Foundations of psychoanalysis

Foundations of psychoanalysis


“Thought is action in rehearsal” – Sigmund Freud


Psychoanalysis is the part of our behavior that most are unaware of; like their behaviors and emotions. In this paper, I will discuss the foundation and components of psychoanalysis as well as to cover the contributions as well as any criticism of psychoanalytic models of explaining human behavior. Psychoanalysis focuses on the unconscious, which in the beginning was a subject ignored by other systems of thought.

Founders of Psychoanalysis

The foundation of psychoanalysis has many contributors and goes back as 18th century Romans. A German fella named Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz 1646-1716) was a mathematician and philosopher that developed the idea called monadology. He shared his ideas that physics is elements of reality not made of physical matter, which are mental in nature. Leibnitz believed that these mental events; that are composed of monads had different degrees of consciousness and were called, petite perceptions (Schultz, 2011)

Another German philosopher named Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) had refined Leibnitz’s theory of the unconscious to the concept of the threshold of consciousness. He would argue that ideas in the mind would rise to the conscious level of awareness. According to Shultz 2011, it says that, for these ideas to rise to a conscious level of awareness, it must be already relevant in the minds consciousness. And at the same time incongruous ideas cannot exist within the minds conscious. Herbart would believe conflicts arise among ideas, as they push to the minds conscious realizations.

Another great philosopher, physicist, and experimental psychologist is that of Gustav Fechner (1801-1887). He would use the threshold theory. However, he would propose the analogy of the iceberg, which leads us to believe that much of the mind lies below the surface giving great influence to those unobservable forces. Fechner’s work made a great impact on Freud and his work. Freud would quote Fechner’s, Elements of Psychophysics in many of his books, as well as derived several of his works concepts (such as the pleasure principle, psychic energy, and aggression). Fechner’s work in experimental psychology would also have great influences on psychoanalysis.

Founding Father

Talk of the unconscious mind would be part of the European intellectual zeitgeist. Fashionable topics indeed of the educated public, in the notion that the unconscious mind may overtake and dominate an individual being was appearing in the popular literature. Probably the best example of this would be the novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson. In this novel, a doctor consumes a concoction that brings out a different side of himself. This showing that we can, in fact, see other individual’s awareness of the unconscious mind.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was an Austrian neurologist who became one of the founding fathers of psychoanalysis. It was his work from within his home that he would practice hypnosis in his clinical work, and this would be when he stumbled across medical pathology. He would contribute the psychosexual development stages and the libido breakdown of the mind (ID, ego and superego) (Schultz, 2011). Freud would be recognized as the first psychologist responsible for theories relating to psychoanalysis. Even though his theories would prove to be highly controversial, they still remain today. Freud would find the foundation of psychoanalysis be formed in the idea that humans, did in fact show unconscious longings. These longings would have to be analyzed in order to understand one’s behavior. It was founded that some unconscious desires are sexual with aggressive tendencies. Along with these longings he would incorporate free association with that of dream interpretations.

The foundation that Leibnitz, Herbart, Fechner and Freud have laid helped the development of psychoanalytic theory and the components of psychoanalysis. Freud’s psychoanalytic personality theory composed of three components; ID, ego, and the superego; working to create human behavior. The objective of psychoanalysis is to restore the damaged ego back to its original state.

Components and Criticisms

In this portion after giving brief understanding of the components of psychoanalysis, I would like to discuss the contributions and criticism psychoanalysis. One crucial case that would revolutionize psychoanalysis would be the case of Anna O. A colleague of Freud’s had a patient who experiences severe hysteria. Josef Breuer (1842-1925) a physician who gained fame for his study of respiration and the function of the semicircular canals in the ears. Breuer befriended Freud and the two men would frequently discuss Breuer’s patients particularly one Anna O. It was reported that she displayed paralysis, memory loss, mental deterioration, nausea, and disturbances of speech and vision. She would undergo hypnosis with Breuer, and while under would recall specific experiences contributing to certain symptoms. Ana would recount disturbing incidents, for more than a year.

Breuer would say that treatment had been successful, however, historians would discover records that Ana O. was not cured but rather institutionalized. Another version of his treatments would later be founded stating that his treatments had been successful. It was this case that Freud, would introduce a cathartic method of treatment. Freud’s ideas using psychoanalysis as a method of treatment led to the development of free-association; where patients were free to discuss anything that came to mind. This would push boundaries to formulate the fundamental principle of repression. Freud would become the first to theorize how childhood development affects personality by way of psychosexual stages founded in early childhood experiences. (1949). Freud would stand firm in his belief that one’s sexual life begins with manifestations soon after birth (p.23) According to psychoanalytic theory children pass through five psychosexual stages (oral, anal, phallic, Oedipus and latency).

Freud would also learn that dreams played significant to an emotional material containing clues to cause and disturbance. He believed every dream held meaning that was a result of the unconscious mind. He would analyze himself and his dreams; keeping note of the dream he had the night before and free-associated the material. He would make self-discoveries making useful on the basis of his theory. He would cumulate two years’ worth of work and publicize it as The Interpretations of Dreams (1990). Freud would adopt dream analysis as a standard psychoanalytic technique. Freudian psychoanalysis became widely popular in modern psychology.

Some criticisms of psychoanalysis were that it lacked validity by the way the data was collected. Most of his original data was not found; thinking it may have been inferred instead of reported. Many stating that his recording was only of what he wanted to hear showing his notes not to be accurate. It was his method of analysis that would cause criticism with the traditional psychoanalysis as well. For his method of analysis to reach a conclusion, it would take long with frequent sessions. The cost and methods used compelled others to seek different forms of psychiatric care; leaning towards medications. With advancements in modern science more and more individuals favored prescribing medications instead of enduring long hours of psychoanalysis and feel instantly better.

Critics have pointed out that Freud’s theoretical models are from homogeneous sample groups. Most of them being exclusive. Psychologists would contend that Freud’s focus on sex to determine a personality too emphatic. His free-association would be criticized by Grunbaum. “He would argue that free association is neither free nor of validating evidence for psychoanalytic theory” (p. 260). Grumbaum argues that free association is not valid. That it is not capable of accessing repressed memories. And because of this there is no way to ensure that analysts are even capable of differentiating imagined memories and those of actual memories.


In conclusion, psychoanalysis is still widely accepted even though the use of psychoanalysis as a treatment has lost the luster it once had. Leaving major impacts on cultures and academics. Freud would indeed have theories that affected political campaigning, advertising, marketing, and public relations. Due to the lack of empirical data though many critics would insist on the validity of Freud’s evidence. It would become the demographically restricted individual who would study by Freud and of whom he would base the majority of his ideas. Although there are some weaknesses of psychoanalysis, the number of strengths found have shown the theory extremely significant in treating mental illness. Psychoanalysis has also proved substantial for having direct responsibility in finding additional psychological theories and hypothesis that would have otherwise gone unnoticed/undocumented.


Freud, S. (1949). An outline of psychoanalysis. New York: Norton.

Greenberg, R. P. (1986). The case against Freud’s cases.

Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Grunbaum, A. (1986). Précis of The foundations of psychoanalysis: A philosophical Critique. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9, 217-284.

Schultz, D. P. (2011). A History of Modern Psychology (10th Ed.). : Cengage


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