Key Figures in Psychology: James, Freud, Jung, Adler

Categories: Sigmund Freud

These four men are among the most important figures in psychology. One established psychology as a distinct school of thought and published the first book on the subject, paving the way for another to develop his theories. Years later, another thinker was inspired to delve into the workings of the human mind with a more scientifically critical approach. While he identified a common root cause for people's problems, he was unsure about its exact nature.

Two of his students went in different directions - one focused on individual versus majority issues in treatment, while the other delved into our subconscious and its impact on development.

Despite not practicing medicine, this man graduated from Harvard and became a significant figure in psychology (Stone, 2000).

William James made significant contributions to the field of psychology, particularly in exploring the psychological aspects of religion and delving into the spiritual and psychic realm using scientific methods. He was a pioneer in advocating for psychology to be regarded as a science, a distinction that later psychologists owe to him.

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James took an unorthodox approach in his fight for psychology's recognition, preferring to be called a philosopher rather than a psychologist.

He later created a philosophy that served as the basis for functional psychologists, known as pragmatism. This idea centered around the belief that individuals have control over their actions, and that life experiences shape those actions. This philosophy influenced the publication of Principles of Psychology, a groundbreaking textbook that revolutionized how psychology was viewed and taken seriously.

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This book inspired other influential figures like Sigmund Freud to develop their own theories in the field.

Freud is widely known in the field of psychology, with many associating him as a key figure in the history of the subject. Contrary to popular belief, Freud was cautious in his approach with patients and would cease any practices that were deemed harmful (Chessick, 2000). Psychoanalysis, a technique commonly associated with Freud, delves deep into the root causes of behavior. His approach to patient care was considered innovative for his era.

He recognized the transformative power of learning or new experiences on an individual, understanding that past experiences and layers of consciousness play a part in this change. By incorporating these elements into therapy, he prioritized hearing his patients' goals rather than imposing his own. His aim was for patients to uncover their own obstacles and become empowered to overcome any barriers preventing them from self-improvement (Frank, 2008).

Freud emphasized the importance of individuals being independent and not limited by their past experiences. Adler, who initially followed Freud's psychoanalytic movement, later broke away due to differences in theory. This led Adler to develop the Individualistic approach, which centers around understanding the patient's life experiences.

Adler believed in a more in-depth approach to psychoanalyzing people, recognizing a flaw in Freud's theory. Instead of focusing on the sexual aspect, Adler looked at what made each individual unique and how that impacted their human experience. By understanding these unique qualities, individuals can improve themselves and become responsible members of society. Adler still acknowledged Freud's idea of looking back at childhood for answers, but emphasized the importance of focusing on emotional responses rather than sexual roots (Lafountain, 2009).

For instance, if a person was raised in fear of taking control of situations because someone else always took charge, they may struggle in adulthood to be responsible for themselves or others. After learning from Freud, he shifted his focus to the impact of society on an individual and their role within society. He maintained that there were three essential tasks for a person to achieve to become a well-adjusted member of society: securing survival through work and maintaining a home, as well as fulfilling responsibilities; cooperating with and showing respect towards society; and behaving civilly towards others.

Thirdly, intimate relationships such as having children, friends, and a spouse are essential for a person to function normally in society (Lafountain, 2010). It is important to consider the uniqueness of each individual in all aspects of their life, from psychology to teaching, as not everyone will mesh well together. Carl Jung, like Adler, was initially inspired and influenced by Freud in the early years of his career, but eventually had a disagreement and went his own way.

He redefined familiar terms such as introvert, extrovert, conscious, unconscious, collective unconscious, persona, archetype, and psyche. These terms were created to simplify and categorize the various processes occurring in the brain. One significant theory introduced by Jung is the concept of collective unconsciousness, which posits that humans share a psychological knowledge rooted in our genetic makeup (Carter, 2011).

The theory of collective unconscious gave rise to the concept of archetypes, which are the innate elements that make up our thoughts in the collective unconscious. These archetypes represent our instinctual nature, such as the inherent fear of things that may harm us. Just like Freud's theory of subconscious thoughts, studying these unconscious elements reveals the difference between instinctual behavior and conscious awareness. Both Freud and supporters of the collective unconscious theory believed that it is essential to study and understand these unconscious aspects of human behavior (Carter, 2010).

Jungian adherents believed that, similar to Freud, dreams held significance. However, in Jung's theory, dream analysis involved the individual interpreting the dream through their own understanding of mythology and life experiences, rather than solely relying on the dreamer's personal history. The idea was that the collective unconscious would guide the analyst to reach the correct interpretation by tapping into unconscious thoughts shared between them. These four individuals greatly influenced the field of psychology as it exists today, with their ideas impacting each other both directly and indirectly, despite some of them never having crossed paths. Unfortunately, history has not fully recognized their contributions.

James initiated it all with a philosopher's mind that appreciated the tangible evidence provided by science, as well as the enigma of unresolved questions. Freud, another philosopher with a scientific approach, introduced the notion that the brain contains concealed information waiting to be unearthed in order to understand one's true self. Building upon Freud's concepts, Jung and Adler further developed their own ideas, both in alignment and opposition. Without these scholars, psychology would not have advanced to its current state, with traces of their contributions evident throughout its evolution.

References Carter, D. (2011), Chessick, R. D. (2000), Croce, P. J. (2010), Frank, G. (2008), Goodwin, C. J. (2008).

A History of Modern Psychology (3rd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley. Lafountain, R. (2009). Alfred Adler's Place in the Field of Psychology. Washington, District of Columbia, US: APA Division 1, Society for General Psychology. Overholser, J. C. (2010). Psychotherapy that strives to encourage social interest:

The article "A simulated interview with Alfred Adler" was published in the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, volume 20, issue 4, pages 347-363 (DOI: 10.1037/a0022033). Another article mentioned is "Images in psychiatry: William James, 1842-1910" by Stone, A. A. (2000) in The American Journal of Psychiatry, volume 157, issue 10, pages 1583-1583 and can be retrieved from

Updated: Feb 21, 2024
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Key Figures in Psychology: James, Freud, Jung, Adler. (2016, Nov 01). Retrieved from

Key Figures in Psychology: James, Freud, Jung, Adler essay
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