Psychoanalysis (Freudian psychology) is a psychological theory of dealing with the mind and understand psychological disorders.

Basic Tenets of Psychoanalysis

  1. Beside the inherited constitution of personality, a person's development is determined by events in early childhood;
  2. Human behavior, experience, and cognition are largely determined by irrational drives;
  3. Those drives are largely unconscious;
  4. Attempts to bring those drives into awareness meet psychological resistance in the form of defence mechanisms;
  5. Conflicts between conscious and unconscious (repressed) material can result in mental disturbances such as neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety, depression etc.;
  6. The liberation from the effects of the unconscious material is achieved through bringing this material into the conscious mind (via e.g. skilled guidance).

Model of the Psyche

Freud believed the psyche was constructed out of three parts:

  • Id (sexual and aggressive drive, basal instincts)
  • Superego (moral principles instilled by parents and culture)
  • Ego (moderates conflict between the other two)


Model of Mental Illnesses

Psychoanalytic methods consider the causes of psychological disorders to be consciously-repressed early childhood memories, and hence unconscious behavioural drives.

  • Projection
    • Projecting unconscious impulses onto other people.
    • E.g. A man with unconscious aggressive impulses may become paranoid that others want to hurt him.
  • Reaction
    • Transforming unconscious impulses into compulsions.
    • E.g. a woman with unconscious sexual defecation impulses are transformed into OCD with compulsive hand washing.

Treatment of Mental Illnesses

Psychodynamic therapy focusses on resolving unconscious conflicts by overcoming defence mechanisms and brining them int consciousness (Theraputic because takes pressure off of the ego).

Criticisms of Psychoanalysis

  • Psychoanalysis is not very reliable; in the case study below, there are many many ways to interpret the phobia.
  • Psychoanalysis is slow; therapy can take up to 5 years.
  • There are probably more obvious interpretations
  • Hard to gather evidence for its correctness

Evidence for Psychoanalysis

Evidence for Unconscious Processing

Suslow et al (2010) showed that depressed individuals show increased brain activity to subliminal perception of unhappy faces.

Evidence for Defence Mechanisms

Adams et al in 1996 studied 64 men and split them into two groups; 35 were classified homophobic and 29 non-homophobic. He showed each group heterosexual, lesbian and gay pornography, while measuring penile circumference. He found that the homophobic group showed significantly greater arousal than the non-homophobic group.

His study lends support to the theory that homophobia is a defence mechanism against unconsciously repressed homosexuality.


(Image from here).