Tuesday, June 1, 2010

On Freudian Psychoanalysis

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.


  1. I love your blog! Please feel free to follow mine also...


    Thank you!

  2. Deleted some more commercial SPAM. Very annoyed with the SPAMmers.

  3. Yet another piece of commercial SPAM has gone the way of the metaphorical dodo.

  4. Such pedantic supercilious nonsense! On the face of it you are ignorant of even the most elementary of Freud's theories.

    Or maybe I'm mistaken...

    1: What is the name of the book which contains all the essential elements of psychoanalysis?

    2: What is the function of dreams? (if you need more than three words to answer the question, you don't know the answer).

    3: "The function of psychoanalysis is to replace neurotic misery with ------ ------" (?)

    4: Bleuler's term "autism" was a euphemism for Freud's descriptive term for the condition. What was that term?

    5: What are "remains of the day?"

    6: Jung and Adler both proposed new dream theories after breaking with Freud. This was done because:

    (a) both found proof that Freud's theory was wrong.

    (b) both found proof that each other's was wrong.

    (c) they had no choice if they wanted to start their own science.

    7: Which one of the following theories was not originated by Freud;

    (a) the universality of bisexuality.

    (b) The traumatic etiology of neurosis.

    (c) The equality of male and female intelligence potential.

    (d) the equality of male and female libido.

    (e) Neurosis as the price of entry into civilization.

    (f) Narcissism as the basic motivation of all psychology.

    (g) Brains evolved to accommodate a polymorphously-perverse libido.

    8: From Freud's perspective, why should Erik Erickson still considered a "psychoanalyst" rather than an apostate?

    9: Name the event which Freud saw as the origin of psychoanalysis?

    10: Which one of the following of Freud's theories has been disproved:

    According to Freud:

    (a) Depression is untreatable with psychoanalysis.

    (b) Aggression is always looking for a cause.

    (c) The breast is the prototype of external reality.

    (d) Birth is the prototype of all anxiety.

    (e) Masturbation is the prototype of all habits.

    11: ECT works by:

    (a) Fooling the id into thinking it's being killed.

    (b) Removing the gain from illness.

    (c) erasing disturbing memories.

    12: A fetish is the last thing a boy sees before which traumatic discovery?

    If you can answer half of these I will publicly apologize to you and renounce Freud and be your loyal follower forevermore. Otherwise, you will have earned the title of "four flusher."

    It's an easy test by the way. If you have even the slightest understanding of psychoanalysis you will be able to find, or figure out, the answers from Google searches.



  5. "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."

    This is just pitiful Alexander! You wouldn't know Freudian theory if it crawled into your bvd's and did the boogaloo.

  6. Very well, then, Larry. I'll play your game.

    1: Die Traumdeutung, better known as "The Interpretation of Dreams".

    2: In real life or in Freud's speculations? In real life, they're a side-effect more than anything else. In Freud's speculations, the short answer (what you're probably looking for) would be "wish-fulfillment", although Freud later complicated this in Jenseits des Lustprinzips.

    3: Psychoanalysis and its purposes were defined in various ways by Freud. The common thread is that the process works by developing insight and resolving past issues. In that particular quote, however, the completion is "common unhappiness".

    4: Bleuler used "autism" to refer to certain symptoms/characteristics of what is now known as schizophrenia. Freud called this condition/these conditions "psychosis". Of course, he described various types of schizophrenia in different ways, and I can't remember offhand just which type he was referring to (I believe it was what is now known as catatonic schizophrenia), so I can't translate into Freudian language without first looking this up.

    5: Assuming you don't mean the novel or movie, the phrase refers to the experiences of the day before the night of a dream.

    6: While (C) is closest to the truth, the correct answer would be (D), that they had philosophical disagreements with Freud's theories. The fact that such a break was possible is pretty strong evidence that none of the three theories were actually scientific.

    7: More than one of the above. For instance, the ancient Greeks believed in the universality of bisexuality, and Charcot ascribed past trauma as a potential cause of neuroses (I believe he used a different term, however).

    I could continue, but I believe I've made my point (and, frankly, I'm at work, and have other things to do).

    Oh, and sorry for letting your messages take so long to clear moderation -- Blogger recently changed how its comments filter worked (in a SPAM-blocking effort), and I was expecting notification of posts that I didn't receive.

  7. Very good! You got five of seven right. That's a C in an open-book test. Here are your mistakes:

    #2: According to Freud, the function of dreams is to protect sleep.

    #4: Freud's term was "auto-erotism." Bleuler changed this over concerns of decorum.

    It was Bleuler who believed autism was a form of schizophrenia. Freud disputed this. His view was that in psychosis, libido withdraws from external reality into a pool of narcissism. In autism, libido does not retreat from external reality, but is redirected to just one aspect of it; one's own body. Bleuler kept a variation of Freud's term because he thought Freud was right about the meaning of the symptoms, although wrong about the libidinal origins of these.

    Anyway, you will still have to answer one more question correctly before I agree to renounce Freud. Moreover, in a quiz on elementary psychoanalysis you will have to do better than a C- before making an informed choice on whether Erickson or Freud won the debate over some abstruse issue about the nature of regression.

    BTW: Wasn't Erickson an ally of Karen Horney in the creation of ego psychology? I do know that Horney maintained her status as a psychoanalyst in good standing in spite of the fact that Freud publicly scorned ego psychology. He had to accept it from his followers though, because he himself introduced it to the field of psychoanalysis with his book, *Ego and the Id."

    One more thing; you missed the point of question number 6. The answer was C sure enough, but in order for Adler and Jung to call their new science something other than "psychoanalysis" they would have had to invent a new dream theory. Defining psychoanalysis was the exclusive right of Sigmund Freud, its founder; and Freud defined psychoanalysis as the set of principles put forth in his dream theory. Horney, and presumably Erickson, never abandoned that.

  8. Larry,

    Actually, note that I noted that Freud's opinion RE dreams changed. The description of dreams as wish-fulfillment (not, incidentally, Freud's term for it) came from Die Traumdeutung; to be blunt, one chapter is even titled this: "The Dream Is the Fulfilment of a Wish". To quote from the chapter (or, more accurately, Brill's translation of it): "We have found that the dream represents a wish as fulfilled."

    As for "autism", neither was using it to refer to what is now called autism -- and I referenced "psychosis" as Freud's term for schizophrenia, not catatonia.

    Finally, I didn't miss the point of your question. You missed the point of my answer.

    Freud's work is based on extremely poor evidence -- and, as things have progressed, we've realized that his methods (HOW he arrived at his conclusions) were fatally flawed. Psychoanalysis is predicated on the idea that psychoanalytic theory is accurate; it's not.

    Quod erat demonstrandum.

  9. First of all, wish fulfillment isn't a function of dreams. It's a means to accomplish the function. Freud made this clear in *Interpretation of Dreams,* *Introductory Lectures,* *New Introductory Lectures* and *On Dreams.* The line that every beginner in Freudian studies knows is this: "Dreams are guardians of sleep, not its disturber." An allusion to this principle was even printed on a medallion honoring Freud on his sixtieth birthday: "He Disturbed The Sleep of Man."
    The fact that you did not know this basic fact of psychoanalysis is proof you have not studied Freud and do not understand the most elementary principle. I mean the function of dreams is the core of psychoanalytic theory.

    You have, however, studied pedantry. I'll bet you have read Popper and Grunbaum and Crews.

    As for autism, we were discussing Freud. He never considered autism to be a form of psychosis. Bleuler came around to Freud's way of thinking for awhile, then finally went back to his old belief that it was a symptom of schizophrenia. If you want to read up on it, you can find references to the dispute in the Freud/Jung Letters and in Ernest Jones's biography of Freud--really basic stuff which YOU HAVE NOT READ.

    So, quit acting like an expert on Freud. You are not. You're not even close.

    BTW: Popper's principle was that any theory that is untestable is not science. Modern psychology takes such pedantic bullshit seriously, so it ends up *proving* what everybody already knows, but prevents itself from even thinking about unconscious motives, thereby rendering itself stupid in matters of dreams and the meaning of psychological symptoms. Therefore, there is no such thing as conversion disorder, and no autisitic symptoms have any psychological meaning. Right? You and I have no inner lives and therefore no ability to understand social nuances because we have peculiar neurology. Right?

  10. I believe some members of my group are following this debate. If you don't post my reply you give the impression that I have conceded. Therefore, unless you post my replies within two days, I will have to republish the whole thing on my own discussion board.

  11. I don't get any notice of a posted comment (despite my best efforts to change this). The only reason your replies are requiring my moderation is that they are (for some reason or another) hitting Blogger's SPAM filter.

    So far, I have published each of your comments as soon as I've noticed them. Unless you violate any of my blog's (extremely minimal) rules regarding comments, I will continue this pattern.

  12. Two of my replies didn't get posted.

  13. I can't really comment why replies that I haven't seen didn't get posted. Every one of your replies that I have seen has been cleared for posting.

    Incidentally, that includes one more above which I just noticed in my SPAM box (despite it having a much earlier timestamp). I've marked it not SPAM and cleared it through, but I don't have time to respond right now (I need to finish up some work on something else and study for midterms).