Psychoanalytic Theory

According to Wikipedia, Psychoanalytic theory is the theory of personality organization and the dynamics of personality development that guides psychoanalysis, a clinical method for treating psychopathology. First, suggested by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century,psychoanalytic theory has undergone many refinements since his work.

He proposed psychic energy could be converted into behavior. Freud’s theory places central importance on dynamic, unconscious psychological conflicts.

Freud divided human personality into three significant components: the id, ego, and superego. 

The id acts according to the pleasure principle, demanding immediate gratification of its needs regardless of external environment; the ego then must emerge in order to realistically meet the wishes and demands of the id in accordance with the outside world, adhering to the reality principle.

Mental disorders like depression are seen as rooted in the individual past of a patient, that is, either as a residuum of early experience or as the expression of primitive modes of psychic functioning (Fonagy & Target, 2003). Within this framework, psychoanalytic concepts focus on the consequences of early interactions with significant others (Williams, 2001).

Related Terms:

This is a practice often done prior to an intervention where the patient is encouraged to attend to experiences that they have been avoiding. 
This refers to the analyst’s feelings and attitudes towards the patient: his/her reaction to the patient’s transference, how his/her own experiences impact his/her understanding of the patient, and the analyst’s emotional responses to the patient.
Defense Mechanisms
Defense mechanisms are used by the ego as a way to deal with conflict of problems in life. Operating at an unconscious level, defense mechanisms help to reduce negative feelings (e.g. anxiety and guilt).  Common defense mechanisms include repression, denial, and projection.
Denial is an individual’s refusal to accept certain or confront (or all) aspects of a given reality in order to avoid potential feelings of discomfort.  It exists on a continuum as it can be seen as just a normal reaction to a stressful event or to severe psychosis. While commonly defined as a type of defense mechanism, denial plays a role in all defense mechanisms. Freud also referred to it as a disavowal.
It is a mental event that consists of hallucinations involving imagery and emotions. Dreams occur during the rapid-eye-movement (REM) stage during sleep.  According to Freud, current concerns and unconscious childhood wishes are present during the day and require gratification and it is dreams that allow us to respond to these demands while continuing to sleep (e.g., a person who is thirsty dreams about drinking water which allows him to continue sleeping rather than having to wake up and satisfy his thirst).
Elektra Complex
A term coined by Jung as the female counterpoint to what Freud called the Oedipus complex, it takes its name from the Greek myth of Elektra who, along with her brother Orestes, avenged the murder of their father, Agamemnon, by killing their mother Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus. The term describes the urge of a 3-6-year-old girl to have her father to herself, excluding her mother. Freud did not use this term but continued to use Oedipus complex to refer to the phenomenon in both genders.


A fantasy loosely refers to an imagined situation that expresses certain desires or aims of the imagining individual. It can occur at the conscious level, also known as a daydream, or unconsciously, sometimes referred to as phantasy.


Fixation is a state where a person becomes attached to or overly invested in another individual or object. Fixation is the result of conflict occurring during the psychosexual stages of development. Due to frustration or overindulgence occurs, the libido becomes focused on that stage leading to problematic behaviors later on (e.g., an individual with an oral fixation may engage in nail biting).




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