Its interesting that despite my long interest in psychotherapy I have never read or studied Freud. To be honest I have always been put off by the overemphasis of sexual and aggressive drives, and now I’ve read more about Freud’s theories I still feel the same about it. However I do now appreciate more just how much he is to be thanked for; I can see how many other schools of psychoanalysis have drawn from and adapted his ideas. So I will attempt to summarise Freud’s theories very briefly here.
Freudian psychoanalysis is built around three models: The topographic, the structural, and the developmental.
The first model splits the mind into the Conscious, the Pre-conscious, and the Unconscious. The Conscious contains those things that you are aware of and attend to (pay attention to). The Pre-conscious contains those things that you could be aware of, if you attended to them (a physical example would be someone standing on the edge of your vision). Finally Freud’s major and vital contribution: the Unconscious. Here lie things that you are not aware of, and cannot become aware of simply by attending to them. Freud believed that everything in our Unconscious has an innate force pushing it towards consciousness, but anything that could be threatening or objectionable to our conscious selves (such as certain sexual fantasies) is pushed back into our unconscious through a process called repression. However if this objectionable material is mutated and disguised, perhaps as a joke, a dream, or a slip of the tongue (often called a Freudian slip) it may be let through into our consciousness.
This conflict between consciousness and unconsciousness forms, Freud believed, our personalities, behaviours, and mental disorders.
Some time after the above theory, which is the only of Freud’s theories to stand up to empirical testing, Freud proposed the structural model. Here he proposed three collections of thought types (they were never meant to be taken as individual entities or personalities the way they have often been mis-interpreted today): the Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego.
The Id houses all our desires and fantasies, which Freud believed all came from sexual or aggressive drives. It is concerned primarily with immediate gratification and avoiding a state of unpleasure.
The Super Ego contains all the commands and rules of society. It is the aspect of our minds that deals with deciding what is appropriate in different contexts, and tries to control the chaotic Id.
The Ego mediates between these two, helping us balance desires against societal restrictions, resolving the conflict.
The final model Freud proposed is the developmental model, however I will save that for my next post 😉