Sigmund Freud - The Father of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud Portrait

A renowned psychologist, physiologist and great thinker during the early 20th century, Sigmund Freud is referred to as the father of psychoanalysis. He formulated several theories throughout his lifetime including the concepts of infantile sexuality, repression and the unconscious mind. Freud also explored on the structure of the mind, and developed a therapeutic framework that intends to understand and treat disturbing mental issues. Freud's aim was to establish a 'scientific psychology' and his wish was to achieve this by applying to psychology the same principles of causality as were at that that time considered valid in physics and chemistry. With the scope of his studies and impact of his theories on the modern world's concept of psychoanalysis, it is evident that much of these principles are rooted from the original works of Freud, although his theories have often become the subject of controversy among scholars.

Life

Freud was born in Moravia, but he was raised in Vienna and lived there until his death. As a student, he was deeply interested in psychoanalysis, although he also considered himself a scientist. In 1873, he took up biology at the University of Vienna while undertaking research work in physiology. His mentor was Ernst Brcke, a German scientist who was also the director of the university's physiology laboratory.

The voice of the intellect is a soft one, but it does not rest until it has gained a hearing.
Quote by Sigmund Freud

In 1881, Freud obtained a degree in medicine, which equipped him with credentials that enabled him to find employment as a doctor at the Vienna General Hospital. However, he became more interested in treating psychological disorders, so he decided to pursue a private practice that focused on this field.

During his travel to Paris, he gained much knowledge on the work and theories of Jean Charcot, who was a French neurologist. Charcot performed hypnotism in treating abnormal mental problems including hysteria. This inspired Freud to use the same technique, although he eventually discovered the fleeting effects of hypnosis on the treatment of mental conditions. Thus, he experimented on other techniques such as the one proposed by Josef Breuer, one of Freud's collegaues.

The method involved encouraging patients to talk about any symptoms they experience since Breuer believed that trauma is usually rooted from past instances stuck in a person's unconscious mind. By allowing patients to discuss their symptoms uninhibitedly, they are able to confont these issues in an emotional and intellectual manner. The theory behind this technique was published in 1895, and it was entitled Studies in Hysteria.

Freud, however, became more interested in undertaking further studies on neuroses and sexual origins, which Breuer did not completely agree with. Hence, the two decided to go on separate ways, while Freud continued with his scientific work on refining the theory of psychoanalysis. In 1900, he was able to publish his study on self-analysis entitled The Interpretation of Dreams. Other works by Freud include The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality.

Freud's psychoanalytic theory was rather controversial, and several scholars did not agree with his preoccupation on the topic of sexuality. It was only in 1908 when this theory by Freud was recognized by critics, specifically during the first International Psychoanalytic Congress in Salzburg. He also received an invitation to the United States, so he could conduct lectures on his psychoanalytic theory. This inspired him to go deeper into is studies, and he was able to produce over 20 volumes of his clinical studies and theoretical works. Fredu also developed the model of the mind as presented in The Ego and the Id, which was his scholarly work in 1923. Several scientists were inspired by Freud's theories including Jung and Adler, to name a few.

What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books.
Quote by Sigmund Freud

A Look on Freud's Theories

While Freud was an original thinker, his theories and studies were influenced by the works of other scholars including Breuer and Charcot. However, Freud developed his own scientific studies that were different from the theories of his colleagues. In fact, much of his concepts were rooted from his past such as in his work entitled The Interpretation of Dreams. Here, he delved into the emotional crisis he went through during his father's death, as well as his battles with dreams that occurred to him in his earlier years. He underwent a contrasting feelings of hate/shame and love/admiration towards his father. Freud also admitted that deep down, he had fantasies in which he secretly wished for his father to die as he viewed him as his rival for the affection of his mother, and it was one of his bases for the Oedipus Complex theory.

Freud's Theory of Unconscious

Sigmund Freud believed that neuroses and other abnormal mental conditions are rooted from one's unconscious mind. However, these issues are slowly revealed through various means such as obsessive behavior, slips of the tongue and dreams. His theory was to go deeper into the underlying cause that produce these problems, wich can be accomplished by inspecting the conscious mind that is impacted by one's unconscious.

Freud also worked on the analysis of drives or instincts and how these arise in each person. According to him, there are two main categories of insticts such as Eros or life instict and Thanatos or death instinct. The former included instincts that are erotic and self-preserving while the latter was involved in drives that lead to cruelty and self-destruction. Thus, human actions are not purely rooted from motivations that are sexual in nature since death instincts barely involve sexuality as the motivating factor.

Infantile Sexuality

The theory of infantile sexuality by Freud was influenced by Breuer's concept that traumatic events during one's childhood years can greatly impact adulthood. In addition, Freud claimed that the desire for sexual pleasure had its early beginnings during infancy as babies gain pleasure from sucking. He referred to this as the oral stage of development, which is followed by the anal stage, where the latter is involved in the energy release through the anus. Afterwards, a young child begins to experience an interest in the genitals during the phallic stage, as well as a sexual attraction for parent of the opposite sex. Lastly, the latency period is the stage of life when sexual desires are less pronounced, and it may end during the puberty period.

Freud believed that unresolved conflicts during childhood can negatively impact mental health once a person reaches adulthood. For instance, homosexuality was viewed as the result of issues linked with the Oedipus Complex, which remained unaddressed. It was also the product of a child's inability to identify with his or her parent of the same sex.

Structure of the Mind

Freud claimed that the mind had three structural elements that included the id, ego and the super-ego. It was the id that involved instinctual sexual instincts, which must be satisfied. The go is one's conscious self while the super-ego involved the conscience. Considering these structural components of the mind, it is important to understand it as a dynamic energy system. To achieve mental well-being, it is important that all of these elements are in harmony with each other. Otherwise, psychological problems may occur including neurosis due to repression, regression, sublimation and fixation.

Psychoanalysis as Clinical Treatment of Neuroses

The main concept behind psychoanalysis is to address and resolve any issues that arise due to lack of harmony with the three structural elements of the mind. The primary technique mainly involved a psychoanalyst who encourages the person to talk freely about his or her symptoms, fantasies and tendencies. Hence, psychoanalytic therapy is geared towards attaining self-understanding as the patient becomes more capable of determining and handling unconscious forces that may either motivate or fear him or her. Any pent-up or restricted psychic energy is released, which also helped resolve mental illnesses. However, there are some questions in terms of the effectiveness of this technique, as it remains open to debate and controversies among scholars.

Evaluation of Freud and His Theories

Freud viewed psychoanalysis as a new science that must be explored to address issues affecting the mind and psychological problems. However, several scholars argue that for a scientific theory to be considered as valid, it must be testable and incompatible with any possible observations. There is also the questionable aspect of Freud's theories and their coherence (or lack of it). While his theory provides entities, there is an absence of correspondence rules, which means they are impossible to be identified unless referenced to the behavior that is believed to be the cause of the problem.

Dreams are often most profound when they seem the most crazy.
Quote by Sigmund Freud

Since Freud's theory is likely to be unscientific, it is impossible to provide a solid basis for the treatment of mental illness when implementing psychoanalysis as therapy. On the other hand, there are some true and genuine theories that can result to negative results when applied inappropriately. The main issue here is the fact that it may be difficult to determine a specific treatment for neurotic illnesses by merely alleviating symptoms. However, the effectiveness of a particular treatment method can be determined by grouping patients and analyzing which ones are cured using a specific technique or those who did not obtain any treatment at all. Unfortunately, with the case of psychoanalysis as a treatment methodology, the number of patients who benefited from it was not significantly high, as compared to the percentage of individuals who were cured using other means of intervention. Therefore the effectiveness of Freud's psychoanalysis as treatment remains as a controversial and debatable topic.

More than a century has passed since Freud began to use his personal term "psychoanalysis", to describe what was at once his mode of therapy and his developing theory of the mind. We live more than ever in the Age of Freud, despite the relative decline that psychoanalysis has begun to suffer as a public institution and as a medical specialty. Freud's universal and comprehensive theory of the mind probably will outlive the psychoanalytical therapy, and seems already to have placed him with Plato and William Shakespeare rather with the scientists he overtly aspired to emulate.