Psychologists developed personality theories (and are still developing) from the study of human personalities and individual differences. These theories majorly deal with understanding and explaining factors that influence an individual’s psychological processes, how they are similar to those of other individuals and how different they are from them. They are useful in helping to understand why some individuals show undesirable behavior in certain circumstances and how to help them to recover from such conditions. Several theorists such as Sigmund Freud, Erick Erikson, Abraham Maslow, B.F. Skinner, and Jean Piaget among others came up with different theories to explain personality and individual differences. This paper focuses on Sigmund Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis in the implementation of the helping process.
Psychoanalysis bases its views on the on the understanding that human beings are mostly unaware of the mental processes that determine their thought, feelings and behavior. An understanding of psychoanalysis can be used to assuage psychological suffering by making the individual aware of those processes. Psychologists have further improved Freud’s theory and techniques of psychoanalysis so as to address issues in contemporary practice. The psychoanalytic theory provides an in-depth explanation as to why human behave the way they do and how understanding of thought processes can be used to help patients overcome their psychological anguish.
Theory of Psychoanalysis (Sigmund Freud)
According to Boeree (2006), Freud believed that the human personality entails three states of mind including the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious. The conscious mind is aware of the affairs currently taking place. The preconscious mind has information from both the conscious and the unconscious mind while the unconscious mind has hidden information or forgotten memories.
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Freud stated that the human personality entails three parts: the id, ego and superego (Boeree, 2006). The id works in the unconscious mind and has the basic human instincts. Its motivation is the pleasure principle which tends to guide it from painful experiences. The id does not have regard for right or wrong; in other words, it does not consider morality, but is rather impulsive. This part is already present at birth. The ego develops after the id, and it works in the conscious and preconscious minds. The pleasure principle guides the ego, and it works to satisfy an organism’s present needs realistically. Mostly, the superego fully develops at around 7 years of age. The superego works on the morality principle; it guides the organisms to act according to societal ethics.
Application of Psychoanalysis
Experts apply psychoanalysis in a wide array of fields that involve mental processes. This is because of the possible avenues opened by the understanding of human differences with regard to what brings them about and how psychoanalysis can be used to alleviate undesired factors and propagate the desired ones (Boeree, 2006). Some of them include skills and techniques, communication, basic problem-solving, ethnic diversity and in establishing and using the helping relationship.
Skills and Techniques
A good example of how this theory can be implemented in the helping process is in the practice of psychoanalysis as a specialty of clinical social work. According to the American Board of Examiners (ABE, 2004), this practice involves providing patients with mental and emotional healthcare services. Skilled persons trained in psychoanalysis apply their knowledge in treating patients with disorders that are associated with disturbances in thought processes and behavior. The main objective of psychoanalysts is to bring elements of the unconscious mind into awareness of the patient. This is to allow for examination of the patient and obtain information to solve the problem.
There are various techniques of applying psychoanalysis in psychotherapy; one of them is behavior modification. The main aim of this technique is to eliminate undesired habits and replace them with desired ones through positive reinforcement (ABE, 2004). The psychoanalyst develops ways of “rewarding” positive behavior while introducing “punishment’ for negative behavior. At first, the patient learns to engage in positive behavior because of the rewards. After a while, the patient becomes accustomed to engaging in positive behavior; in other words, it becomes reinforced.
Another technique is systematic desensitization where therapists expose patients to an object or event they fear to help them overcome their fear. For instance, a person who has been attacked by dogs can be helped to overcome his or her fears by gradually teaching them how to interact with a dog. At first it may start with visualization; it then moves to interacting with a dummy and eventually introducing a real dog. Another technique is relaxation, and it involves teaching patients to overcome fear and anxiety through methods such as deep-breathing and muscle relaxation (Rychlak, 1973).
Free association as a technique refers to practice in which the patient speaks out his or her thoughts freely without any censorship from the counselor. Dream analysis refers to the technique where the patient tells the counselor of their dreams. The counselor then interprets and communicates the underlying meaning of dreams.
Therapists have successfully employed psychoanalytic psychotherapy to help individuals with mental and/or mental disorders in various circumstances (Rychlak, 1973). One example is its application in helping war veterans overcome their traumatic experiences and lead a normal life. Another application is in the family setting, where the use of couple therapy helps individuals who have personal differences that are affecting their marriage to resolve conflicts.
People can use psychoanalysis to provide an understanding of the communication process. Based on Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis, psychoanalyst Jacque Lacan developed the Lacanian psychoanalytical approach that provides an understanding of the communicative activity (Miller, 1986). Lacan proposed that people go through three registers before they become part of society. They are the real register, the imaginary register and the symbolic register.
The real is the basic structure in an individual’s psyche that is pure need; the object of anxiety. The imaginary register occurs through the mirror stage where a child starts to develop as a sense of self or the ideal ego. The child perceives its mirror-image as whole and organized as opposed to their lack of coordination (Miller, 1986). This leads to a rivalry between the child and its mirror image. Eventually, the child identifies with the image leading to the formation of the ego. The symbolic register signifies learning culture through the means of languages that use words to represent real objects (Parker, 1997).
Problem- solving refers to the active process of trying to find a solution to some unknown phenomenon. Scientists have tried and proved this is a strategy. At the beginning of a problem-solving session between a patient and his or her counselor, the counselor provides solutions to the patient’s problems. In the course of therapy, the counselor provides the patient with ways of solving problems on their won using prior experiences.
In regard to psychoanalysis, problem-solving can be viewed as one of the aspects of information processing. According to Rychlak (1973, p. 1), it can be defined as the “search and selection of pathways from one state to another, e.g., moving from unknown to known' unfamiliar to familiar, plan to goal, and so forth”. The working of the memory registers an event or experience during the every-day processing of information. The memory then interprets and stores the events interpretation in its working. To determine the nature and importance of the event or experience, psychotherapists compare it with earlier experiences stored in the working memory (Rychlak, 1973).
This process of interpreting occurrences based on past experiences stored in the long-term memory is what constitutes problem-solving. This process largely takes place in the subconscious mind. This explains why an individual may not be aware of how certain events (referred to as idiosyncratic constructs) influence their thoughts. The working of psychoanalysis bases its views on the ideology of bringing the idiosyncratic constructs to the patient’s awareness thus providing a platform for their examination and, if necessary, modification. Psychotherapists have successfully applied the understanding of the problem-solving mechanism through idiosyncratic constructs in the treatment of a variety of disorders like psychosis, schizophrenia and hysteria.
As compared to earlier decades, the demographic composition of many countries has significantly changed. At present most nations, especially the industrialized ones consist of people from diverse ethnicities. This can be attributed to less strict immigration rules and a reduction in cases of discrimination against immigrants (Parker, 1997). Immigrants brought with them different cultural values, beliefs and practices. As a consequence, cultural diversity not only complicated the process of integration by also the application of therapeutic treatment to racial minority groups.
Ethnic and cultural differences can make a patient resistant to psychotherapeutic treatment. This happens especially where therapists disregard sensitive issues regarding their (patients') cultural background. This can be attributed to the fear of stereotyping or generalization which results in the fear that leads to disconnection between individuals. Principles of Freudian psychoanalysis help counselors discern behaviors that arise as a result of individual psycho- pathology and cultural influences (Parker, 1997).
Establishing and Using the Helping Relationship
The goal of psychoanalysis is to set up a healing relationship between a counselor and the patient. The counselor establishes the helping relationship by giving the patient with an environment of safety and acceptance. The client becomes free to explore the difficult past experiences, gains insight into them and works to solve the vague issues. The counselor acts as an expert who provides the patient with guidance and interprets issues that are not clear to him or her.
The counselor uses his or her expertise to help the patient bring forth what is in the unconscious state of mind to the conscious one. The counselor then helps the patient to identify the stage at which events started unfolding or the point at which he or she stagnated. After an examination of the idiosyncratic constructs and resolving of the vague issues, the counselor then helps the patient adjust to the demands that led to the problem at hand. Some of the factors that can lead to mental disturbances include demanding work, intimacy issues or societal expectations.
Origin and Principles of the Theory
The origin of the psychoanalytic theory is credited to Freud’s mentor Dr. Joseph Breuer and his patient Anna O (Boeree, 2006). Anna was taking care of her ailing father when she started developing illnesses that had no physical basis. It started with a cough then went to speech difficulties that led to her becoming mute. When her father eventually passed away, she developed further disorders such as refusing to eat, loss of feeling in her limbs and paralysis among other ailments.
Anna later started experiencing hallucinations and mood swings which would eventually lead her to severally attempt suicide. In the evenings, Anna descended into trancelike states where she would give details of her day-time hallucinations and would feel better after talking of the experiences. During these sessions, the therapist connected the emotional events she remembered to some symptom.
Eleven years later, Sigmund Freud wrote a book on hysteria. Boeree, (2006) states that Freud explained that:
Every hysteria is the result of a traumatic experience, one that cannot be integrated into the person's understanding of the world. The emotions appropriate to the trauma are not expressed in any direct fashion, but do not simply evaporate: They express themselves in behaviors that are in a weak, vague way offer a response to the trauma. These symptoms are in other words, meaningful, when the client can be made aware of the meanings of his or her symptoms (through hypnosis, for example) then the unexpressed emotions are released and so no longer need to express themselves as symptoms. It is analogous to lancing a boil or draining an infection (p. 3).
Anna was able to get rid of her symptoms with the help of Breuer. Thus, she was patient, and Breuer was the counselor.
The basic principles of the theory are:
- A person’s personality is not only influenced by genetics, but also by childhood experiences.
- Processes in the subconscious mind largely determine human behavior.
- Inconsistency between the conscious and subconscious mind leads to mental disturbances.
- Relief from mental disturbances can be brought about by professionally bringing the events in the subconscious to the conscious mind.
Personality: Genetics, Social and Individual Factors
Genetics and psychoanalysis have a close link given that genes play a significant role in interaction of an individual. Interacting with other members of society imparts into individual knowledge on societal expectations and interpretations of what is wrong and right. This are then reinforced by the reward and punishment system; information that is then stored in the long-term memory. An individual relies on this information to unconsciously make a wide range of choices. For instance, in some parts of the world it is considered uncouth to talk while eating. Through reinforcement, individuals in these parts will get used to swallowing food before talking; behavior that will be influenced subconsciously.
Assessment of Validity and Utility
Initially, the psychoanalytic theory was not well received, and Freud strived to prove its universal validity. Even though, modern analysts have done away or modified some of Freud's ideas, his theory remains influential in clinical practice as well as in humanities and social sciences. Freud’s theory helped in the understanding of the organization of the human mind and its processes.
Understanding of human mental processes led to his explanation of why humans behave differently in varying circumstances. The way Freud dealt with human actions, dreams and the cultural aspects of humans as possessing implicit symbolic meaning have had a tremendous impact on various fields such as psychology and anthropology.
Factors that Influenced Freud’s Theory
Sigmund Freud was born on May 6, 1856, in the small town of Freiberg, Moravia. His ethnic background is not clear because Austria – the obvious choice- was created in 1919 and disappeared in 1938. Some say he was Czech, and some say he was German while others claim he was Jewish. This lack of a clear ethnic background and the death of his father led him to engage in self-analysis, which formed the basis for the development of the psychoanalytic theory. At around the time of the theory’s development, the political environment in Austria was unstable. There were spontaneous assassinations and territorial wars that led to the First World War. These events influenced the development of the concept of the id, ego and superego
Freud’s career in medicine, which began after his graduation from the University of Vienna, was his greatest influence. He undertook research in cerebral palsy and neurophysiology. His greatest influence can be said to occur when he studied under Charcot, a renowned psychiatrist in Paris. Freud also had the opportunity to study with Charcot’s rival Bernheim. Both of them were investigating the role of hypnosis in hysterics. Freud’s association with Breuer in Vienna is also a significant influence since it is the latter and his patient Anna who laid the foundation for the psychoanalytic theory.
Even though, Freud did not originally come up with the idea of the conscious and unconscious mind, his reasoning made it popular. Understanding mental processes in the conscious and subconscious mind has provided invaluable insight into understanding why humans behave differently in various circumstances. It has particularly had an invaluable impact in the development of various techniques and skills that are essential in psychotherapeutic procedures. The psychoanalytic theory has also played a prominent part in explaining how people can employ basic problem-solving skills to unravel the causes of mental disturbances and ways to overcome them. Therefore, the psychoanalytic theory provides an in-depth explanation as to why human behave the way they do and how understanding of thought processes can be used to help patients overcome their psychological anguish
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