This is intended to be a FAQ section for educational purpose only. Is aimed to clarify basic concept for non-expert in psychoanalysis history and theory.
Psychoanalysis is a form of treatment for psychological difficulties founded upon an understanding that the human mind includes an unconscious dimension. Psychoanalysis also provides a way of understanding ourselves, our lives, and our behaviour.
Sigmund Freud was the founder of psychoanalysis and the first psychoanalyst. Many of Freud’s insights into the nature of the human mind are now widely accepted and have become so integrated into most schools of psychological thought that their origin is often overlooked. Indeed, much of what Freud said has become so much part of the fabric of human discourse that it is difficult to speak about ourselves and our experiences without unconsciously using Freudian terminology. It is also the case that Freud’s ideas on the nature of the mind and the intricacies of human interaction continue to generate almost as much interest and debate now as they did when they were first published.
Freud’s innovation was simply to give those suffering from neurotic problems the opportunity to talk freely while he listened. In itself this method seems to offer nothing new, but it is based on what was then and continues to be a significant innovation. Freud’s motivation was a desire to understand the human mind and he based his approach on the idea of an unconscious mental function that could be revealed in the words of his patients. Freud’s concept of the unconscious was a major new perspective in the understanding mental life and it is this perspective that continues to be the basis of the psychoanalytical method today. In his extensive work with patients and through his development of psychoanalytic theory, Freud demonstrated that many factors which influence a person’s action and thought exist outside of awareness and that unconscious conflict plays a significant part in determining both normal and abnormal behavior. Much of this unconscious conflict is discovered to have its origins in early life and it is this fact that gives many symptoms an intractable quality.
Freud realised that many of the symptoms that caused his patients distress arose out of a conflict of impulses and desires on the one hand, and fears or prohibitions on the other. These desires, fears and prohibitions are usually infantile in origin and have become unconscious, or have been repressed, as a consequence of the impossibility of satisfying external demands without also giving up desires and impulses. Symptoms such as depression, anxiety, phobias, obsessional behaviour and many others arise as a consequence of this internal conflict and these symptoms turn out to be an attempt to ameliorate this conflict. They are what Freud called ‘compromise formations’.
Freud’s ideas initially met with resistance and sometimes antagonism. However, over time his position and his ideas gradually gained acceptance both within medical and psychiatric circles and among the wider public. Though he accepted that there are often practical difficulties that stand as obstacles in a person’s life, he insisted that it is the unconscious obstacles that create the most serious problems. Freud showed that by uncovering repressed fears and desires, by bringing them into speech, it is possible for the sufferer to free himself from his symptoms.
Psychoanalysis has continued to grow since Freud’s time and has developed into a number of differing schools. However, it remains the case that the fundamental tenet of all approaches is the understanding that unconscious conflict is the prime engine of the distressing symptoms that a person may suffer and also that the choices and directions that a person takes in life are often unconsciously motivated. Psychoanalysts recognise the persistent power of the unconscious in shaping people’s lives. It is this irrational element at the core of the human psyche that stands in the way of any easy answer to life’s questions or quick cure of the person’s difficulties. It is only by the gradual unfolding into consciousness of unconscious elements that a cure is achieved in analysis.
Though it is of course true that the number of people involved directly in a psychoanalytic endeavour is relatively small, the influence of psychoanalysis on our understanding of the mind and on human culture and thought is vast. In literature, in the theatre, in cinema, in our ordinary understanding of human behaviour, and in our everyday discourse, psychoanalytic concepts and ideas abound. By offering a perspective on ourselves and on human interaction and culture, psychoanalysis has created for itself an enduring place in the language of human understanding