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Psychoanalytical Theory – Sigmund Freud

 View of Human Nature

  • Freud’s view of human nature is considered to be dynamic, meaning that there is an exchange of energy and transformation. Freud used the term catharsis to describe this release of this energy.
  • Freud saw the personality as composed of a conscious mind, a preconscious mind and an unconscious mind. The conscious mind has knowledge of what is happening in the present. The preconscious mind contains information from both the unconscious and the conscious mind. The unconscious mind contains hidden or forgotten memories or experiences.

Structure of Personality

  • The personality has three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego
  • The id is present at birth and is part of the unconscious. The id is the site of the pleasure principle, the tendency of an individual to move toward pleasure and away from pain. The id does not have a sense of right or wrong, is impulsive, and is not rational. It contains the most basic of human instincts, drives, and genetic endowments.
  • The ego is the second system to develop and it functions primarily in the conscious mind and in the preconscious mind. It serves as a moderator between the id and the superego, controlling wishes and desires. The ego is the site of the reality principle, the ability to interact with the outside world with appropriate goals and activities.
  • The superego sets the ideal standards and morals for the individual. The superego operates on the moral principle which rewards the individual for following parental and societal dictates. Guilt is produced when a person violates the ideal ego denying or ignoring the rules of the superego.

Developmental Stages

  • Oral stage is centered on the mouth as a source of pleasure.
  • Anal stage is centered on the anus and elimination as a source of pleasure.
  • Phallic stage is centered on the genitals and sexual identification as a source of pleasure.
    • Oedipus Complex is described as the process whereby a boy desires his mother and fears castration from the father, in order to create an ally of the father, the male learns traditional male roles.
    • Electra Complex is described a similar but less clearly resolved in the female child with her desire for the father, competition with the mother and thus, learns the traditional female roles.
  • Latency stage is a time of little sexual interest in Freud’s developmental view. This stage is characterized with peer activities, academic and social learning, and development of physical skills.
  • Genital stage begins with the onset of puberty. If the other stages have been successfully negotiated, the young person will take an interest in and establish sexual relationships.

Ego Defense Mechanisms

  • Were believed by Freud to protect the individual from being overwhelmed by anxiety. He considered them normal and operating on the unconscious level. Some of the ones most often referred to are:
    • Repression is the defense mechanism whereby the ego excludes any painful or undesirable thoughts, memories, feelings or impulses from the conscious.
    • Projection is the defense mechanism whereby the individual assigns their own undesirable emotions and characteristics to another individual.
    • Reaction Formation is the defense mechanism whereby the individual expresses the opposite emotion, feeling or impulse than that which causes anxiety.
    • Displacement a defense mechanism whereby the energy that is generated toward a potentially dangerous or inappropriate target is refocused to a safe target.
    • Sublimation is a positive displacement is called whereby the frustrating target is replaced with a positive target.
    • Regression is the defense mechanism whereby returns to an earlier stage of development.
    • Rationalization is the defense mechanism in which an individual creates a sensible explanation for an illogical or unacceptable behavior making it appear sensible or acceptable.
    • Denial is a mechanism whereby an individual does not acknowledge an event or situation that may be unpleasant or traumatic.
    • Identification is a defense mechanism whereby a person takes on the qualities of another person to reduce the fear and anxiety toward that person

Role of the Counselor

To encourage the development of transference, giving the client a sense of safety and acceptance. The client freely explores difficult material and experiences from their past, gaining insight and working through unresolved issues. The counselor is an expert, who interprets for the client.

Goals of therapy include

a. Helping the client bring into the conscious the unconscious.
b. Helping the client work through a developmental stage that was not resolved or where the client became fixated.
c. Help the client adjustment to the demands of work, intimacy, and society.


  • Free Association is a process where the client verbalizes any thoughts that may without censorship, no matter how trivial the thoughts or feeling may be to the client
  • Dream Analysis is a process where the client relates their dreams to the counselor. The counselor interprets the obvious or manifest content and the hidden meanings or latent content .
  • Analysis of transference is a process where the client is encouraged to attribute to counselor those issues that have caused difficulties with significant authority figures in their lives. The counselor helps the client to gain insight by the conflicts and feelings expressed .
  • Analysis of resistance is a process where the counselor helps the client to gain insight into what causes form the basis for a hesitation or halting of therapy.
  • Interpretation is a process where the counselor helps the client to gain insight into past and present events .


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  1. […] Psychoanalytical Theory – Sigmund Freud […]

  2. Malcolm Wilson says:

    Freud’s unconscious, preconscious, and conscious mind are enduring. It seems that we need only go as deep as is necessary to enable client insight and perpetuate growth and functionality. Spending too much time accessing unconscious material may inhibit sufficient and meaningful growth.

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