In the 1800s, a physiology student became obsessed with new scientific discoveries of his time such as Darwin’s theory of evolution and the physico-chemical forces behind biological phenomena. Following his studies, he used his knowledge to develop theories on the functioning of the human psyche. It is the first to attempt to explain human behavior based on a more rigorous method than that of the philosophers who tried before him to develop theories.

This very famous man is Sigmund Freud, today considered to be the father of psychology. During the 20th century, others were inspired by this approach to develop other theories which made psychoanalysis grow.

Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.

– Sigmund freud

What are the basic ideas of psychoanalysis?

Freud developed three major models which followed one another and which each influenced the way of conceiving human functioning. Since my goal is to get a quick overview of this approach, I won’t go into each of them.

Affect-trauma period

His first model, a fairly general theory, first addresses the existence of an unconscious. According to him, traumatic events are repressed so we are not aware of them. Only part of our experience was therefore conscious.

Topographic model

In his second model, he adds the preconscious. In this category are those things that we are not paying attention to in the present moment, but which can easily be brought back to consciousness. It also complicates the unconscious which now contains not only traumatic memories, but also impulses. These urges are generally sexual and aggressive and are suppressed by the norms of the society.

Structural model

In this last model, he adds the notions of that, me and superego. Id representing all the drives is found especially in the unconscious. Superego represents the set of rules and expectations that are learned from parents and society in general. Ego is the one who balances the id with the superego. To unravel all that, here is an example. If a person wants to eat a cake (that), he will quickly curb his urge since he knows that sugar is bad for his health (superego). So he could choose to eat only part of it (me).

How does this approach perceive the disease?

In psychoanalysis, the source of illness is expressed through symptoms. In this approach, we consider that certain elements are too anxiety-inducing to be remembered, so they are kept in the unconscious by defense mechanisms. So, if a defense mechanism is inadequate, the energy that is supposed to stay in the unconscious can be expressed through a symptom.

How does this approach approach treatment?

Different methods can be used in this approach to treat diseases. Usually, a psychoanalysis is primarily interested in interpreting different elements in order to derive information about the patient’s problems. He can do it, among other things, by interpreting his dreams and the transfers made by the patient. A transference is the adoption of certain behavior with the psychoanalyst who reproduces a certain dynamic with another person, generally one of his parents (eg being suspicious of the psychoanalyst as he does with his father).

The analysis of the person is really placed at the center of concern during treatment in psychoanalysis in order to bring out the information hidden in the unconscious. Moreover, the treatment is generally very long and demanding.


These theories may have seemed a little far-fetched to you, and unfortunately they are not based on rigorous scientific research since they are not falsifiable. However, therapeutic efficacy appears to be similar to most of the other approaches.

Nowadays, pure psychoanalysis is quite rarely practiced. On the other hand, psychodynamics, an approach which results from it, is more common. It is distinguished by a more concise formula which is better adapted to current reality.

In reaction to the lack of rigor, a new psychological approach emerged in the 1930s: Behaviorism.

English isn’t my first language so there might be some mistakes. If you want, let me know in the comments bellow if you found any so I can fix them. Thank you!

Write A Comment