The Studies of Sigmund Freud

Between 1856 to 1939, Sigmund Freud, who is considered the founding father of psychoanalysis, treated mental illnesses and developed theories that explained human behavior.  He believed that the greatest influence that affected adult lives was the events that occured in our childhood. His studies showed that the events in one’s childhood shaped the way a person matured as an adult. This study showed him how events that happened in a particular person’s childhood could be the reason of their diagnosed illness at an older age. His main purpose was to find the underlying problem of illnesses that occur at an older age for some individuals.

Freud’s work focused on determining how and why some mental illnesses were hidden by traumatizing childhoods.  After years of study, Freud began working with a young woman,

Anna O.  His work with her made an impact on careers and on psychology all together. She suffered from a psychological disorder which caused many problems mentally.  “Her doctor (and Freud’s teacher) Josef Breuer succeeded in treating Anna by helping her to recall forgotten memories of traumatic events.” As an adult, she became very to herself and developed unusual fears and symptoms, such as paralysis and hallucinations.  Once she began psychoanalysis, her unconscious thoughts became her conscious thoughts causing her symptoms to disappear. Freud proposed that physical symptoms that people with mental illness may exhibit are often due to events that have occurred in their childhoods.

“Freud (1900, 1905) developed a topographical model of the mind…” Freud created this unconscious mind to show the structure and function of the conscious, subconscious, unconscious, and id. “Freud used the analogy of an iceberg to describe the three levels of the mind.” The conscious and subconscious are parts of the iceberg that can be seen or are just below the water.  These parts of the mind contain the things we know about or can easily access.   He later goes into detail on how the most crucial part of the mind is the part of the iceberg that one cannot see, the unconscious mind. Freud learned through the study of his patients that some desires were too frightening or discomforting to acknowledge. Through learning this, he emphasizes the importance of the unconscious mind. He came to the assumption that the unconscious mind controls behavior to a greater degree than most people acknowledge. The id, included in the unconscious mind and comprises eros and thanatos.

In addition to iceberg model of the conscious and unconscious mind, Freud also further divided the unconscious mind into the id, ego, and superego. “These are not physical areas within the brain, but rather hypothetical conceptualization of important mental functions,” which help to make up personality.  Each level operates for a different part of the body. Id deals with more of the instincts, ego deals with reality, and superego deals with morality. The ego is also responsible for defense mechanisms when faced with trauma.  These defense mechanisms are repression, denial, projection, displacement, regression, and sublimation.

Perhaps the most controversial work of Freud is his study of psychosexual stages. “Freud believed that children are born with a libido-a sexual (pleasure) urge.  There are a number of stages of childhood during which the child seeks pleasure from a different object’.”  These stages begin with oral and anal followed by phallic, latent, and genital.  According to Freud, “to be psychologically healthy, we must successfully complete each stage.”  When a person does not complete each stage, the person may become fixated in that particular stage.

Freud also believed that dreams were the “royal road to the unconscious as it lowers the ego’s defenses so that some of the repressed material comes through to awareness.”  Dream-work, which is described as a wish that manifests as a dream, was also studied by Freud.  He developed universal symbols in dreams that people could relate to real life.

Overall, “Freud’s theory is good at explaining but not at predicting behavior.”  Currently, his work is helpful in working with traumatized people and identifying and treating their problems.  There are two problems with his work. One is that the sample that he studied was not a large group and was mainly comprised of himself and his patients.  Secondly, he may have also shown “bias in his interpretations and ignored information that did not fit his theories.”

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