Desktop version

Home arrow Psychology

  • Increase font
  • Decrease font

<<   CONTENTS   >>

Summary Chart: Psychoanalytic Theory

Human Nature

Psychoanalytic theory suggests that behavior is largely determined by irrational forces, unconscious motivations, and biological, or instinctual, drives. Humans are conceptualized largely in terms of biology, and maladaptive behaviors are symptomatic of a subconscious response to social interactions that are shaped mostly by early life experiences.

Major Constructs

The instinctual and biological drives of the psyche are referred to as the id; the critical, moralizing function is the superego; and the organized, realistic part that mediates and seeks a balance between the former two is known as the ego. These drives guide one's functions and behaviors. Personality develops through a series of childhood stages during which the pleasure-seeking energies of the id become focused on certain erogenous areas. Psycho- sexual energy, or libido, is suggested to be the driving force behind behavior. Life instincts are those that deal with basic survival, pleasure, and reproduction. Death instincts explain the unconscious desire to die. Defense mechanisms are a function of the ego, which strives to protect the individual from experiencing anxiety and guilt, provoked by the discord between the id and superego. This coping strategy safeguards the mind against unwanted thoughts and impulses. Transference is the process of attributing one's feelings from one person onto another. Countertransference is a redirection of a counselor's feelings toward a client.


Psychoanalysis aims to bring unconscious processes into the conscious, thus exposing the cause of the dysfunctional behaviors, a retroactive reaction to earlier life experiences, thereby resolving anxious or neurotic conflicts that lead to maladaptive behaviors in daily functioning.

Change Process

The basic method of psychoanalysis is the analysis and interpretation of the client's unconscious conflicts that are interfering with daily functioning. This is done using a variety of traditional strategies and techniques to encourage the client to increase his or her awareness of how the processes and behaviors have manifested.


Analyzing transference and resistance makes obvious the unconscious drives of the client. The use of hypnotism for therapeutic purposes is referred to as hypnotherapy and features one or more suggestions made to a hypnotized client that specifies an action to be performed after awakening. In free association, psychoanalytic clients are invited to relate whatever comes into their minds during the session without self-censorship. Dream analysis frames dream content as exposed symbols of repressed drives. Brief interventions use similar techniques but reduce the frequency of sessions and scope of treatment. The interventions are used with the goal of immediate symptom reduction and elevated client functioning.


A major criticism is the idea that humans are driven by sexuality without consideration of other cultural dynamics. Some practitioners suggest that psychoanalysis is entirely inappropriate for use with certain cultures because of the lack of structure, lack of direct problem solving, and a consistent emphasis on the reflection of childhood experience. Traditional psychoanalysis is known to be a lengthy and costly therapeutic method and is used primarily with adults, limiting its external validity.

<<   CONTENTS   >>