A psychological theory and a method of treatment of psychological disorders, developed initially by Sigmund Freud , and extended in a variety of ways by later psychoanalysts. James A. C. Brown's Freud and the Post-Freudians (1964) is still a good introduction to the various schools.
The core of psychoanalysis is the theory of the unconscious and the structural model of the psyche as consisting of three interrelated systems of id, ego, and superego. The unconscious comprises ideas (and some would argue feelings) that are unacceptable, either because they are experienced as internally threatening to the existence of the individual, or because they are experienced as threatening to society. These ideas might be sexual in origin (Freud), aggressive and destructive (Melanie Klein ), or connected with early experiences of fear and helplessness (D. W. Winnicott ). The id is seen as the source of drives demanding immediate satisfaction, and the superego as internalized parental and social authority, the work of the ego being to mediate the resultant conflicting demands.
Freud's account of dreams provides the most elaborate analysis of the workings of the unconscious. He begins by stating that all dreams are wish fulfilments: they provide a fantasy satisfaction of desires that have been repressed into the unconscious. The unconscious itself is timeless and does not mature: we remain, at this level, infantile throughout our lives, demanding immediate satisfaction. Neither is it subject to the laws of logic, desiring contradictory things at the same time, a feature of human life often recognized when people point out that love and hatred of the same person are closely connected. When we sleep the repression of our unconscious desires is relaxed. However, they do not appear directly in our dreams, but are censored through processes that Freud refers to as dream work, of which there are four types: condensation, or the merging of several thoughts into one dream symbol (for example, a policeman in a dream might stand for a range of authority figures in life); displacement, in which a desire is displaced onto an object in some way connected with the original, perhaps by chance or similarity (thus, in the hackneyed example, we might dream of sexual intercourse as a train going through a tunnel); symbolization, or the turning of ideas into pictures (for example, dreaming of setting a table, but laying knives and forks without handles might indicate a feeling of being unable to handle a situation); and, finally, secondary revision, the rational gloss we put on a dream, turning it into a manageable story as we remember it. Freud thought that dream analysis should concentrate on symbols, rather than the story, which is merely a disguise.
The analysis of dreams leads to the central feature of psychoanalytic treatment-free association. The patient is asked to talk about whatever comes into his or her head in connection with the symbol, and from this a pattern of meaning emerges which allegedly takes us back to the original unconscious thoughts (see’s The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900).
Over recent years these ideas have been taken up in particular by structuralist and post-structuralist thinkers in various disciplines: as a theory of literary criticism, for example, when a text is read as a dream; as a theory of the production of meaning; and as providing a so-called decentred theory of the subject. The Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser incorporated the idea of a ‘symptomatic reading’ into his epistemology as a way of identifying the underlying structure (or problematic ) of a theory.
Freud's theory of sexual development is probably the most widely known aspect of psychoanalysis. The child is seen as developing initially through oral, anal, and phallic stages, where the libido is expressed and satisfied at different points of contact between the body and the outside world-the mouth, anus, and genitals. Individuals can become arrested at or regress to any of these levels. However progress through them is the same for both sexes. An essential element of Freud's argument is that we begin life as bisexual, if not polymorphously perverse, and that heterosexuality is an often tenuous achievement, involving the subordination (repression or sublimation) of homosexual and other desires. This is achieved largely but not entirely unconsciously through the Oedipal stage of development. Both sexes take the mother as the first love-object. In the case of the little boy, sexual feelings towards his mother cannot be physically realized, and are experienced by him as a challenge to the father. This puts him in danger because of the father's superior strength and power. The danger is experienced as a threat of castration, and in the face of this threat combined with the promise of a woman of his own when he reaches puberty, the boy relinquishes his desire for his mother. The little girl has to make a more dramatic change from mother to father as the primary love-object. According to Freud, she experiences herself as already castrated, leading to early identification with her mother (see Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 1905).
This theory has played a prominent role in the development of modern feminism . For many it established Freud as irredeemably in favour of patriarchy ; for others it provides a basis for an analysis of patriarchy. Juliet Mitchell, a British feminist, Marxist, and psychoanalyst, was the first modern feminist to defend Sigmund Freud, arguing that psychoanalysis offers a description and analysis of patriarchy, rather than a prescription for male domination (see Psychoanalysis and Feminism, 1976).
Freud's analysis of the development of the sexual object choice involves an understanding of the process by which the infant first of all seeks satisfaction through its own body (primary narcissism ) and then through identifying with and introjecting the mother as part of its own psyche. Whereas classical psychoanalysis and Freud concentrated on the Oedipal stage, the development of psychoanalytic theory in Melanie Klein's work and British psychoanalysis in general focused on very early relationships with the mother, so that some feminists have tried to explain the development of gender differences in terms of the distinctive relationships between mothers and their young male and female children.
Psychoanalytic theory is not a monolithic block, but has developed through different national schools, and these schools tend to relate to social theory in different ways. The principal link between British psychoanalysis and social theory has been via feminist accounts of mothering. French psychoanalysis, through Lacan, has been associated with post-structuralism in general and post-structuralist feminism in particular. American ego psychology was incorporated by Talcott Parsons as a general theory of socialization . See also Bowlby , John; critical theory ; Jung, Carl Gustav.

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