As part of my theories and practice course, we're being asked to summarize the various theories and modalities of therapy by answering a series of questions. We started with classical Freudian psychoanalysis.
The following are the questions and my answers -- somewhat cleaned up.
1-How does the theory conceptualize the basic beliefs about people...does the theory see people as "good", "bad", neutral, capable of growth, proactive or reactive to the environment?
Based solely upon extremely low-quality evidence of dubious validity, Freud believed that we were unaware of the majority of our mind's content and essentially at the mercy of forces beyond our direct perception. As such, Freudian psychoanalysis views people as the deterministic result of conflicts between postulated and reified constructs that exist within a non-falsifiable system. To the extent that people are able to grow within this context, it is the result of the client coming to exert control over these constructs and derivative reified "forces".
2-How does the theory describe the function of personality..what is the purpose of our "personality"; what needs does the personality meet..?
In essence, the ego serves to regulate forces/instincts, to manage anxiety, to plan, and to maintain reality focus.
3-How does the theory describe the "structure" of personality -- what IS our personality; what does it consist of?
In essence, Freud believed that the "self" (ego) serves to mediate between a person's "higher" desires (superego) and "lower" desires (id). As such, one's personality is determined by one's ability to balance and control these often-reified constructs and resulting also-reified "forces".
4-How does the theory describe how we develop into a "normal person"?
Freud believed that there was one true course of development (all departures necessarily being harmful) which could be described as going through a series of "psychosexual stages". Specifically, one passes (or should pass) through the oral stage during infancy, the anal stage during early childhood, the phallic stage during preschool, the latency stage during early school-age, and the genital stage during adolescence and onward. The oral stage accounts for the ability to delay gratification and to trust others. The anal stage accounts for independence, the ability to manage and express negative emotions, and acceptance of personal power. The phallic stage accounts for sexuality. The latency stage accounts for socialization and the ability to form relationships. The genital stage, once reached, accounts for all post-adolescent development.
5-How does the theory describe how we develop into "abnormal" people?
If one is derailed from this one true path of healthy development, one develops a number of problems (which may or may not actually be problems). These include (but are not limited to) mistrust and rejection of others, an inability to form intimate relationships, obsession over rules, a lack of appropriate sexuality, and a lack of relationships.
6-How does the theory conceptualize the process of counseling? How does it work, in general?
Freud believes that one developed in therapy by coming to understand and believe in the existence of constructs of questionable validity (except, perhaps, as a metaphor) which describe phenomena which probably can't be appropriately generalized to them, as well as developing control over these phenomena ("achieving insight" or "strengthening the ego", respectively).
7-How does the theory conceptualize the specific techniques of counseling?
Generally speaking, the techniques of psychoanalysis include maintaining a consistent analytic framework and a reliable therapeutic environment, engaging in free association (i.e. having the client talk about whatever (s)he wants without inhibition) in order to allow the therapist to make logical leaps regarding what is within the client's questionably existent unconscious (i.e. interpretations) and to teach the client to accept these conclusions as real, engaging in possibly inaccurate analysis of the content of dreams for meaning which may or may not actually exist in order to teach the client to accept the conclusions of these analyses as accurate, helping the client to overcome any resistance to the acceptance of the therapist's view of who the client is and what the client's problems are, and engaging in possibly-inaccurate analysis of the feelings the client develops towards the therapist during this process (analysis and interpretation of transference).
8-How does the theory conceptualize the roles/responsibilities of the counselor?
Classical psychoanalysis views therapists as "blank screens" for clients to project their feelings for past individuals onto. If the therapist maintains a neutral demeanor and does not engage in self-disclosure, any feelings the client develops toward the therapist are largely assumed to be the client projecting feelings for other people onto the therapist. Additionally, the therapist must listen closely to the client as (s)he free-associates, analyze what is said, and occasionally make interpretations of what (s)he hears, teaching the client to accept the existence of the various constructs created by Freudian theory and to assign causal attribution for feelings and beliefs in a manner consistent with Freudian theory. By aligning the client's view of his self with the therapist's frame of reference and beliefs in Freudian theory, "progress" is achieved.
9-How does the theory conceptualize the roles/responsibilities of the client?
Generally speaking, the responsibilities of the client in a Freudian framework are to cooperate with he therapist as he engages in his responsibilities, to attempt to overcome resistance to his or her acceptance of the therapist's view of who the client is, and to help the therapist develop such a view based on analyses of dubious reliability and validity.
10-What is the utility of the theory...strengths, weaknesses, limitation, applicability?
While our text discusses a number of comparatively minor limitations, these are largely secondary to the lack of empirical validation for large portions of psychoanalytic theory, the non-falsifiable (and thus unscientific) nature of the psychoanalytic framework, the lack of adequate empirical validation of the benefits of therapy (I am unaware of even a single well-controlled RCT which shows a beneficial effect for Freudian psychoanalysis relative to simply having someone to talk to), the focus on teaching the client to accept the analyst's questionable analyses as accurate, the (occasionally realized) potential for severe harm due to this emphasis, and vague criteria for termination of therapy which require therapist/client agreement (and therefore are subject to the various financial disincentives for the termination of a therapist/client relationship).
In terms of strengths, psychoanalysis recognizes the possibility of bias due to a limited set of factors (e.g. countertransference, racial stereotypes) and attempts to teach therapists to counter these. It emphasizes the necessity of a therapist recognizing and accepting who he or she is, recognizes humans as individuals, and emphasizes the importance of understanding the client and the client's problems, and teaches about the importance of a person's history in determining their present. Additionally, it was chronologically the first of the major therapeutic modalities and many of its techniques have contributed to their development.
Also, the couch can be relaxing.