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Psychoanalysis: Freud's Revolutionary Approach to Human Personality

Kristen M. Beystehner
Northwestern University

This paper focuses on Freud's revolutionary theory of psychoanalysis and whether psychoanalysis should be considered a "great" idea in personality. The fundamental principles of the theory are developed and explained. In addition, the views of experts are reviewed, and many of the criticisms and strengths of various aspects of Freud's theory are examined and explained. Upon consideration, the author considers psychoanalysis to be a valuable theory despite its weaknesses because it is comprehensive, serendipitous, innovative, and has withstood the test of time. Consequently, the author contends that psychoanalysis is indeed a "great" idea in personality.

As a therapy, psychoanalysis is based on the concept that individuals are unaware of the many factors that cause their behavior and emotions. These unconscious factors have the potential to produce unhappiness, which in turn is expressed through a score of distinguishable symptoms, including disturbing personality traits, difficulty in relating to others, or disturbances in self-esteem or general disposition (American Psychoanalytic Association, 1998).

Psychoanalytic treatment is highly individualized and seeks to show how the unconscious factors affect behavior patterns, relationships, and overall mental health. Treatment traces the unconscious factors to their origins, shows how they have evolved and developed over the course of many years, and subsequently helps individuals to overcome the challenges they face in life (National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, 1998).

In addition to being a therapy, psychoanalysis is a method of understanding mental functioning and the stages of growth and development. Psychoanalysis is a general theory of individual human behavior and experience, and it has both contributed to and been enriched by many other disciplines. Psychoanalysis seeks to explain the complex relationship between the body and the mind and furthers the understanding of the role of emotions in medical illness and health. In addition, psychoanalysis is the basis of many other approaches to therapy. Many insights revealed by psychoanalytic treatment have formed the basis for other treatment programs in child psychiatry, family therapy, and general psychiatric practice (Farrell, 1981, p. 202).

The value and validity of psychoanalysis as a theory and treatment have been questioned since its inception in the early 1900s. Critics dispute many aspects of psychoanalysis including whether or not it is indeed a science; the value of the data upon which Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, based his theories; and the method and effectiveness of psychoanalytic treatment. There has been much criticism as well as praise regarding psychoanalysis over the years, but a hard look at both the positive and negative feedback of critics of psychoanalysis shows, in my opinion, that psychoanalysis is indeed a "great idea" in personality that should not be overlooked.

The Origins of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud was the first psychoanalyst and a true pioneer in the recognition of the importance of unconscious mental activity. His theories on the inner workings of the human mind, which seemed so revolutionary at the turn of the century, are now widely accepted by most schools of psychological thought. In 1896, Freud coined the term "psychoanalysis," and for the next forty years of his life, he worked on thoroughly developing its main principles, objectives, techniques, and methodology.

Freud's many writings detail many of his thoughts on mental life, including the structural theory of the mind, dream interpretation, the technique of psychoanalysis, and assorted other topics. Eventually psychoanalysis began to thrive, and by 1925, it was established around the world as a flourishing movement. Although for many years Freud had been considered a radical by many in his profession, he was soon accepted and well-known worldwide as a leading expert in psychoanalysis (Gay, 1989, p. xii). In 1939, Freud succumbed to cancer after a lifetime dedicated to psychological thought and the development of his many theories (Gay, 1989, p. xx).

Although Freud's life had ended, he left behind a legacy unmatched by any other, a legacy that continues very much to this day. Whereas new ideas have enriched the field of psychoanalysis and techniques have adapted and expanded over the years, psychoanalysts today, like Freud, believe that psychoanalysis is the most effective method of obtaining knowledge of the mind. Through psychoanalysis, patients free themselves from terrible mental anguish and achieve greater understanding of themselves and others.

Principles of Freud's Theory of Psychoanalysis

In An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud (1949) explains the principal tenets on which psychoanalytic theory is based. He begins with an explanation of the three forces of the psychical apparatus--the id, the ego, and the superego. The id has the quality of being unconscious and contains everything that is inherited, everything that is present at birth, and the instincts (Freud, 1949, p. 14). The ego has the quality of being conscious and is responsible for controlling the demands of the id and of the instincts, becoming aware of stimuli, and serving as a link between the id and the external world. In addition, the ego responds to stimulation by either adaptation or flight, regulates activity, and strives to achieve pleasure and avoid unpleasure (Freud, 1949, p. 14-15). Finally, the superego, whose demands are managed by the id, is responsible for the limitation of satisfactions and represents the influence of others, such as parents, teachers, and role models, as well as the impact of racial, societal, and cultural traditions (Freud, 1949, p. 15).

Freud states that the instincts are the ultimate cause of all behavior. The two basic instincts are Eros (love) and the destructive or death instinct. The purpose of Eros is to establish and preserve unity through relationships. On the other hand, the purpose of the death instinct is to undo connections and unity via destruction (Freud, 1949, p. 18). The two instincts can either operate against each other through repulsion or combine with each other through attraction (Freud, 1949, p. 19).

Freud (1949) contends that sexual life begins with manifestations that present themselves soon after birth (p. 23). The four main phases in sexual development are the oral phase, the sadistic-anal phase, the phallic phase, and the genital phase, and each phase is characterized by specific occurrences. During the oral phase, the individual places emphasis on providing satisfaction for the needs of the mouth, which emerges as the first erotogenic zone (Freud, 1949, p. 24). During the sadistic-anal phase, satisfaction is sought through aggression and in the excretory function. During the phallic phase, the young boy enters the Oedipus phase where he fears his father and castration while simultaneously fantasizing about sexual relations with his mother (Freud, 1949, p. 25). The young girl, in contrast, enters the Electra phase, where she experiences penis envy, which often culminates in her turning away from sexual life altogether. Following the phallic phase is a period of latency, in which sexual development comes to a halt (Freud, 1949, p. 23). Finally, in the genital phase, the sexual function is completely organized and the coordination of sexual urge towards pleasure is completed. Errors occurring in the development of the sexual function result in homosexuality and sexual perversions, according to Freud (1949, p. 27).

Freud (1949) defines the qualities of the psychical process as being either conscious, preconscious, or unconscious (p. 31). Ideas considered to be conscious are those of which we are aware, yet they remain conscious only briefly. Preconscious ideas are defined as those that are capable of becoming conscious. In contrast, unconscious ideas are defined as those that are not easily accessible but can be inferred, recognized, and explained through analysis (Freud, 1949, p. 32).

Freud spent many years hypothesizing about the role of dreams and their interpretation. He defines the states of sleep to be a period of uproar and chaos during which the unconscious thoughts of the id attempt to force their way into consciousness (Freud, 1949, p. 38). In order to interpret a dream, which develops from either the id or the ego, certain assumptions must be made, including the acknowledgment that what is recalled from a dream is only a facade behind which the meaning must be inferred. Dreams are undoubtedly caused by conflict and are characterized by their power to bring up memories that the dreamer has forgotten, their strong use of symbolism, and their ability to reproduce repressed impressions of the dreamer's childhood (Freud, 1949, p. 40). In addition, dreams, which are fulfillments of wishes, according to Freud (1949), are capable of bringing up impressions that cannot have originated from the dreamer's life (Freud, 1949, p. 45).

The basic objective of psychoanalysis is to remove neuroses and thereby cure patients by returning the damaged ego to its normal state (Freud, 1949, p. 51). During analysis, a process that often takes many years, patients tell analysts both what they feel is important and what they consider to be unimportant. An aspect of analysis that has both positive and negative repercussions is transference, which occurs when patients view their analysts as parents, role models, or other figures from their past. Transference causes patients to become concerned with pleasing their analysts and, as a result, patients lose their rational aim of getting well (Freud, 1949, p. 52).

The method of psychoanalysis involves several significant steps. First, analysts gather material with which to work from patients' free associations, results of transference, dream interpretation, and the patients' slips and parapraxes (Freud, 1949, p. 56). Second, analysts begin to form hypotheses about what happened to the patients in the past and what is currently happening to them in their daily life. It is important that analysts relay the conclusions at which they arrive based on their observations only after the patients have reached the same conclusions on their own accord. Should analysts reveal their conclusions to patients too soon, resistance due to repression occurs. Overcoming this resistance requires additional time and effort by both the analysts and the patients. Once patients accept the conclusions, they are cured (Freud, 1949, p. 57).

In the final chapters of An Outline of Psychoanalysis, Freud (1949) insists that it is neither practical nor fair to scientifically define what is normal and abnormal, and despite his theory's accuracy, "reality will always remain unknowable" (p. 83). He claims that although his theory is correct to the best of his knowledge, "it is unlikely that such generalizations can be universally correct" (Freud, 1949, p. 96).

Evaluating the Criticisms of Psychoanalysis

In his "Précis of The Foundations of Psychoanalysis: A Philosophical Critique," Grünbaum (1986) asserts that "while psychoanalysis may thus be said to be scientifically alive, it is currently hardly well" (p. 228). The criticisms of Freud's theory can be grouped into three general categories. First, critics contend that Freud's theory is lacking in empirical evidence and relies too heavily on therapeutic achievements, whereas others assert that even Freud's clinical data are flawed, inaccurate, and selective at best. Second, the actual method or techniques involved in psychoanalysis, such as Freud's ideas on the interpretation of dreams and the role of free association, have been criticized. Finally, some critics assert that psychoanalysis is simply not a science and many of the principles upon which it is based are inaccurate.

Criticisms of Freud's Evidence

Grünbaum (1986) believes that the reasoning on which Freud based his entire psychoanalytic theory was "fundamentally flawed, even if the validity of his clinical evidence were not in question" but that "the clinical data are themselves suspect; more often than not, they may be the patient's responses to the suggestions and expectations of the analyst" (p. 220). Grünbaum (1986) concludes that in order for psychoanalytic hypotheses to be validated in the future, data must be obtained from extraclinical studies rather than from data obtained in a clinical setting (p. 228). In other words, Grünbaum and other critics assert that psychoanalysis lacks in empirical data (Colby, 1960, p. 54).

Other critics disagree with Grünbaum and insist that although extraclinical studies must and should be performed, clinical data are a reliable and necessary source of evidence because the theory of psychoanalysis would be impossible to test otherwise (Edelson, 1986, p. 232). Shevrin (1986) insists that "Freud's admirable heuristic hypotheses did not come out of the thin air or simply out of his imagination" (p.258) as other critics might have the reader believe. Instead, Shevrin (1986) continues, "extraclinical methods must be drawn upon in addition to the clinical method because the clinical method is the only way we can be in touch with certain phenomena" (p. 259). Only with quantification, many critics assert, can supposedly scientific theories even begin to be evaluated based on their empirical merits.

Additional critics contend that Freud's clinical data are flawed or invalid. Greenberg (1986) believes that Freud's case studies do not place enough stress on revealing the outcome of the treatment and that Freud's aim was more to illustrate his theoretical points (p. 240). In addition, Freud fully presented only twelve cases, but he mentioned over one hundred minor cases. Greenberg asserts that many of the presented cases would not even be considered acceptable examples of psychoanalysis and, in short, that virtually all of the case studies had basic shortcomings (p. 240). Finally, Greenberg finds it "both striking and curious" (p. 240) that Freud chose to illustrate the usefulness of psychoanalysis through the display of unsuccessful cases. "We were forced to conclude," maintains Greenberg, "that Freud never presented any data, in statistical or case study form, that demonstrated that his treatment was of benefit to a significant number of the patients he himself saw" (p. 241). Many other powerful criticisms about Freud's inaccurate and subsequently flawed evidence have been published. These critics contend that Freud's evidence is flawed due to the lack of an experiment, the lack of a control group, and the lack of observations that went unrecorded (Colby, 1960, p. 54). In addition, critics find fault with the demographically restricted sample of individuals on which Freud based the majority of his data and theory (Holt, 1986, p. 242).

Criticisms of Freud's Technique

"Free association" is a method employed in psychoanalysis where the patients speak about any subject matter whatsoever and the analyst draws conclusions based on what is said. According to Storr (1986), "Grünbaum forcefully argues that free association is neither free nor validating evidence for psychoanalytic theory" (p. 260). "For my own part, however," Grünbaum (1986) concludes, "I find it unwarranted to use free association to validate causal inferences" (p. 224). Grünbaum (1986) contends that free association is not a valid method of accessing the patients' repressed memories because there is no way of ensuring that the analyst is capable of distinguishing between the patients' actual memories and imagined memories constructed due to the influence of the analyst's leading questions (p. 226).

Spence (1986) is critical of Grünbaum's argument, although he acknowledges that

we simply do not know the amount of contamination, the spread of infection within the session, and the extent to which suggested responses are balanced by unexpected confirmations which support the theory and take the analyst by surprise. (p. 259)
Spence contends that free associations are not necessarily contaminated and also makes note of the fact that psychoanalysts "are particularly sensitized (in the course of their training) to the dangers of suggestion, and schooled in a tradition which places an emphasis on minimal comment and redundant examples" (p. 259). Spence concludes that the answer to the important question concerning the validity of free association will only be realized through close inspection of the transcripts of meetings between the patient and analyst.

In addition to his criticism of free association, Grünbaum (1986) finds fault with Freud's theory of dreams. In spite of Freud's view that this theory represented his greatest insight and success, it has very much failed in the eyes of most of today's critics.

Finally, many people feel that a major flaw of psychoanalysis is that, according to Farrell (1981), "it appears to encourage analytic and psychodynamic practitioners to overlook the place and great importance of ordinary common sense" (p. 216). Because psychoanalysis deals chiefly with unconscious motives and repressed emotions, common sense no longer seems to be applicable. Farrell (1981) and other critics believe that it is increasingly important for analysts to be aware of common sense and the role that it can, should, and does play in psychoanalysis (p. 216).

Criticisms of the Principles of Psychoanalysis

Storr (1981) insists, "Only a few fundamentalist psychoanalysts of an old-fashioned kind think that Freud was a scientist or that psychoanalysis was or could be a scientific enterprise," and that, "...to understand persons cannot be a scientific enterprise" (p. 260). Although many psychoanalysts themselves would undoubtedly consider psychoanalysis to be a science, many critics would disagree.

Popper, by far one of psychoanalysis' most well-known critics and a strong critic of Grünbaum, insists that psychoanalysis cannot be considered a science because it is not falsifiable. He claims that psychoanalysis' "so-called predictions are not predictions of overt behavior but of hidden psychological states. This is why they are so untestable" (Popper, 1986, p. 254). Popper (1986) claims that only when individuals are not neurotic is it possible to empirically determine if prospective patients are currently neurotic (p. 254). Popper (1986) asserts that psychoanalysis has often maintained that every individual is neurotic to some degree due to the fact that everyone has suffered and repressed a trauma at one point or another in his or her life (p. 255). However, this concept of ubiquitous repression is impossible to test because there is no overt behavioral method of doing so (p. 254).

Other critics claim that psychoanalysis cannot be considered a science due to its lack of predictions. Psychoanalysts, critics maintain, state that certain childhood experiences, such as abuse or molestation, produce certain outcomes or states of neurosis. To take this idea one step further, one should be able to predict that if children experience abuse, for instance, they will become characterized by certain personality traits. In addition, this concept would theoretically work in reverse. For instance, if individuals are observed in a particular neurotic state, one should be able to predict that they had this or that childhood experience. However, neither of these predictions can be made with any accuracy (Colby, 1960, p. 55).

Additional critics insist that psychoanalysis is not a science because of the lack of interpretive rules or regulations. Colby (1960) contends that critics of psychoanalysis have difficulties with the idea that "there are no clear, intersubjectively shared lines of reasoning between theories and observations" (p. 54). For instance, one psychoanalyst will observe one phenomenon and interpret it one way, whereas another psychoanalyst will observe the same phenomenon and interpret it in a completely different way that is contradictory to the first psychoanalyst's interpretation (Colby, 1960, p. 54). Colby (1960) concludes that if analysts themselves cannot concur that a certain observation is an example of a certain theory, then the regulations that govern psychoanalytic interpretation are undependable (p. 55).

Eysenck (1986) maintains:

I have always taken it for granted that the obvious failure of Freudian therapy to significantly improve on spontaneous remission or placebo treatment is the clearest proof we have of the inadequacy of Freudian theory, closely followed by the success of alternative methods of treatment, such as behavior therapy. (p. 236)
Whereas critics, such as Popper (1986), insist that Freud's theories cannot be falsified and therefore are not scientific, Eysenck claims that because Freud's theories can be falsified, they are scientific. Grünbaum (1986) concurs with Eysenck that Freud's theory is falsifiable and therefore scientific, but he goes one step further and claims that Freud's theory of psychoanalysis has been proven wrong and is simply bad science.

Evaluating the Strengths of Psychoanalysis

In order to evaluate the strengths of Freud's theory of psychoanalysis, one must consider a few of the qualities that make a theory of personality or behavior "great." Among the many qualities that people consider to be important are that the theory addresses its problem, can be applied in practical ways, fits with other theories, and withstands the test of time. In addition, a good theory, according to many philosophers of science, is falsifiable, able to be generalized, leads to new theories and ideas, and is recognized by others in the field. Clearly psychoanalysis meets many of these criteria.

As noted previously, Freud coined the term "psychoanalysis" in 1856. Even today, as we are rapidly approaching the twenty-first century, psychoanalysis remains as a valid option for patients suffering from mental illnesses. The acceptance and popularity of psychoanalysis is apparent through the existence of numerous institutes, organizations, and conferences established around the world with psychoanalysis as their focus. The theory of psychoanalysis was innovative and revolutionary, and clearly has withstood the test of time.

Perhaps even more noteworthy than the longevity of psychoanalysis is the fact that it has served as a catalyst to many professionals in the field of psychology and prompted them to see connections that they otherwise would have missed. Psychoanalysis enlightened health professionals about many aspects of the human mind and its inner workings, phenomena that had previously been inexplicable. As a direct result of psychoanalysis, approaches to psychological treatment now considered routine or commonplace were developed worldwide (Farrell, 1981, p. 202).

By far one of the greatest strengths of psychoanalysis is that it is a very comprehensive theory. Psychoanalysis, originally intended as a theory to explain therapeutic or psychological concepts, explains the nature of human development and all aspects of mental functioning. However, many experts contend that psychoanalysis can also be used to describe or explain a vast array of other concepts outside of the realm of the psychological field. For example, religion, Shakespeare's character "Hamlet," the nature of companies and their leaders, or an artist's paintings can all be explained by the principles of psychoanalysis. This comprehensiveness suggests that the theory of psychoanalysis is, at least to some extent, pointing in the general direction of the truth (Farrell, 1981, p. 195).


I concur with the many critics who insist upon the invalidity of Freud's evidence due to the lack of empirical data and the demographically restricted sample of individuals on which Freud based the majority of his ideas. Like Farrell (1981), I agree that sometimes it appears as if common sense does not have a place in psychoanalytic theory and, as a result, I believe irrelevant and false assumptions are made all too frequently. In addition, parts of Freudian theory are too generalized and fail to leave adequate room for exceptions to the general rule. Finally, I find it hard to accept that all mental problems stem from issues concerning aspects of sex, such as unresolved Oedipal and Electra complexes. I believe that this is a gross exaggeration and overgeneralization.

Despite the weaknesses of psychoanalysis, I believe that the many strengths of the theory are extremely significant. Therefore, I maintain that psychoanalysis is a theory that should not be disregarded. Because psychoanalysis was developed a century ago and is still considered to be a credible and effective method of treating mental illnesses, I contend that at least significant parts of the theory are accurate. Second, I believe that psychoanalysis is a scientific theory due to the fact that it is falsifiable and has, in fact, been proven false because other methods of treatment have been proven effective. Third, I believe that psychoanalysis is comprehensive, can be applied in practical ways, and contains valid arguments. Finally, I believe that psychoanalysis is a substantial theory of personality because it is directly responsible for the development of additional psychological theories and hypotheses that otherwise may have been missed.

Psychoanalysis is widely disputed, but perhaps it is necessary to return to the founder of psychoanalysis himself. Freud (1949) wrote in his Outline of Psychoanalysis

the teachings of psychoanalysis are based on an incalculable number of observations and experiences, and only someone who has repeated those observations on himself and on others is in a position to arrive at a judgment of his own upon it. (p. 11)
Although I am hardly an expert on psychoanalysis, I believe that to dismiss the theory completely would be a tremendous oversight because without it many other valuable psychological techniques and theories most likely would have remained undiscovered.

Peer Commentary

Analyzing Psychoanalysis

Sapna Cheryan
Northwestern University

Beystehner's article, "Psychoanalysis: Freud's Revolutionary Approach to Human Personality," examines Freud and his field of psychoanalysis in order to determine if the recognition it has received since its inception at the turn of the century has been deserved. In this article, Beystehner reviews various aspects of psychoanalysis, history of Freud, main ideas, and criticisms of psychoanalysis. The article concludes by acknowledging flaws in psychoanalysis, but asserts the value that Freud and his theories have added to the field of psychology.

Sigmund Freud was the psychologist responsible for forming and forwarding the first ideas in psychoanalysis. His theories were highly controversial and remain so to this day. The foundation of psychoanalysis is rooted in the idea that humans have unconscious longings that must be analyzed in order to understand behavior. Such unconscious desires are usually sexual and aggressive tendencies. Psychoanalysis is a method to uncover the source and elements of these impulses. Various methods, including free association, dream interpretation, and analysis of slips in conversation are used to identify latent longings.

Beystehner classifies critics into three categories. The first group is critical of Freud because of his method of data collection or his lack of data. A second group of critics dislikes techniques that psychoanalysts use to assist their patients. Free association, according to Grünbaum (1986), is "not a valid method of accessing the patients' repressed actual memories because there is no way of ensuring that the analyst is capable of distinguishing between the patients' actual memories and imagined memories constructed due to the influence of the analyst's leading questions" (p. 226). Finally, Beystehner refers to critics who condemn psychoanalysis as not being scientific. Because it is impossible to test, lacks predictions, and has no "interpretive rules," it contradicts many of the fundamental tenets of science.

Beystehner does an excellent job of reviewing the history of psychoanalysis and summarizing main ideas. Although she identifies some important critics, many others are left out. Freud has a significant number feminist critics because many of his theories viewed women's sexuality in a negative light. In addition, Beystehner discusses Freud's view that homosexuality is an "error occurring in the development of the sexual function." Such an idea has been criticized with relatively recent emerging research on homosexuality. Therefore, critiques of Freud stretch farther than examined in this article. Nonetheless, Beystehner's conclusion about psychoanalysis is valuable.

First, the aspects that make a theory "great" are underscored. Beystehner shows how Freud's theories satisfy such aspects, thereby making it one of the greatest theories about human behavior. Flaws are acknowledged, yet "psychoanalysis is a theory that should not be disregarded." It has helped develop and refine many new fields of psychology.

Peer Commentary

Great Ideas, But Great Science?

Nathan Jones
Northwestern University

The paper on psychoanalysis by Beystehner presents an argument that attempts to establish Freud's revolutionary theory of psychotherapy as a "great" idea in the study of personality. Despite the great criticism of him by several scientists, the author believes Freud should not be overlooked. She believes that Freud's theory, by withstanding the tests of time and by influencing so many other ideas in the field of personality, cannot be dismissed. In addition, she believes that psychoanalysis is a scientific method. The arguments are presented in a neat, linear manner that can be followed easily. First, the author gives origins and histories of psychotherapy, and then goes on to explain the theories of Freud. She finally documents important critical and positive viewpoints on the father of psychoanalysis.

The paper is strong in its clear presentation, with a final conclusion that is supported by the evidence brought forth in the author's argument. However, many criticisms of Freud are left unresolved. The author does state in her conclusion that Freud's arguments have their weaknesses, but she believes that an idea can still be great if it is flawed. The problem is that the strengths of his work are unclear and are directly refuted by Freud's critics. Perhaps the greatest question left unresolved is the falsifiablity of Freud. Can we interpret his theories as a true science, or are they merely speculations at the human mind? The author believes that psychoanalysis is a scientific method because it is falsifiable, but no concrete proof of that is presented. The author shows that Freud is important because he influenced so much thought in the 20th century, and because he addressed issues previously kept in the dark. However, I believe the author falls short of establishing psychoanalysis as a science. The criticisms are overwhelming, and the author rarely takes the time to refute these points.

The criticisms collected regarding psychoanalysis are placed into three categories by the author, criticisms of Freud's evidence, techniques, and principles. Freud and his theories are criticized on all levels. Attacks range from his intentions to his empirical evidence. At one point it is stated: "Greenburg believes that Freud's case studies do not place enough stress on revealing the outcome of the treatment and that Freud's aim was to illustrate his theoretical points." And then almost immediately following: "Critics contend that Freud's evidence is flawed due to the lack of an experiment, the lack of a control group, and the lack of observations that went unrecorded (Colby, 1960, p. 54)." Things that are synonymous with modern scientific theory and method are omitted from Freud's theory. These multiple gaping holes in Freud's work are presented in quick procession, and are followed by no discussion. Instead, the reader is left thinking only of all of Freud's flaws. A mountain of these facts is built up, but it is never knocked down.

Instead of defending Freud against the points of the previous section, the portion of the paper evaluating the strengths of Freud concentrates on the influence Freud has had both inside and outside of psychology. The author states that "a good theory, according to many philosophers of science, is falsifiable, able to be generalized, leads to new theories and ideas, and is recognized by others in the field. Clearly psychoanalysis meets many of these criteria." Yet the formerly stated criticisms of psychoanalysis as a science seem too great to ignore; the author offers no resolution to these points. More importantly, the author fails to prove the falsifiability of the theories. The only proof given is that psychoanalysis is falsifiable "because other methods of treatment have been proven effective." This is a vague statement that, even if true, in no way provides a strong foundation to such an important and pivotal argument. Creating falsifiability is vital in establishing psychoanalysis as a scientific theory. Without a reasonable claim at this, it is difficult to discuss a theory as a science. Instead of clearly meeting the criteria of a good, scientific theory, psychoanalysis falls short. Because of this, evaluating psychoanalysis as a scientific method is unreasonable. This is significant in evaluating Freud's theories as "great." The only strengths successfully argued are that his psychoanalysis still lingers today and that it has led to new theories and ideas.

I do not believe that the ideas of Freud should be dismissed completely. Freud's influence has been great on many. He has permeated into society and is now commonplace in the public's evaluation of personality. The author of this article explains how Freud's work acted as a catalyst, opening the eyes of several scientists to new theories that otherwise would have been missed. Freud's theories can effectively be applied to the human personality and to the development of the human mind and sexuality. They can even be applied to works outside of the realm of psychology. Yet, in this article, the author does not effectively establish psychoanalysis as a science. The criticisms of Freud (his technique, method, and principles), and the author's failure to prove falsifiability of psychoanalysis make it impossible to accept his theories as a science. Freud's revolutionary thinking and his effect on those who followed clearly establish that his theories have had a "great" impact in the field of personality. However, the author does not provide significant evidence to establish Freud's work as a scientific method.

Peer Commentary

Psychoanalysis: A Not-So-Great Idea?

Anna S. Lin
Northwestern University

This paper discusses Freud's theory of psychoanalysis, including an evaluation of whether or not the theory qualifies as a "great" idea of personality. The author notes several strong arguments that critics of the theory have made, but also suggests that the theory is comprehensive enough to remain in consideration. For example, although Beystehner makes the assertion that Freud's data were not scientific, she also points out that the theory is not only still in use after an entire century, but it has influenced many more theories as well.

The author describes the theory of psychoanalysis fairly well. Although slightly brief, the outline of psychoanalysis given is understandable if the reader has some knowledge of the topic. Some concepts, such as the latent stage and the Electra complex, could be further elaborated. Similarly, Freudian slips, or "parapraxes," are not explained at all. Beystehner also states that there are both positive and negative aspects of transference, but does not provide adequate descriptions of these.

It seems that the criticisms Beystehner makes against psychoanalysis are much more powerful than the defending arguments. For instance, the claims that Freud's data were either "flawed or invalid" indicate that Freud's theory is not scientifically based, a rather large, influential argument against the theory. The comments against Freud's technique of free association fuel the debate on whether his work was done on empirical grounds. Beystehner provides ample support for this criticism, and the reader begins to question whether or not the theory is really based on adequate evidence. It is somewhat contradictory that a theory with such a dubious foundation could remain in existence for so long, let alone serve as the basis for other theories. Beystehner asserts that psychoanalysis is, in fact, a falsifiable theory, and so it is appropriately categorized as a scientific theory. However, her paper lacks the support necessary to convince the reader of this idea. The fact that other types of treatment have been shown to be effective does not satisfy the reader as acceptable evidence that the theory is scientific. The concepts behind Freud's psychoanalysis are nearly impossible to test empirically; how does one go about proving the existence of an id? It is no wonder that Freud's data were "flawed." Psychoanalysis can only be based on observations and interpretations, which are not always standardized, and thus predictions are not always accurate. Beystehner has done well in bringing these problems to light.

Nevertheless, psychoanalysis is a very comprehensive theory that can be used to explain many aspects of human psychology. The author evaluates this point as well as other strengths of the theory, but the reasoning in support of the theory is not quite up to par with the arguments against it. The main item that confirms the theory's strength deals with the "longevity of psychoanalysis." The reader is left to wonder how, with all the criticism against it, the theory has remained intact for so long. Although psychoanalysis is extremely comprehensive, contains some valid arguments, and has been utilized in both clinical and research psychology, empirical support in favor of the theory seems to be lacking.

Beystehner also seems to draw several conclusions without offering clarifying examples. She states that "irrelevant and false assumptions are made all too frequently" in the field of psychoanalysis, and specific examples could be included. Also, she claims that psychoanalysis "can be applied in practical ways," which is a rather vague description of the theory's usefulness.

In her conclusion, Beystehner uses a quote from Freud, in which Freud implies that he has based psychoanalysis on his observations of both himself and others. However, Rand and Torok (1997) have noted that Freud did not completely understand himself, which would contribute to his flawed data results (p. 221). Once again, the validity of psychoanalysis comes into question. Perhaps the case for the theory needs some reconsideration. Undoubtedly, the author has made some very clear points, and should be commended on her accomplishment of compiling such a comprehensive evaluation of psychoanalysis. On the other hand, the justifications for agreeing with the theory fall short of the critique against it, and so the reader can conclude that psychoanalysis may not be as great of a theory as previously thought.

Peer Commentary

Freud Alone

Ethan R. Plaut
Northwestern University

Beystehner's essay on psychoanalysis is a good introduction to Freudian theory, and also addresses the issue of whether it holds water as a science, but stops there, which is somewhat misleading. There are even a few simple factual statements that I find questionable, including the statement that the superego's demands are managed by the id. Nothing can really be "managed" by the id, nor the superego, for that matter. These two elements counterbalance each other, but only the ego is capable of "management." The term "Electra phase" is also attributed to Freud, which is a term with which he personally did not agree. In a paper such as this one that addresses Freudian theory, rather than psychoanalysis as a whole, it would be more appropriate to simply note the theoretical gaps in the theory for females. Freud's famous quote "What do women want?" would be appropriate to note. He conceded that he was unable to make his theory a balanced one for both sexes, so why not simply address that in the paper?

Neglecting much of the literature is a much more serious offense. Only Freud's writings are addressed as far as psychoanalytic theory goes, and all of the innovations within Freud's framework are ignored. Psychoanalysis has come a long way since Freud's day, including changes that account for the aforementioned inability of Freud's theory to address the issues specific to women. Many criticisms of Freud are briefly noted in the essay, but the only one that is properly addressed is the question of whether psychoanalysis has a solid scientific basis in theory and practice--that is, whether it should be considered a "pure science." This question may be an issue, but I think it is essentially a secondary one. Many modern analysts would simply concede this point, and go on their merry post-Freudian way. Far more important issues regarding sexuality, etc., are simply glossed over and left to rot as loose ends, unaddressed in the paper and, therefore, in the reader's head. There has been a lot of criticism of psychoanalysis, and it has held up very well under fire. To address only the question of scientific status, which is one of the few criticisms that has been conceded by analysts, but is (arguably) a relatively unimportant criticism, is a horrible mistake in a paper that aims to survey the literature on psychoanalysis. The paper is relatively good on the points that it addresses, but for an overview of psychoanalysis, it fails to emphasize the right points.

Peer Commentary

Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory Raises Concerns in Light of Modern Culture

Purva H. Rawal
Northwestern University

Sigmund Freud is arguably the most well known psychologist of the 20th century. As the founder of psychoanalysis, he has greatly impacted the development of psychotherapy and treatment methods through the course of the century. His influence on the field remains strong and his theory continues to generate controversy. Psychoanalysis remains embroiled in this controversy as many detractors claim that the theory has its flaws. Its redeeming factor is the legacy it leaves behind, as it has furthered the therapeutic field in unimaginable ways. Contrastingly, opponents of the theory point to the lack of empirical evidence and the heavy reliance on free association techniques as proof of obvious inadequacies. Psychoanalysis is undoubtedly a "great" idea in psychology as the author clearly notes; however, the theory's shortcomings are far from few in the light of modern demands.

One of the greatest inadequacies in Freud's theory that the author does not investigate further is the inability of the theory to explain behaviors in our modern culture. In many senses, Freud's theory was only applicable in his own era. The prevalence of same-sex parents raising children in homosexual homes or the even more common phenomenon of single-parent households raise questions that psychoanalysis fails to answer. The psychoanalytic theory is horribly inadequate in its investigation of female emotional and sexual development. Freud concentrated on male development, as he was part of a male dominated era; however the lack of foresight is clear as half the population's development has been insufficiently accounted for under the guidelines of the theory. Difficulties arise when one attempts to explain female development and behavior based on psychoanalytic theory because it is so incomplete in this arena. The demographic scope of investigation of psychoanalysis is apparent when measured against modern standards.

The role and interpretation of dreams was one of the cornerstones of Freud's theory. He used dreams and their subsequent interpretations to bring subconscious conflict to the forefront. The author succinctly describes the role of dreams in psychoanalysis; however, more recent evidence refuting Freud's claims is rather interesting. The proliferation of psychotherapy in the modern day has brought controversial and unsettling issues under close scrutiny. The ability of therapists to strongly influence patients' memories has been supported in numerous studies. Loftus (1993a, 1993b, 1995) has also shown in many studies that memories are often reconstructed and that the therapist aids in the construction process through such avenues as dream interpretation and hypnosis. The question of whether dreams are a reliable source of information has been refuted by most in the field; yet, patients continue to reconstruct memories with the aid of therapists. The modern scientific phenomenon has it roots in Freud's original psychoanalytic theory.

Clear mention is made of the fundamental technique of free-association in Freud's clinical cases. The reliance on free-association and on dream interpretation point to a greater problem: the lack of empirical evidence. The lack of empirical evidence is a point to which the strongest opponents of psychoanalysis look in criticism of the theory. Perhaps the reason many modern psychologists are unable to reconcile the psychoanalytic theory with modern treatment techniques is due to this apparent lack of empirical evidence. Modern science looks to empirical evidence for confirmation of any theory's validity. Freud was clearly unable to provide the empirical evidence of modern standards; thus, only if we look at the psychoanalytic theory from the ideas it has spurred rather than at its literal meaning can psychoanalysis be considered a "great" idea in personality.

Psychoanalysis displays its greatest strength as one views the progress that has been made in the treatment of the mentally ill. Proponents of psychoanalysis have contributed to its widespread influence as it has encouraged other fields of research and investigation. Psychoanalysis fostered interest in human emotional and psychological development traced back to a young age. The human can be seen from a much more holistic viewpoint as one looks at the psychoanalytic theory, which combines the inner workings of the mind and attempts to explain them in the context of a dynamic social environment.

The author provides an accurate assessment of Freud's psychoanalytic theory as she points out its two major inadequacies, the demographic restrictions of the subject population and the lack of empirical evidence, while also salvaging the theory by concentrating on the legacy it left behind. Although the specifics of the psychoanalytic theory cannot be supported via empirical evidence and many aspects of the theory cannot explain modern phenomena, Freud still made a considerable and lasting contribution to psychology. The controversy surrounding his theory to this very day is testimony of its greatest strength: its ability to foster and encourage further investigation and the presentation of new theories. Freud brought psychology to a new precipice as he delved into the workings of the inner mind.

Author Response

Evaluating the Criticisms: Psychoanalysis and its Legacy

Kristen M. Beystehner
Northwestern University

It seems to me that there are several common criticisms of my paper, "Psychoanalysis: Freud's Revolutionary Approach to Human Personality." First, several commentators are of the opinion that I failed to fully establish falsifiability of Freud's psychoanalytic theory. Second, several commentators believe that I did not adequately describe the most important criticisms of Freudian theory. Third, several commentators feel that I failed to fully resolve or refute the criticisms of psychoanalysis that I detailed in my paper. In this response, I will attempt to reply to these and all of the other valuable criticisms made by the authors of the peer commentaries on my article.

In her commentary, "Analyzing Psychoanalysis," Cheryan cites two weaknesses of my paper to be the omission of feminist critics of psychoanalysis and the omission of recent research concerning homosexuality. As Cheryan writes, "Critiques of Freud stretch farther than examined in this article." I am in agreement with this point. Clearly Freud and psychoanalysis have been criticized and attacked from nearly every angle. In choosing to classify the criticisms of Freud into the three categories of criticisms of Freud's evidence, Freud's technique, and the basic principles of psychoanalysis, I was attempting merely to highlight some of the criticisms that appeared to be significant and mentioned by many authors. Perhaps with a bit more research, I would have found more criticisms of the type Cheryan mentions, but because of the vast number of criticisms against Freud and his work, it was necessary that I select several areas of criticism on which to focus my article.

Like Cheryan, Rawal points out in her article that I failed to investigate psychoanalysis' inability to explain certain behaviors in our modern world. She too cites the examples of homosexuality and the overall inadequacy of the theory's positions on the sexual and emotional development of females. I have to agree with Rawal and Cheryan that one of the greatest oversights of Freud was his failure to develop his theory well enough for females. This was due, as Rawal notes in her commentary, to the time period in which Freud worked, an era that was definitely male-dominated.

In his commentary, "Freud Alone," Plaut mentions a statement in my paper with which he finds fault. In my paper, I stated that the superego's demands are managed by the id. Plaut goes on to explain how "nothing can really be 'managed' by the id, nor the superego." Upon review of my sources, I have to conclude that I misinterpreted some information. In short, this statement in my paper is, in fact, false. To correct this error, I wish to emphasize the fact that the demands of both the superego and the id are managed by the ego.

Plaut also cites my use of the term "Electra complex," a term with which Freud did not personally agree. Once again, Plaut is correct here. The term was first used by Jung, and Freud did, in fact, argue against its introduction in one of his papers. I must admit that I did realize that Freud did not coin the term "Electra complex," but I included it in my paper for two reasons. First, the term is used by many critics and appears to be generally accepted, and second, I felt that the term made differentiating between the developmental experiences of males and females easier for the reader to comprehend.

Plaut states in his article that "only Freud's writings are addressed as far as psychoanalytic theory goes, and all of the innovations within Freud's framework are ignored." He is correct here, and I agree with him that psychoanalysis has come a long way since Freud. However, the purpose of my particular paper was not to provide a current update of those innovations. Instead, I attempted to provide an overview of Freud's theory, not the theories of his successors. Finally, I evaluated whether or not I believe Freud's specific theory of psychoanalysis, not the practice of psychoanalysis in general, is indeed a valuable theory of human personality.

Plaut also asserts that I failed to emphasize the right points. He believes that, although the question of whether or not psychoanalysis has a solid, scientific foundation may be an important issue, "it is essentially a secondary one." I disagree. Many of the foremost critics of psychoanalysis find fault with the theory because they believe that it is not scientific. Consequently, I believe that the arguments for and against this argument are indeed extremely important, far more important than Plaut acknowledges.

Finally, Plaut asserts that many modern analysts would simply concede that psychoanalysis is a science and "go on their merry post-Freudian way." However, I find this hard to accept because I have found criticisms stating the exact opposite of Plaut's remark. As I stated in my paper, Storr (1981) insists, "Only a few fundamentalist psychoanalysts of an old-fashioned kind think that Freud was a scientist or that psychoanalysis was or could be a scientific enterprise" (p. 260). There is quite a difference between "many modern analysts," as Plaut asserts and "only a few fundamentalist psychoanalysts," according to Storr. This and the importance of the issue of whether psychoanalysis is indeed a science are definite sources of disagreement between Plaut's beliefs and my own.

In "Psychoanalysis: A Not-So-Great Idea?" Lin first cites my omission of Freudian slips as a significant error. Although I did allude to Freudian slips, or "parapraxes" in the section of my paper detailing the method of psychoanalytic treatment, Lin is correct in stating that I failed adequately to explain their nature. In regards to this and other brief descriptions of various topics in my paper of which Lin would like to see more explanation, I was merely trying to be succinct. I highlighted the basics of Freud's theory, and I maintain that the primary aspects of his psychoanalytic theory are explained quite adequately.

Lin also cites my use of one of Freud's quotations in my conclusion and the fact that recent research has shown that, according to Lin, "Freud did not completely understand himself, which would contribute to his flawed data results." In regards to this point, I must admit that I am not familiar with the research Lin cites, and I can only offer my intent for including this quotation, which was merely to illustrate Freud's opinion that only individuals schooled in the details of psychoanalytic theory are in a position whereby they can offer their views of psychoanalysis.

Perhaps more important though is the criticism of both Lin and Jones that I failed to establish psychoanalysis as a falsifiable theory. However, I believe that falsifiability is a somewhat straightforward issue. In my opinion, because methods of treatment other than psychoanalysis have been used successfully in the treatment of mental illness, psychoanalysis has indeed been falsified. Among the alternative methods that have been proven effective are behavior and cognitive therapy, not to mention spontaneous remission or placebo treatment (Eysenck, 1986, p. 236).

Lin also considers the conclusion of my paper to be vague and in need of more examples. In attempting to be brief, I may have inadvertently neglected a few of the details that Lin mentions. First, in regards to my statement that "irrelevant and false assumptions are made all too frequently" in the field of psychoanalysis, I was referring primarily to the types of generalizations whereby psychoanalysts, for instance, define the causes of all sorts of mental issues to be due to unresolved Oedipal and Electra complexes. This type of generalization is, in my opinion, exaggerated and lacking in common sense. Second, in regards to my statement that psychoanalysis "can be applied in practical ways," I was referring to its use as a method of treatment of various mental illnesses, its attempt at explaining the inner workings of the human mind in the context of the world and the environment, and its ability to serve as a catalyst for further investigation of other psychological theories. I apologize for this apparent lack of clarity.

Lin and Jones both believe that the strengths of psychoanalysis that I detailed do not stack up to the many criticisms of the theory. However, I disagree. The fact that psychoanalysis has withstood the test of time so well indicates without a doubt that at least parts of the theory are accurate. In addition, Freud's influence on the field of psychology remains strong even today. The legacy that Freud left behind is tremendous, and his theories have furthered the field of psychology in an infinite number of ways. Although my paper detailed many criticisms of Freud's theory, I believe that these only serve to further illustrate one of psychoanalysis' greatest strengths: its controversiality. As a direct result of Freud's theory, additional psychological theories and hypotheses have been developed that otherwise may have been missed. This, in my opinion, is by far the greatest achievement of Freud's psychoanalytic theory and overshadows any and all of its many criticisms.

In his commentary "Great Ideas, But Great Science?" Jones asserts the primary weaknesses of my article to be many of the same criticisms made by Lin, as I have noted previously. These include the arguments that the criticisms of psychoanalysis are left unresolved, that the strengths of psychoanalysis are vague and do not stack up well against its many criticisms, and that the falsifiability of the theory is not well-established.

In addition, Jones finds fault with my categorization of the criticisms of Freud and his theory. He emphasizes that, "Freud and his theories are criticized on all levels. Attacks range from his intentions to his empirical evidence." I strongly agree with Jones on this issue. Jones seems to be bothered by the conflicting criticisms and my lack of discussion regarding each one. However, I believe much of the criticism that I detailed is somewhat self-explanatory, and in response to Jones' assertion that the "reader is left thinking only of Freud's flaws," I believe that the strengths of Freud's theory, including its legacy, serendipitous quality, and controversiality, are indeed strong enough to overpower the many arguments against it.

Jones, like Lin, maintains that the falisifiability of psychoanalysis is not well-established though he insists this is in part due to the somewhat vague statement in my conclusion that "other methods have been proven effective." As I mentioned previously, behavioral and cognitive therapy have both been successful in the treatment of mental illnesses. Therefore, I would like to reiterate that psychoanalysis has definitely been falsified as was noted by Eysenck (1986) and many other critics. As a result, contrary to the opinion of Jones, psychoanalysis does meet this aspect of the definition of a scientific theory and should therefore, in my opinion, be considered scientific.

All of the criticisms from each of the peer commentators are valuable and interesting. However, I believe that no critic can deny the fact that psychoanalysis is indeed a "great" idea of human personality. Clearly, psychoanalysis is an important tool in practice. It provides great insight into the inner workings of the human mind, provides a deeper understanding as to the fundamental problems that cause mental illness, and its controversiality has resulted in the investigation and development of many other psychological theories. In my opinion, these tremendous achievements of Freud and his theory far outweigh the many criticisms. It is my desire, along with many other supporters of psychoanalysis, that the theory of psychoanalysis be fully appreciated for its relevance and profound effects on modern-day psychology as well as its use in the clinical environment, despite the many criticisms against it.


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