Graziano and Raulin (8th ed)Graziano & Raulin
Research Methods (8th edition)

X. PSYCHOANALYSIS

In the late 19th Century, while much of academic psychology was studying consciousness, a physician named Sigmund Freud, working outside the mainstream of academic psychology, was focusing on unconscious processes. Freud was one in a long line of physicians who studied abnormal behavior, with the view toward understanding and treating mental disorders. 

A hundred years before Freud, romantic philosophy was influential (late 1700s and early 1800s). It was a philosophy that was very much a reaction against the 18th Century’s mechanistic conception of reality--such as the Newtonian concept of the universe as a vast machine. For those romantic philosophers, reality was not in the details of the physical form of things, but resided in the essence of things--their inner and usually hidden reality. One cannot understand the true essence of a flower or a human being by pulling them apart and examining the pieces. The flower, like a person, is a whole, and its beauty and meaning are to be found in its whole nature. Furthermore, the universe and life were viewed, not through a mechanical metaphor, but an organic one. They are dynamic; all things and events are ever-changing, never static, ever-growing, and tending toward some ultimate ideal form, always in a state of what the romantic philosophers called being and becoming

When 18th Century physicians who studied mental illness adopted those ideas and concepts, a number of personality theories were constructed that emphasized unconscious states, irrationality, interactive psychobiological function, the reality of subjective experience, and the psychodynamics of internal conflict. Those models described human personality as driven by inner forces, many of which are unrecognized by the person. Personality, for them, is the unfolding and growth of dynamic psychological systems. Mental illness results when that natural process of growth is blocked. Beginning with the assumption that humans are basically irrational and driven by complex inner forces, romantic psychiatry, from about 1790-1850, developed models that largely anticipated those of Freud and his followers 100 years later (Graziano, 1975).

At the end of the 19th Century, Freud revived romantic philosophy models in his psychodynamic theory of personality. Unconscious motivation--driving persons from within--was a central notion in Freud’s revival. He believed that sex and aggression were the major drives that drove behavior. He developed both a personality theory and method of treatment (psychoanalysis). Freud was powerfully influential, and his psychodynamic theory attracted both adherents and critics. He influenced psychiatry, clinical psychology, anthropology, history, sociology, and literature. Few people have had the kind of powerful impact on western culture of Freud. 

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory was heavily influenced by 19th Century biology and physics. He viewed human personality as a closed energy system that was rooted in the genetic/biological nature of humans. However, in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, new ideas about society, culture, and history arose from research in the new disciplines of anthropology and sociology. They focused on society and culture as prominent factors in human behavior, and these new ideas influenced some of Freud’s adherents. Psychoanalysts, such as Adler, Fromm, Horney, and Sullivan, began to differ with Freud’s continued focus on biological causation. They developed models that incorporated some of the more modern social thinking, and they modified Freud’s original formulations. They created a subset of psychoanalysis, and their models are known as the social psychological theories.  

Psychoanalysis reached its peak in the early 1940s, before being largely displaced by modern concepts of mental disorder and treatment. Many of its concepts have been adopted by more eclectic clinical psychologists and psychiatrists, and the study of psychoanalysis per se is now limited to only a few groups of people. 

One of the problems of psychoanalysis is that it is essentially an early 19th Century conception. The research and clinical data base is weak, because it also derived from the research procedures that are now nearly 150 years old. Freud and his followers readily made sweeping statements about the universal and basic nature of humanity and about the origins of behavior. For example, Adler asserted that the way a person sleeps--on the back, on the stomach, curled, stretched, or whatever--reveals a great deal about his or her personality. He made many such assertions even though there was absolutely no empirical evidence for them. 

Like most psychoanalysts, Adler relied on his own creative imagination, rather than on empirical data. A criticism made earlier of Watson’s behaviorism also applies here; they all generalized far beyond anything their data would support. Had the psychoanalysts asserted that their models may help to explain some human functioning under some cultural conditions (e.g., upper-middle class persons with neuroses who lived in a few countries in Western Europe in the 19th and early 20th Centuries), they would have been on firmer ground. When those dated and vastly over generalized concepts, based on outdated research methods, were viewed from the standpoint of modern 20th Century science, the model did not fare well. 

Its inability to withstand modern scientific scrutiny is a major reason for its abandonment by most modern psychologists and psychiatrists. However, there is still some interest in these theories, as seen in the work of researchers such as Joseph Masling (Masling & Bornstein, 1994). They point out that some Freudian concepts appear to be clinically relevant, and should be subjected to objective empirical testing, rather than being rejected or accepted on non-empirical, rational grounds alone. These researchers have not validated Freudian psychoanalytic theory, but they have provided objective research support for some of its important concepts. For a more thorough overview of psychoanalysis, see Hall and Lindzey (1978).

Adler, Alfred Freud, Sigmund Horney, Karen
Erikson, Erik Fromm, Eric Jung, Carl

 

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