Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory is often regarded as the most comprehensive personality theory and the first in its area of study to theorise human behaviour but through the ages Freud has raised numerous debates on whether his theory of human behaviour has been more controversial or influential. In this essay, I will argue that the Psychoanalytical Theory made a significant contribution to the field of psychology by critically evaluating how Freudian ideas influenced subsequent theorists. Furthermore I will discuss its relevance in the 21st century whilst not neglecting to highlight the reasons why Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory is criticised as a personality theory. In the Psychoanalytic Theory, Freud structured the personality into three levels of consciousness, namely the conscious, preconscious and the unconscious. Amongst these three Freud is commonly known for “discovering” the unconscious and it became the core element to Freud’s theory. Freud further defined the structural elements of the psyche (the id, the ego and the superego) (Meyer, Moore & Viljoen, 2008:52).
These components of Freud’s theory remain important since they are still to some extent used to explain how the human psyche functions. It is evident that Freudian ideas of the unconscious laid the foundation for future personality theorists such as Carl Jung who’s Analytical Theory too focused on the unconscious mind (Meyer, et al., 2008:95). Another personality theorist Freud influenced is Erik Erikson who was an Ego Psychologist. Psychologists in this area of study elaborated on the ego which was originally theorised by Freud. Erikson’s theory is regarded as one of the most useful psychological theories and several concepts formulated by him such as psychosocial development, ego strength and identity crisis are part of our everyday vocabulary today (Meyer, et al., 2008:95). It is clear in my above examples that Freud did influence subsequent theorists whose theories are still relevant in the field of psychology today.
Certain concepts of Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory are still relevant in the 21st century such as dream analysis, free association and defence mechanisms. These psychotherapy techniques are being used and expanded upon in modern day clinical psychology. According to Hurd (n.d.), Freud is the most popular dream theorist known today, and his ideas are still drawing water a century after he wrote his magnum opus: The Interpretation of Dreams. Freud stated that dreams are a result of our repressed desires and that they have more meaning to them than we acknowledge. He believed that dreams were the portal to our unconscious and that through analysing a person’s dreams a therapist could effectively treat the patient’s illness.
With Freudian thoughts on dreams in mind, several current neuroscientists are uncovering the possibility that dreams play a role in childhood learning (Hurd, n.d.). Furthermore, Freud’s relevance in the 21st century is that his concept of defence mechanisms is still seen in other theories of psychology today. This is supported by Cramer (2000) which states that developmental, personality and social psychologists have all found evidence for defence mechanisms. Freud saw defence mechanisms as a strategy with which a person could deal with their anxiety and unfulfilled desires. Some of the most common defence mechanisms which have integrated themselves into every day speech are terms such as regression, sublimation, denial and projection.
Through the ages we have absorbed more of Freudian idea than we thought, but it is impossible to avoid Freud’s shortcomings. The most controversial aspect of his theory is based on the fact that he placed emphasise on the sex drive being the primary motivating source for human behaviour. Freud focused too exclusively on sexuality and not enough on interpersonal and social conditions. He was also criticised for his view on female development with regard to the Electra complex in the phallic stage. Furthermore the Psychoanalytic Theory was criticised since it was seen as vaguely defined and lacked any empirical research.
In conclusion, despite his shortcomings Freud’s Psychoanalytic Theory has made an important contribution to the field of psychology through being a catalyst to the thoughts of subsequent theorists. Freud’s most valuable contribution to society is his theory of the unconscious mind which is still being expanded on today. Furthermore his contribution to modern day clinical psychology psychotherapy approaches cannot be ignored. A testament to the validity of Freud’s theory is that it is even today being debated many years after his death and the debate is not close to being concluded. Therefore he is relevant in the 21st century since his ideas have percolated through generations and subsequent personality theories.
Beystehner, K.M. (n.d.). Psychoanalysis: Freud’s Revolutionary Approach to Human Personality. Retrieved from http://www.personalityresearch.org/papers/beystehner.html Cramer, P. (2000). Defence mechanisms in psychology today. Further processes for adaptation. American Psychologist, 55(6):637-46 DOI: 10.1037//0003-066X.55.6.637 Hurd, R. (n.d.). Contemporary Dream Theories Starting with Freud. Retrieved from http://dreamstudies.org/2009/11/19/freudian-dream-theory-explained/ McLeod, S. A. (2011). Bandura – Social Learning Theory. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/bandura.html Meyer, W.F., Moore, C., &Viljoen, H, G. (2011). Personology: From the individual to ecosystem. Sandton: Heineman Publishers.
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