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Discuss the foundations and components of psychoanalysis. Evaluate the contributions and criticisms of psychoanalytic models to the explanation of human behavior.



Psychology is an area of life that none of us can avoid. It holds the most important facts of the human mind. Research is however eternal as more things are being discovered that may influence human behavior based on the psychological state of being. In this essay, I will explain the meaning of psychoanalysis as well as components, foundations, contributions and criticisms.

Psychoanalysis was founded by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). He believed that people could be cured by making conscious their unconscious thoughts and motivations thus gaining “insight”. The psychoanalysis therapy is aimed at releasing depressed emotions and experiences. These emotions may be as a result of past experiences during childhood or at a certain period of time as the individual progressed in life. The suppressed thoughts are always negative and often depressing. The mind of a human being chooses to block out these events but there are still negative effects as the individual is not 100% free. Psychoanalysts have come up with various means to open up these blocked thoughts as a way of “freeing” the patient. This type of therapy is used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. Psychologists work under the assumptions that: psychological problems are rooted in the unconscious mind. By reaching into the unconscious mind the patients are able to relieve themselves of these problems. They also assume that visible symptoms are caused by hidden disturbances. What is in one’s mind influences the outward reaction of the individual. An example is when a victim of rape suppresses such thoughts of hurt; they end up hating themselves or hating the gender of the perpetrator. Unless the victim undergoes psychological treatment, their life will never be the same. They may actually never experience happiness at all. Main causes according to psychologists are unresolved issues during development as well as repressed trauma. Treatment focuses on bringing the repressed conflict to consciousness where the client can deal with it. In some cases, due to defense mechanisms in the mind of the patient, such events cannot be accessed. There are deterministic forces in the unconscious mind that lead the mind into creating a “wall” where the psychologist cannot get through unless further probing is put in by the psychologist. The process is indeed lengthy since it involves 2 to 5 sessions per week for several years. One is required to stick to a regular schedule to avoid any possible instances of falling back of the patient. Exiting therapy sessions is only permitted by the psychologist. This is after evaluation and deep examinations. Techniques applied during sessions are different depending on the patient. Some include:

  1. Use of ink blots; this is also known as the progressive test where the patient is required to interpret what he/she sees. The patient projects information from their unconscious mind to interpret the ink blot.
  2. Parapraxes/Freudian slips; this is mentioning something instead of what is intended. This is aimed at triggering certain thoughts or feelings of the individual. The slip of the tongue is often related to certain thoughts that are hidden.
  3. Free association; the patient is required to talk of whatever comes to mind. The therapist may read a list of words where the patient responds with the first word or thought that comes to mind. It is hoped that fragments of repressed memories will emerge in the course.

In a therapy session, a long pause from the patient after being asked a certain question shows that he/she is getting close to some important repressed idea. There are scientific terms used to name certain reactions during and after therapy sessions; Abreaction: an emotionally intense and vivid memory that is almost relived. The patient sees the event just as it happens. Catharsis: A disturbing memory occurring during therapy or in the presence of a supportive friend. After this, one feels better or relieved or even cleansed. Psychoanalysis aims at helping the clients bring about major change in their whole perspective on life. Dream interpretation is also a means of psychoanalysis whereby the dreams of a patient are analyzed. The thoughts are said to influence dreams still the mind is still at work even when the person is asleep. Hypnotism is the newest means of analysis which is also known as “the talking cure” the psychologist goes into the mind of the client when he/she is in a state of mid consciousness. As a therapy, psychoanalysis is based on the concept that individuals are unaware of the many factors that cause their behavior and emotions. The unconscious factors have a potential to produce unhappiness, which is expressed through a score of distinguishable symptoms, including disturbing personality traits, difficulty in relating to others, or disturbances in self-esteem or general disposition. The models help to analyze and explain the complex relationship between the body and the mind and further the understanding of the role of emotions in medical illness and health. Psychoanalysis forms the basis for other approaches to therapy e.g. family therapy. Psychoanalysis has many contributions to the society as patients free themselves from terrible mental anguish and achieve greater understanding of themselves and others. According to Freud, there are 3 forces of the psychical apparatus; the id, ego and the super ego. Instincts are the ultimate cause of all behavior. The 2 basic instincts; Eros (love) and the destructive or death instinct. The purpose of Eros is to establish and preserve unity through relationships. On the other hand, the purpose of the death instinct is to undo connections and unity via destruction. The value and validity of psychoanalysis as a theory and treatment have been questioned since its conception in the early 1900s. Critics despite many aspects of psychoanalysis including whether or not it is indeed a science, the value of data upon which Freud based his theories and method and effectiveness of psychoanalytic treatment do not support the form of therapy. Criticism however shows the transference (which occurs when patients view their analysts as parents or role models or other figures from their past) causes patients to concern themselves with pleasing their analysts, hence losing their rational aim of getting well. Critics contend that Freud’s theory lacks in empirical evidence and relies too heavily on therapeutic achievements, inaccuracy of critical data. Psychoanalysis is simply not a science and many of the principles upon which it is based are inaccurate. One should be able to predict that if children experience abuse, for instance, they will become characterized by certain personality traits. Freud’s theory of dreams in spite of his view, has failed in the eyes of most of today’s critics. Because psychoanalysis deals with the unconscious motives and repressed emotions, common sense no longer seems to be applicable. The actual methods and techniques involved in psychoanalysis have also been criticized. It is time consuming and unlikely to provide answers quickly. People must be prepared to invest time and money into therapy. The discovery of unpleasant memories causes distress to the client. The nature of psychoanalysis creates power imbalance between the therapist and client that could raise ethical issues. Freud’s theory questions the basis of a rationalist, scientific approach and could well be seen as a critique of science. Observations are bound to be contaminated with subjective personal opinion and should not be considered scientific. Depressives expect quick cure therefore leaving the therapy. In treatment of depression, it is successful only occasionally, as depressed people may be too inactive or unmotivated to participate in sessions. Anxiety disorders may also be treated but the patients may be overly concerned with their actions especially those suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Treating those with depression involves encouraging the client to recall the experience and untangle fixations that have built around it. Depression relates back to the loss of every child experiences when realizing separateness from parents early in childhood. A problem shared is half solved. Psychologists work based on this saying which in many cases has proven to be true.

Despite the many criticisms and praise, negative and positive feedbacks regarding psychoanalysis, it is indeed a great idea in personality that should not be overlooked. Psychoanalysis remains a valid option for patients suffering from any form of mental illnesses. The acceptance and popularity of psychoanalysis is apparent through the existence of numerous institutes, organizations, and conferences established around the world with psychoanalysis as their focus. It has helped many professionals in the field of psychology to see connections that they otherwise would have missed. It has enlightened health professionals about many aspects of the human mind and its inner workings, phenomena that had previously been inexplicable.

This is an evolving world, as time goes by; there comes a new method of treatment for different types of ailments and disorders. They may not be as efficient as most of us would want but they count for something. Each and every day, we discover a new method of treatment, and are faced with some other type of inadequacy. Be it lifestyle diseases, genetic disorders, or even mental diseases. Science evolves just as much. No way however is as successful as we would want it to be. It is our duty to embrace that which has been placed at our disposal, take time to evaluate its efficiency and finally grade it as acceptable or not. This should only be after outlining the pros and cons. Otherwise, let us refrain from grading psychoanalysis as a waste of time.


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