a psychic phenomenon, on the further assumption that there are unconscious things in man which he knows without knowing that he knows (Freud, 1917). There is a transfer of a single element to the entire dream to dig out the suppressed unconscious matter. The dream portrays unreal and unknown facts which are not known by the dreamer itself. These are the substitutes of the unattainable desires or errors which the patient might not accept in a conscious state. The concept used is called free association where there is a ‘calling out’ of the suppressed material (Freud, 1917).

The application process is that Freud made the patients lie down on a sofa while he sat behind, invisible. The procedure developed historically from his technique in hypnotism. Psychologically, in this way the patient was continuously reminded that he lay there as a patient and had to accept the doctor’s superior position (Adler, 1970; Freud, 1917).

Role of the client

Client disclosure is at the core of psychoanalysis (Freud, 1913), an orientation that encourages clients to free-associate as a means of disclosing as much as possible to tap into unconscious processes. Lengthy preliminary discussions before the beginning of the analytic treatment, previous treatment by another method and also previous acquaintance between the doctor and the patient who is to be analyzed, have special disadvantageous consequences for which one must be prepared. They result in the patient's meeting the doctor with a transference attitude that is already established and which the doctor must first slowly uncover instead of having the opportunity to observe the growth and development of the transference from the outset. In this way, the patient gains a temporary start upon us which we do not willingly grant him in the treatment. So long as the patient's communications and ideas run on without any obstruction, the theme of transference should be left untouched. One must wait until the transference, which is the most delicate of all procedures, has become resistant.

The patient usually regards being made to adopt this position as a hardship and rebels against it, especially if the instinct for looking (scopophilia) plays an important part in his neurosis. I insist on this procedure, however, for its purpose and result are to prevent the transference from mingling with the patient's associations imperceptibly, to isolate the transference and to allow it to come forward in due course sharply defined as a resistance. Many analysts work in a different way, but Freud did not know whether this deviation is due more to a craving for doing things differently or to some advantage which they find they gain by it (Freud, 1965).

Therapeutic Goals

At a point, questions were raised on the objective verification of the theory and on the possibility of demonstrating what it claims as being the truth. Being subjectively oriented, the fact is that psychoanalysis is not an easy theory and not many people have learned it thoroughly. The pathway of learning it follows an initial study of self and personality, called self-observation. This provides the desired sense of one's reality of the occurrence and understanding of their desires and drawbacks as a therapist. An analysis by the competent analyst allows the counselor to not only learn the finer techniques of the therapy but understand the effect of his ego (Freud 1917).

Multicultural Considerations

The psychoanalytic approach by Freud has been a landmark in the history of psychological approaches. Stafford-Clark, in his classic book repeatedly refers to the burning genius of Freud and to his scientific honesty and objectivity. Even a layman knows that many of Freud’s concepts have become firmly embedded in daily psychiatric language and thought. Almost any modern discourse on a psychiatric topic is studded with Freudian terms such as repression, the subconscious, emotional significance, conscience (superego), complexes, and many others (Pearce, 1996).

Corey (2017) suggests that a psychoanalytically oriented approach can be made appropriate for a culturally diverse population if techniques are modified to fit the settings in which a therapist practices. Therapists can help their clients review environmental situations at the various critical turning points in their lives to determine how certain events have affected them either positively or negatively.

However, as Kaminer (1996) suggests pure psychoanalysis is a very expensive and inefficient treatment, applicable only to a subset of patients with particular diagnoses, but it is also the only effective treatment for some disabling conditions. The application of it is a problem in low-income clients as they seek professional help to deal with a crisis situation and wants to find solutions to concrete problems, or at least some direction in addressing survival needs pertaining to housing, employment, and child care (Corey, 2017).

Transactional Analysis evolved out of Berne’s dissatisfaction with the slowness of psychoanalysis in curing people of their problems. Berne’s major objections to psychoanalysis were that it was time-consuming, complex, and poorly communicated to clients (Corey 2009).

Psychoanalytic therapy is generally perceived as being based on upper-middle-class values. All clients do not share these values. Another shortcoming is the ambiguity inherent in the therapeutic process. This can be problematic for clients from cultures who expect direction from the professional.

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