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Psychoanalysis: From Theory to Practice, Past to Present

Ethan R. Plaut
Northwestern University

This paper first summarizes the central theory of psychoanalysis, beginning with Freud's groundbreaking contributions divided into five parts: dynamic, economic, developmental, structural, and adaptive. It then moves on to more recent developments within the Freudian framework. Next there is an account of the basic techniques of psychoanalytical treatment. Finally, there is a section on some of the many criticisms of psychoanalysis, with responses.

Psychoanalysis remains the single most influential theory for the practice of psychotherapy. Freud (1964) began the movement, so this paper will begin with his foundation. One way of dividing his theory is into five parts: the dynamic, the economic, the developmental, the structural, and the adaptive (Rapaport & Gill, 1959).

Freud's Theory


The "dynamic" level of Freud's (1964) theory deals with instinctual forces (Rapaport & Gill, 1959). He traces all instincts, and in a certain sense therefore all actions, back to two instincts; they are the Eros ("sexual instinct" or "libido") and the "destructive (aggressive) instinct." They work together and against each other and have a hand in everything we do. The primary example of this is sex itself, where of course the libido is present, and varying degrees of aggression (or lack thereof) can lead someone to either be bashful and impotent or a sex murderer, and anything in-between.


Freud's (1964) theory of the instincts is further realized in the "economic" level of his theory (Rapaport & Gill, 1959). This attempts, in some fashion, to abstractly quantify the power of instincts through the concept of "psychic energy." This is described through a system in which this energy in invested towards instinctual goals through cathexes, toward maximizing the pleasure for the individual. This, however, is balanced by the concept of anti-cathexes, in which the energy is invested as a force against the instinct, via defense in the ego (this concept will be further elaborated in the section on the structural model).


The third part of Freud's (1964) theory is the "developmental" (Rapaport & Gill, 1959). Freud noted three major ideas in his theory that contradicted common beliefs. First, sexual life begins at birth. Second, a distinction between 'sexual' and 'genital' has to be made, because the former is a broader term encompassing many things totally disconnected from the genitals, for example oral and anal pleasure (Freud, 1964). Third, physical pleasure may be brought into the service of reproduction, but the two often fail to coincide completely. His model of development is four stages long, and only lasts through early life (other more complex models that give detailed representations of adulthood have been proposed by others; Erickson's will be addressed later in the section of this paper devoted to developments within the Freudian framework).

The oral phase begins at birth, when the mouth is the only erotogenic zone. It is, of course, for the purpose of nourishment that the baby persistently sucks at its mother's breast, but the baby nevertheless derives pleasure from this. The (Sadistic-)Anal Phase is characterized by satisfaction being sought in aggression and in the excretory function. In the Phallic Phase the male genitals take center stage. The male then enters the "Oedipal Stage" and begins touching his penis and fantasizing about doing something with it to his mother, until the threat of castration and realization of the lack of a penis in females throws him into the period of latency. In Freud's view, girls, recognizing their lack of a penis and inferior clitoris, suffer developmentally and often begin turning away from sex altogether. The next phase, puberty, is the one in which the individuals become increasingly aware of their adult sexual roles.


The fourth point of Freud's (1964) theory, the all-important "structural" divisions, come under two main categories: the structural and the topographical models (Rapaport & Gill, 1959). The structural model consists of three parts: the id, the ego, and the superego. The id is the agency of the "psychical apparatus" which contains much of what is inherited (there are also inherited ego characteristics), including the instincts. Psychic energy gets displaced and transformed, and then eventually discharged through action. Psychic determinism is that the instincts and their vicissitudes determine human behavior, modified by the ego.

The ego is the agency that acts as an intermediary between the id and the external world. It takes on the tasks of voluntary movement (using muscles in response to stimuli) and self preservation. It is charged with gaining control over the demands of the instincts, and choosing which ones to satisfy and when. The ego seeks pleasure and avoids unpleasure. When increases in unpleasure are expected, they are met by anxiety. The ego not only has to balance the id with reality, but also with the superego. The superego is the agency formed over time by the parents and society of the individual. It observes, orders, judges, and threatens the ego with punishment just like the parents whose place it has taken. We are generally aware of it as our conscience. Freud (1964) attributed the severity of the superego to the strength of defense used against the temptation of the Oedipus complex (and used this to claim that men have more fully developed superegos--but that is a more complex matter that is more fully dealt with in the sections of this paper on criticisms).

The second structural model is the topographical one. It, again, consists of three main parts: the unconscious, the preconscious, and the conscious. The unconscious is the part of the mind that is inaccessible to conscious thought. It is governed by the pleasure principle, which is simply that drives seek discharge as readily as possible. The barriers between it and the conscious are repression and other defenses. Freud (1953b) saw dreams (and dream analysis) as the central window to the unconscious (see the section on treatment). The preconscious is the part of the mind which is accessible to conscious thought, but is not currently being thought about. An example of preconscious thoughts might be accessible but distant memories. The line of demarcation between the unconscious and the preconscious is the important distinction to draw; the line between the preconscious and the conscious is less important, and is blurry at best.

The conscious is the accessible, "conscious" part of the mind, which contains thought processes including (very importantly) speech (although the preconscious is also considered somewhat verbal). In contrast to the unconscious, the conscious is governed to a large extent by the reality principle, which is that one must generally act according to the reality in which one lives, and therefore gratification must often be delayed.


The last element of Freudian theory is the "adaptive," which has been given much greater emphasis by more modern analysis (Rapaport & Gill, 1959). Freud addressed it, but only in a fairly scattered way. This final major element is how the psyche, the first four elements, relate to the outside world. The ego acts to balance the psyche with reality, as in the example of temporary restraint in order to gain or retain long-term happiness. One important thing to note here is how much emphasis analysts put on person-to-person relationships, most importantly that of the mother and child.

Developments Within the Freudian Framework

There have been many developments within the Freudian framework. This paper will mainly address the work of four people in this context; Freud's daughter, Anna Freud, E. H. Erikson, M. Klein, and H. Kohut.

A. Freud

A. Freud followed in her father's footsteps and became a reputable and influential expert in her own right. Her major innovations were in the field of the ego and the mechanisms of defense. She also indicates resistance to treatment as a form of defense against instinct. She theorized that the affects associated with the instinctual impulses also are defended against in the ego, for example by the means of mastering them by putting them through a metamorphosis, which may manifest itself as emotional suppression or denial, among other things (A. Freud, 1966). A. Freud also refers in her work to a notion that W. Reich (1945) called "Charakterpanzerung," or the "armor-plating of the character." This is the residual manifestation of rigorous past defenses that have been dissociated from their original conflicts. These manifestations, such as stiffness, or peculiarities of personality, such as a fixed smile or arrogant behavior, develop into permanent character traits. The ego has too many defenses to ever be properly discussed here, among them repression (S. Freud's brainchild), displacement, reversal, etc.


Erikson made an enormous contribution to and alteration of Freud's developmental theory. He changed and extended the stages into a more complex theory extended throughout life. He also associated a "virtue" and a related developmental issue with each stage. This is especially important because the failure to resolve those issues explains many problems. The seven stages are essentially as follows. The first, or "oral" stage has the virtue of hope and the issue of trust. The anal stage has the virtue of will and the issue of autonomy. The Oedipal stage has the virtue of purpose and the issue of initiative. The latency stage has the virtue of skill and the issue of industry. Adolescence has the virtue of fidelity and the issue of identity. The stage involving marriage and work has the virtue of love and the issue of intimacy. The stage of parenthood has the virtue of the capacity to care for others and the issue of integrity (Erikson, 1950).


Klein was an important figure in the development of psychoanalysis because she was one of the first to put greater emphasis on the pre-Oedipal stages (Klein, 1975). She wrote of critical issues during the oral and anal stages, and also of earlier Oedipal issues. She theorized that these early issues made "imprints" on later psychic developments. Among her central concepts was the formation/existence of depressive and paranoid positions. She was a major precursor of the modern analysts spoken of as the "object-relations school." This school of thought puts far greater emphasis than Freud on interpersonal relationships, beginning with the mother-child relationship.


Currently a variant on this called "self psychology" is receiving a lot of attention. H. Kohut is one of the central figures in this movement. It focuses on the formation of the sense of self as an issue independent of Freud's structural concepts (Kohut, 1971).


Special mention must be made in this section of Jung. One cannot say that he made developments within the Freudian framework, but he founded the only other school of analysis that has maintained a significant following. Jungian analysis has a much more spiritual foundation. It rests on Jung's emphasis on myth and the presence of a "collective unconscious." This collective unconscious is considered to be present in all people, but is different from Freud's in that it is not created by repression. For Jung, therein lies what makes us human (Jung, 1959).


Psychoanalysis is an extremely involved process that takes place over the course of a number of years. The analyst and the patient develop an intimate relationship, which includes "transference," which is a process in which the patient develops a sort of parent-child relationship with the analyst, and therefore transfers the patient's old emotions with his or her actual parents onto the analyst. This makes for an extremely touchy situation in which the analyst has a huge amount of influence, which is necessary but requires care and restraint.

Freud (1964) thought that all neuroses were a result of repressions, and so he sought to use his influence as an analyst to access and help the patient to access the relevant issues in the unconscious. Freud (1964) saw the unresolved Oedipal complex as the most universal, as well as most important, repression (in males). (Freud's theory was admittedly less developed for women, as noted by his statement "That [the eros and sexual development] of males is the more straightforward and the more understandable..." [Freud,1953a, p.207]) Freud's theory holds that males, around the age of three or four, enter into sexual fantasies about their mothers, including fantasies about taking their fathers' places. The father is pictured as threatening the boy with castration as punishment for his early masturbation fantasies and showing off of his penis, which initially seems impossible to the boy, until the realization of the lack of a penis in females. This brings on the "castration complex," which entails long term sexual repression. The question of how to get a (male) patient to accept this about himself, however, was and is an entirely different problem.

Freud (1953a) saw dreams as the major source of insight into the unconscious. Dream interpretation is a very imperfect science, as there are many levels of distortion between the patient's unconscious and the analyst's interpretation. The dream is formed to fulfill some unconscious wish that is normally repressed. The dream, however, is not literal, it is symbolic. The patient must recount his or her memory of the dream (another distortion) before the analyst can even begin to trace it to its unconscious root. The other main technique in Freudian analysis is the use of free association, in which patients essentially speak what is on their minds, "associating" one topic with the next. This has the advantage that the analyst may act as observer and listener without using his or her influence (from transference, etc.) to lead the patient in any specific direction. Each one of the two people in the psychoanalytic relationship, hopefully, will eventually meet at the same conclusion as to the cause of the problem (Freud, 1964).


There have been criticisms of psychoanalysis from every imaginable angle. It has been equally strongly defended, and has held up very well under fire. Two common criticisms, espoused by laypeople and professionals alike, are that the theory is too simple to ever explain something as complex as a human mind, and that Freud overemphasized sex and was unbalanced here (was sexist). My opinion is that these criticisms are to a large extent the result of misreading, and therefore miss the point. Freud's model is just that--a model. Like an economic model or any other, it simplifies something almost infinitely complex to a point at which it can be analyzed. Like the process of modeling anything, it is difficult to draw the line of oversimplification, but Freud's theory and models are practical in understanding people and have been fruitful in treatment.

In my mind, there are two important responses to the criticism regarding sexuality. The first is that people misinterpret Freud's use of the word "sexual." The word should generally be inferred to mean "sensual." Freud included in the concept "sexual" the genital, the anal, and the oral (Freud, 1964). However, even most modern Freudians would concede that Freud's emphasis on the Oedipal complex was excessive. In light of this, another legitimate response to criticisms about the role of sexuality in the theory would be to concede that Freud's emphasis was excessive, but that that in itself does not really have any effect on the theory as a whole.

One final criticism, which is often stated, is that Freud's work (and/or Freud himself) was sexist. One can only respond to this in a very limited and fairly unsatisfactory way. Freud's theory was sexually unbalanced--there is no way of denying it. However, he knew and conceded that his theory was less well developed for women; he saw but could not correct this flaw (Freud,1953a), as noted in the section on treatment. The obvious explanations for this inability are time-period cultural bias and the simple fact that Freud was male. Women were not considered equals in Victorian England. Freud's self analysis was an important input into his theories. The reduced emphasis on the Oedipal complex, and other revisions in psychoanalysis, have made modern analysis perfectly applicable to women.

The final criticism addressed here is the question of the scientific status of psychoanalysis. Grünbaum (1986) addressed this issue at length. He makes a detailed refutation of the scientific status of psychoanalysis. Many of his points are well formed and legitimate criticisms. For example, there is an element of suggestibility involved in the treatment process. The "tally argument," which Grünbaum (1986) refutes, is that, first, only the psychoanalytic method can yield correct insight into the causes of neuroses, and second, correct insight is necessary for a durable cure of those neuroses. Grünbaum (1986) writes that this argument fails because of a number of complex reasons that he enumerates in great detail, including the fact that successful treatment has occurred without these conditions being fulfilled. Additionally Freud himself weakened this argument considerably later in life (Grünbaum, 1986). Grünbaum goes on to a number of criticisms based on scientific and logical reasoning that weaken psychoanalytic treatment's scientific status.

It is true that Freud essentially considered psychoanalysis a pure science, but that is a view which has been superseded by the current view, which puts more emphasis on the issue of how fruitful psychoanalytic treatment is as a treatment. Even if an inordinate amount of time is spent writing about theory within the profession, clinical practice plays the central role in the professional lives of psychoanalysts (Michels, 1983). As a science, psychoanalysis is imperfect, but it has stood the test of time as an important basis of psychotherapy.

Peer Commentary

Evaluating the Criticisms of Freud's Theory of Psychoanalysis

Kristen M. Beystehner
Northwestern University

In "Psychoanalysis: From Theory to Practice, Past to Present," Plaut summarizes the central theory of psychoanalysis well, dividing it into five distinct categories: dynamic, economic, developmental, structural, and adaptive. The author then succinctly details the additions and developments of other top psychologists within the Freudian framework. Following a brief discussion of treatment using psychoanalysis, Plaut explores the criticisms of psychoanalysis, which he believes can be grouped into three main categories.

The first main criticism of psychoanalysis, according to the author, is that the theory of psychoanalysis is far too simple to explain the many intricacies and complexities of the human mind. Plaut asserts that Freud's theory is simply a model, whose sole purpose is to simplify something incredibly complex to a point where it can be analyzed. I concur with Plaut that it is difficult to distinguish between simplification and oversimplification when modeling anything. However, I believe that parts of Freudian theory are too generalized and fail to leave adequate room for exceptions to the general rule. I agree with the author's position that Freud's theories have been beneficial in treatment and understanding people. I maintain that because psychoanalysis was developed nearly a century ago and is still considered to be a credible and effective method of treatment for mental illness, at least significant parts of the theory are accurate.

The second main criticism of psychoanalysis, according to the author, is that Freud's theory is sexist and places too much emphasis on sex in general. I too find it hard to believe that all mental problems are the direct result of unresolved Oedipal and Electra complexes. This, in my opinion, is a gross exaggeration and overgeneralization. The author believes that Freud's sexism was a direct result of the time period's cultural bias against women and the fact that Freud himself was male. Plaut cleverly points out that Freud himself acknowledged that his theory was less developed for women.

The final criticism that Plaut details in his article concerns the scientific status of psychoanalysis. The author briefly explains the position of Grünbaum but omits the positions of Popper and Eysenck, both significant critics of psychoanalysis. Popper insists that Freud's theories cannot be falsified and therefore are not scientific, whereas Eysenck claims that Freudian theories can be falsified and therefore are scientific. Grünbaum takes Eysenck's argument one step further to claim that Freud's theories are scientific but have been proven wrong and are simply bad science. I believe that psychoanalysis is a scientific theory due to the fact that it is falsifiable and has, in fact, been proven false. Other methods of treatment, such as cognitive and behavioral therapy, have been proven effective in many instances, and this illustrates that psychoanalysis is not the only option for the treatment of neuroses and mental illnesses.

Although I agree that the criticisms mentioned by the author are noteworthy, I believe that the many criticisms of Freud's evidence and technique must not be overlooked in the evaluation of his theory. First, many critics of Freud's evidence contend that Freud's theory lacks empirical data and relies too much on therapeutic achievements, whereas others maintain that even Freud's clinical data are flawed and inaccurate. Second, Freud's use of free association and dream interpretation in treatment have been heavily criticized by many reviewers. In my opinion, these two criticisms are very important.

The author's accurate assessment of the criticisms of Freudian psychoanalytic theory demonstrates his clear knowledge of the principles upon which psychoanalysis was founded. Although the omission of the criticisms of Freud's evidence and technique is significant, I believe that the article presents Freud's psychoanalytic theory and its notable criticisms quite adequately. After all, Freud and his theories have been criticized on almost every level, yet I think the controversiality of his theory is perhaps its greatest strength. 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 and his theory.

Peer Commentary

An Analysis on the Analysis of the Evolution of Freudian Theory

Paula S. Han
Northwestern University

Plaut explores the evolution of psychoanalytic theory. He begins with the five basic contributions from Freud's psychoanalytic movement, divided into the dynamic, economic, developmental, structural, and adaptive realms. He then discusses more recent contributions to the field. Plaut also mentions the important aspects of treatment. Next, he brings forth the criticisms Freudian theory has received and makes an effort to refute them. Plaut ultimately reports that psychoanalysis has emerged as a very relevant foundation of psychotherapy.

The dynamic level of Freud's theory involves the interplay between the two main alleged human instincts--the libido or sexual instinct, and the destructive or aggressive instinct. The economic level of the theory centers on the investment of energy in exchange for the gain of pleasure. In the developmental level, Freud identifies an oral phase that begins with the infant sucking at the mother's breast. The anal phase is marked by control of excretory functions. Sexual fantasies develop in the phallic phase as well as the entrance into the "Oedipal stage" and a carnal desire for the mother. At this point, castration anxiety in males and penis envy in females lead to a period of latency, followed by the final stage of puberty.

The structural level of Freudian theory divides into structural and topographical models. The structural model is composed of the id, ego, and superego. The id functions according to instincts, and the superego according to morals. It becomes the job of the ego to balance these demands with the realities of the outside world. The topographical model breaks the mind down into the unconscious or inaccessible thought, the conscious or true awareness, and the preconscious or that which is accessible but not presently being thought about. The final, adaptive level is never formally addressed by Freud, but involves how the psyche is able to relate the first four levels to the external world.

Plaut next addresses the developments in the field of psychoanalysis since Freud. Anna Freud elaborated on the role of the ego and its use of defense mechanisms (e.g., repression), as well as the residuals resulting from their use. Erikson slightly modified and extended Freud's stages of development to include adult life. Klein emphasized pre-Oedipal life and its effects on later psychic and possible psychopathological development. Kohut moved away from Freudian concepts and focused on individual attainment of sense of self. Lastly, Jung remains noteworthy for having created another type of analysis, one considering the collective unconscious, a more spiritual concept allegedly present in all people and not created by repression.

Plaut presents some of the central ideas regarding psychoanalytic treatment. First, psychoanalysis involves transference, in which the patient transfers emotions toward the parent onto the therapist. In addition, Freud believed an unresolved Oedipus complex to be a common type of repression occurring in males, having resulted from castration anxiety. Freud also believed dream analysis to be a method of tapping into the unconscious. Lastly, Freudian technique also includes the use of free association between patient and therapist.

Plaut next tackles some common Freudian criticisms. To the criticism that Freud's theory is too simple, Plaut defends that like any other model, simplification is necessary for comprehension. To the criticism that Freud overemphasized sex, he explains that Freud's use of the word "sexual" really encompassed the genital, anal, and oral. Furthermore, he states that a possible overload on sex does not lessen Freud's theory. Plaut then discusses the criticism that Freudian theory is sexist, ignoring females. Although Plaut does admit to the one-sidedness of the Freudian model, he also mentions the bias of the day, which excluded women in general. He also argues that modern developments in the field have allowed for the inclusion of women.

Plaut finally addresses the criticism regarding the scientific validity of psychoanalysis. He presents one of Grünbaum's opinions, which basically refutes psychoanalysis as being the only method that results in the proper understanding of an individual's neuroses. Regardless, Plaut argues that psychoanalysis is currently valued as a successful aspect of clinical treatment. Plaut concludes that psychoanalysis has endured as a valid foundation of psychotherapy.

Plaut does a fine job of being comprehensive, as well as concise, in explaining the five foundations underlying Freudian psychoanalytic theory. When discussing new developments made within the field, however, Plaut fails to present fully the contribution of the other psychologists. The point at which Erikson's and Freud's correlating stages end and Erikson's expansion of stages is not clear. Plaut simply intertwines the two theories so that Erikson cannot be distinguished for his more optimistic, story-like perspective on life (McAdams, 1994, p. 657). Second, extremely little is said about Kohut, the least of which is how Kohut was influenced by psychoanalytic theory in order to expand upon it and create his "self psychology."

Although Plaut mentions the Oedipus complex throughout the paper, he fails to clarify what its correct resolution entails. He does state that the strength of the superego is proportional to the strength of the defense used against the Oedipus complex. In addition, Plaut discusses the development of a castration complex in the Oedipal male, but neither of these fully explains the resolution of the Oedipus complex. Plaut needs to bring it all together by explaining that castration anxiety in the young male leads to identification with the father and so the fear becomes internalized by the boy, enabling a moral voice to develop in the form of the superego.

When addressing the critiques to psychoanalytic theory, Plaut discusses the fact that Grünbaum was able to refute it at great length and detail, and yet Plaut does not go into any of these claims very thoroughly. Plaut should present an argument made by Grünbaum, a potentially valid and convincing one, and explain it thoroughly instead of merely stating that Grünbaum was able to do it. Lastly, Plaut never presents a sociological critique of psychoanalysis. For example he could discuss Chodorow's meriting of the social forces behind the Oedipus complex (McAdams, 1994, p. 76).

All in all, Plaut's presentation and arguments are very valid. Nevertheless, the contributions by other psychologists to the field of psychoanalysis could be further specified. In addition, a more comprehensive explanation of the relationship of the Oedipus complex and the superego is needed, possibly in the discussion of the structural level of Freud's psychoanalytic model. Lastly, Plaut's stance in favor of psychoanalysis could be further strengthened by elaborating on Grünbaum's critiques and then refuting them. Plaut should also bring forth any sociological critiques of Freud's theory and then effectively refute those.

Peer Commentary

A Good Fit, But the Wrong Function

Nathan C. Popkins
Northwestern University

The paper "Psychoanalysis: From Theory to Practice, Past to Present," discusses Freud's most famous (or infamous) contribution to psychology, psychoanalysis. Plaut covers most every aspect of psychoanalysis, dealing especially skillfully with the major criticisms of Freud's theory. These criticisms include the entire list of qualms Grünbaum has with Freud's theory, and other, more general and often raised problems. In conclusion, Plaut decides that psychoanalysis is indeed a great idea in personality.

Essentially, Plaut's paper has me convinced. Psychoanalysis is a great idea in personality, just as long as one is a male, who grew up in a two parent house, who had either a sister or female playmate at a very young age, with a great memory, and who has lots of money and no specific time frame in which one would like one's psychological problems cured. As long as people can live up to most of these criteria, there is a high probability that psychoanalysis will work well for them. Otherwise, they are pretty much out of luck. Actually, in this perspective, maybe psychoanalysis is not such a great idea afterall.

On the issue of sexual inadequacies in the theory, Plaut even admits that Freud's theory is less applicable to women than to men. This is inherent in Freud's theory, which concentrates a great deal on the relationship between mother and son. Freud's auxiliary Electra hypothesis seems little more than an attempt to cover up an obvious flaw in the overall psychoanalytic theory.

Another major problem with Freud's psychoanalysis is that it fails to take into account the large number of people who do not grow up in the atmosphere Freud asserts is necessary for healthy psychological development. In Freud's day, it seems likely that most people did in fact grow up in a two-parent family. Also, children with no siblings, or with only same sex siblings, have a fairly low chance of seeing a member of the opposite sex's genitalia at a young age, another event that is central to Freud's ideas concerning sexual development.

Another problem with Freud's theory is that a cure make take years (and thousands of dollars) to arrive at. This does not make Freud's psychoanalysis wrong necessarily, but inconvenient at best. When compared to other theories in personality, all other factors equal, psychoanalysis is among the least practical methods of achieving a cure.

Many argue that because Freud's theory has been around for so long, and is so widely accepted, that it must be at least mostly true. This is simply an ignorant way of approaching this issue. The fact that no better model exists does not mean that the current model is correct be default. To illustrate this point, consider the age old example of finding the area of a rectangle by a function of its perimeter. Taking a large and random sample of various rectangles, a line can be fitted to their areas that is a function of their perimeters. This line has an excellent R squared value, and would therefore suggest that area of a rectangle is in fact a function of perimeter. As everyone knows, this is wrong. Area is a function of height and width. Perhaps this effect is what has happened to psychoanalysis over the years. Although the theory is wrong and has many flaws, it often provides a good and convenient fit.

Peer Commentary

Whose Theory?

Timothy Tasker
Northwestern University

In "Psychoanalysis: From Theory to Practice, Past to Present," Plaut discusses the relevance of the theory of psychoanalysis. This article appropriately begins with the Freudian contributions to the field of psychoanalysis. I found the outline of Freud's concepts to be a very inclusive summary. I particularly appreciated the five areas into which the original theory of psychoanalysis was broken down: dynamic, economic, developmental, structural, and adaptive. Each section that followed provided a clear and concise summation of the information that it represented.

The second section of this article, beginning under "Developments within the Freudian Framework," is well written and provides an overview of the theorists who further developed psychoanalysis, including Freud's daughter, A. Freud. Plaut includes a wide variety of material that has been further researched or elaborated upon since Freud's time. According to Plaut, these researchers expanded Freud's ideas and made them more accepted--an idea with which I agree. The supporters of psychoanalysis added more information and concepts that Freud was unable to achieve and thereby made his theory more palatable as a science.

I found the section that further discussed Freud's model of the treatment of psychoses according to psychoanalysis to contain uncited material. The section itself provides great information in regards to treatment, but does not disclose who develped these ideas. Supposedly, these concepts should be attributed to Freud. This both discounts the reliability of the writer and makes further research into the field, by a reader, a virtual nightmare.

Although I liked the assignment of "economic" as a factor in, or part of understanding, Freud's theory, it only confuses the matter when included in a discussion of a general model. "Economic" can be understood both in terms of money and in terms of conservation. This is an important distinction that needs to be made. Which definition fits where is the question with which readers are left.

Despite all of the flaws in psychoanalysis, I agree with Plaut in his closing statements concerning the relevance of this theory of personality. No one can doubt the fact that psychoanalysis is an important tool in practice. It provides great insight and can lead to a deeper understanding as to the fundamental problems that underline the issues for which a patient has sought help. It is my hope, along with Plaut, that psychoanalysis will someday be appreciated for its relevance and use in today's clinical environment.

Author Response

Psychoanalysis Remains, Although in the Context and Shadow of its Criticism

Ethan R. Plaut
Northwestern University

The responses to and criticisms of my paper are all a game of give and take, each one starting off by acknowledging Freud's greatness in one sense or another, but then undermining him and/or my paper in another way. Beystehner acknowledges that psychoanalysis is a model, so it is necessarily simplified, and also acknowledges that the line of oversimplification is hard to draw, but then tries to draw it herself. She states her opinion, which is commonly held and important, that the theory is too general and does not leave room for exceptions. I would concede this if it is applied to Freud alone, but modern analysis has greatly changed many things. Emphasis has been taken off of the oedipal complex, among other things, and placed elsewhere. Beystehner also notes that I neglected Popper and Eysenck in my survey of criticisms. First, I must note that for every critic of psychoanalysis to be addressed in detail, a multi-volume work would have to be undertaken. Second, I think that these specific criticisms are at the bottom of the list of those that I should have included. This is because they are arguments about psychoanalysis as a science, and I have conceded in my paper that it is by no means completely scientific in the sense in which these criticisms would be relevant. Again, I offer this same argument to the criticisms of Freud's data. The data are clinical, which makes them subjective and subject to suggestion, but this is simply unavoidable in studies of this nature.

As for the criticism of Freud's (over-) use of free association and dream analysis, I simply disagree. I believe that the way for humans to best deal with problems is to get them out. Human expression is most natural through language. The analyst, of course, is more than a shoulder to cry on, but that is a good starting point, so I think that free association is a perfectly good method. As for dream analysis, first I will note that it is the expression of the unconscious, just as speech is the expression of the conscious. For this reason, it should not be ignored. Second, I will note that dream analysis is generally not as central to modern therapy as it was in Freud's day. Beystehner's closing comment, that psychoanalysis has found its greatest achievement in its controversy, in the other theories it has spawned, is a bit unfair. This is definitely one of the important things that has resulted from Freud's work and that of his followers, but it is silly to me and offensive to analysts to give no importance to all of the patients who have been helped by the therapy.

Han notes that my explanation of Erikson's work was incomplete. This is true. I only mentioned his work in the context of his central contribution to psychoanalysis, involving developmental stages. For a general paper of this length on psychoanalysis as a whole, I think he has been properly addressed. The dividing line between Freud and Erikson is not drawn for two reasons. First, Freud's stages are discussed earlier in the paper, so the differences are somewhat apparent. Second, even Kohut's stages, which essentially correspond to Freud's, are a bit different, so it would be a bit of an oversimplification to say that those stages are the same, but that the later ones are new.

Han then claims that my explanation of the oedipal complex, its resolution, and its relation to the superego, are all incomplete. The resolution of the oedipal complex can only come about through psychoanalysis, at least according to Freud, and entails the patient's realizing and admitting the feelings and fantasies to him- or herself. The results can vary greatly, one example being a cure of neuroses caused by the repression. As for the relation to the superego, this is a subject area that is highly controversial. The relation is hotly debated, and is too complex to warrant the time, space, and understanding that would be required to properly explain it in a paper of this nature. One basic viewpoint is that the identification with the father caused by castration anxiety leads to internalizing of fear, which allows the superego to develop as the moral voice.

Han's final criticism that I will address here regards my section on criticisms. Some critics were omitted, true enough. I believe, however, that my coverage of Grünbaum was sufficient. I conceded the man's point that psychoanalysis is flawed as a science. With no need to refute him, and no need to elaborate his point, why should I have spent more words on him rather than another critic?

Popkins states, "Psychoanalysis is a great idea in personality, just as long as one is a male, who grew up in a two parent house, who had either a sister or female playmate at a very young age, with a great memory, and who has lots of money and no specific time frame in which one would like one's psychological problems cured." This is a very witty way of pointing out a lot of weak criticisms. As for the context of childhood, I simply disagree with the assertion made here. There is no reason that an adopted girl with no siblings and a "poor memory" should be excluded from therapy. As for the criticism of the length and price of therapy, like in so many things, quick-fixes do not work, and time is money. This makes the theory inaccessible and inconvenient, but that is a criticism that all health care must face these days, with expensive machinery and long-term therapies involved in such things as cancer treatment.

Freud should not be credited with something associated with the term "Electra complex/hypothesis." This is simply something with which Freud did not agree. The claim that an only child, or a child with only same sex siblings will have a low chance of seeing the genetalia of the opposite sex is preposterous. I am an only child, and I knew what a vagina was long before I even knew that word, or any other, to describe it. Children are openly exposed to nudity until long after they begin to recognize it, whether it be on the bodies of their parents, those of people in opposite-sex bathrooms, or anyone else's body. Also, Popkins' statement, "The fact that no better model exists does not mean that the current model is correct by default," although persuasive on the surface, falls apart under scrutiny. A model is not a statement of fact, it is an imperfect representation. As such, describing a model as "correct" is somewhat odd. If the model helps us to understand personality, it has some merit.

Tasker makes two main criticisms. First he states that there was uncited material in my section on treatment. I found none. Anything not cited was simply an overview on my part, and I apologize, but I cannot find what Tasker refers to in the paper. Second, Tasker criticizes the use of the word "economic" in reference to the divisions of Freud's theory used here. The divisions, and the term, are not mine, and the source is cited (Rapaport, & Gill, 1959). As for my personal opinion, I do not think that this is particularly important. The term obviously has nothing to do with money, and I think conservation would also be an inappropriate term to identify with this concept in this context. The name given to the division should not be misleading, of course, but it has nothing to do with the theory itself.


Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Freud, A. (1966). The ego and the mechanisms of defense, the writings of Anna Freud (Vol. II). New York: International Universities Press.

Freud, S. (1953a). Three essays on sexuality, the standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. IV). London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Freud, S. (1953b). The interpretation of dreams, the standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. IV). London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Freud, S. (1964). An outline of psychoanalysis, the standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. XXIII). London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

Grünbaum, A. (1986). Précis of The foundations of psychoanalysis: A philosophical critique. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 9, 217-284.

Jung, C. G. (1959). The archetypes and the collective unconscious, collected works (Vol.9, pt. 1; trans. R. F. C. Hull). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Klein, M. (1975). Envy and gratitude and other works, the writings of Melanie Klein (Vol. III). New York: Free Press.

Kohut, H. (1971). The analysis of the self. New York: International Universities Press.

McAdams, D.P. (1994). The person: An introduction to personality psychology (2nd ed.). Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace.

Michels, R. (1983). The scientific and clinical functions of psychoanalytic theory, the future of psychoanalysis. (Ed. A. Goldberg). New York: International Universities Press.

Rapaport, D., & Gill, M. M. (1959) The points of view and assumptions of metapsychology, the collected papers of David Rapaport (Ed. M. M. Gill). New York: Basic.

Reich, W. (1949). Character-analysis. New York: Noonday.

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