Psychoanalysis Essay

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When sociologists speak about psychoanalysis, they usually refer to Freud’s structural theory of id, ego, and superego. But that is by no means a defining feature of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a theoretical perspective that focuses on the unconscious mental processes. To Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, our thoughts, feelings and behavior are determined by factors that are outside of our conscious awareness.

Freud defined psychoanalysis as a form of therapy, a mode of observation and inquiry, and a theoretical system. However, his passion lay primarily in psychoanalysis as a mode of scientific investigation. Psychoanalytic theory is based on Freud’s image of the individual and his notion of psychic reality. The individual’s perception and conception of the self, the other, and the world in which he or she resides are by and large illusory. The individual is presented as profane, irrational, self-deceptive, narcissistic, power hungry, and the slave of the most primitive desires. This is the image of the decentered man, and is perhaps one reason for Freud’s popularity among postmodernists. According to psychoanalytic theory, the ground on which the individual   stands   is   paved   with uncertainty, and the reality to which he or she appeals is highly suspect. The past is a reconstruction, the memory is a perception, and the perception is a fantasy. The person’s conviction of the validity of recall is much more important than its factual authenticity. As with symbolic interaction theory, Freud was concerned not with the ”real” situation but with the individual’s interpretations of it. Deconstructing such interpretations is the goal of psychoanalysis. Although psychoanalysis has gone through profound changes since Freud, it continues to remain an elegant mode of listening to a patient or reading a text. Contrary to other psychotherapeutic techniques, the analyst does not ask the patient to change, to give up his symptoms, to be normal, to adapt or behave in a particular way. The analyst is not to have any desire or plan for the patient but to help him discover his own desires rather than being the slave to others’ demands. The desired outcome of a successful psychoanalytic treatment is a person who has few skeletons in his or her unconscious closet and is free to think, feel and act in the stage of life. Psychoanalytic treatment evolves primarily around the analysis of transference. Transference is what the patient brings to the analytic situation. It is the patient’s characteristic mode of conflict, perception, expectation, object relation, or definitions of situations. These internalized patterns of conflict, object relation, and expectation tend to constrain the individual’s external relations and to create problems that must be worked through.

The methodological debates in psychoanalysis today are reminiscent of those in psychology and sociology almost a half century ago. A lively debate is in progress in psychoanalysis between those who call themselves ”natural” scientists and those who maintain that psychoanalysis is inherently interpretive and hermeneutic and should be studied with that fact in mind. There are also those who agree with the interpretive tradition, but maintain that psychoanalysis goes beyond the hermeneutic method in that the impact of interpretation can be subjected to empirical study. Since psychoanalytic data consist of emotional exchanges in the analytic situation, the primary method of investigation in psychoanalysis remains participant observation and case study.


  1. Freud,    (1957)  [1904]  Psychoanalytic procedure. In: Strachey, J. (ed. and trans.), Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, vol. 7. Hogarth Press, London, pp. 249-56.
  2. Gill, M. (1994) Psychoanalysis in Transition. Analytic Press, Hillsdale, NJ.
  3. Movahedi, S. and Wagner, A. (2005) The ”voice” of the analysand and the ”subject” of diagnosis. Contemporary Psychoanalysis 41 (2): 281-305.

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