What is Psychoanalysis?


I. Defining Psychoanalysis

Exercise: free association to Freud.

            Not looking for well-crafted, logically organized composition


Preconceptions and biases:

Ambivalent responses: ambivalence a good place to start this section on Freud.  Many Freudian analysts are ambivalent about Freud.  Goal: move from cultural bias to informed reasons for ambivalence.

So did Freud overdo role of sexuality? Unconscious motivation? How to interpret dreams?


(1) Psychoanalysis is about what people have on their minds – conscious and unconscious

            Difference b/free association in psychoanalysis and logical organization of ideas


From brain to mind

From research scientist (neurologist) to physician.

Š      Treatment of hysteria (physical disability without any apparent physical cause)

Hypnosis - how do thoughts, unconscious motives influence behavior?

Š      Charcot on use of hypnotic suggestion.  Led Freud to break with Hemholtz’s exclusively neurological explanation of hysterical symptoms, try Joseph Breuer’s therapeutic use of hypnosis.

Š      Breuer and Bertha Pappenheim (Anna O.) - discovery of the “talking cure” = foundation of all contemporary schools of psychotherapy

Š      Freud’s dissatisfaction with hypnosis (some patients couldn’t be hypnotized, cures were temporary, he wasn’t good at it)

Š      Experiment with free association (a great discovery, at core of psychoanalytic method through which Freud arrived at findings)


(2) Psychoanalysis is both method and theory.  The two are intimately related.  So there are always at lest two general way to approach Freud and psychoanalysis: existentially and intellectually.  Through consideration both of experience-based practices and abstract theories.

v  Freud:  preference for “evergreen” or brilliant “blue green” of clinical practice over the gray tones of abstract theory.


(3) A systematic theory of the unconscious

Archeology of the mind – F’s love for archeology as a boy; uncovering the underlying structure of the mind, peeling back layer by layer a person’s personal history

Teaches us about individual’s hidden motivations, thoughts, and emotions; and the deep mental processes that characterize all humankind.


(4) The influence of early life experiences (notably of family relationships) upon later behavior and inner life



II. Misconceptions of theory and technique

How would you convince a skeptical friend or roommate that unconscious mental processes influence conscious behavior?  What evidence would you cite in making a case for the unconscious?


Dreams - garbage that the brain spews out at night


“Wild Psycho-analysis”:

            Anxiety is due to repressed sexual desire.

Š      Fails to understand that psychoanalysis requires knowledge of whole person, including religious and moral feelings, not just uncon desires.

Š      Physician wrongly assumes that for Freud, sex refers to actual sexual acts, like masturbation or intercourse. PA concerned with “psycho-sexuality,” embracing all the emotions, desires, and fantasies involved in loving another person.  Cf. “Wild” p. 299


Goal of psychoanalysis is not simply to inform people of their unconscious affects and motivations.  The patient does not suffer primarily from ignorance, but from powerful intrapsychic conflicts that must be identified, understood emotionally as well as cognitively, and “worked through” before relief can be found. Cf. Wild, p. 302.


Wild interpretations tend to harm the patient - trigger anger against interpreter, kindle resistance and internal defenses.  One does not confront the patient.  Cf. Wild, pp.302-303.


So what is psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalyst and patient working together to arrive at close-grained interpretations of the patient’s difficulties in living.  Relationship, experience.