Thursday, 20 October 2011

Freud - Seminar Summary

Born in 1856 into an Austrian family, Sigmund Freud was one of the most influential and controversial thinkers associated with the twentieth century. His theories on sexuality and the application of therapy still have an impact on society today.

Freud initially trained as a doctor, studying what he referred to as 'brain anatomy'. In 1895, he published a work in partnership with Breur on hysteria, which presented 'an original analysis of mental illness'. The pairs book explained that every case of hysteria had a correlation with an individuals traumatic past experience. Freud was also of the opinion that sexual desires had a role to play here, but his mentor refused to acknowledge this theory.

Eventually, Freud stopped using hypnosis as a form of treatment and instead decided to turn to what he called psychoanalysis. In Freud’s own words, psychoanalysis was 'nothing more than an exchange of words between patient and doctor'. Patients were encouraged to talk about anything that came to their mind and the information revealed could then be interpreted. The approach furthers human understanding of the role of emotions in health, also stressing the importance that the past can shape the present. Freud would undoubtedly argue that as people, we are constantly engaged in a process of psychological development from birth.

From his work, Freud concluded that psychological trauma stemmed from Infancy. There was also a sexual element present. His ideas were a direct challenge to the age of enlightenment, a time fixated with the idea of rationality. Psychoanalysis is based on the concept that individuals are often unaware of their true feelings and the factors that determine these feelings and behavioural patterns.

Freud published a number of works during his life. In 1900, he wrote “The Interpretation of Dreams”. Freud opens the book with an introduction to dreams, writing: "In the following pages I shall demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and one which may be assigned to a specific place in the psychic activities of the waking state."

In 1923 “The Ego and the Id” was released, then “The Future of An Illusion” in 1927. This last work was particularly controversial as it explored the idea of religion in great detail. Freud himself was an atheist, which shaped much of the content of the book and the way in which the subject was approached. Freud describes in his book how religionists cannot succeed in disproving the idea that the gods in which they place their faith in are more than products of their own minds, adapted to suit their needs. In 1932 in 'New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis' Freud stated: "Religion is an illusion and it derives its strength from the fact that it falls in with our instinctual desires." Religion itself is a particularly good representation of the superego (In the way it's based upon a number of moral principles) but we'll come to that in a short while.

Freud suffered from mouth cancer since 1923 and was told his condition was inoperable

Freud believed the unconscious was manifested from a combination of three elements. The first of these he called 'everyday trivial mistakes'. In Freud's view, these 'mistakes' were not actually accidental. Instead, they revealed hidden motives of the unconscious. Forgetting to remember a name or a slip of the tongue, for example, could actually just be referred to as a 'Freudian Slip'. The second element Freud discussed was the conclusions drawn from reports of dreams. The final ingredient concerns the symptoms of neurosis, a psychological and behavioural disorder in which anxiety is a primary characteristic.

Freud also published his theory concerning sexual development. The theory states that from birth to our first year, we are within the 'oral stage'. During this time period, there is a fixation on the mouth and all pleasure is focused on the mouth. Next, between the age of 1 to 3 years, comes the 'anal stage'. At this point in the time line of sexual development, there is a primary focus on controlling bowel and bladder movements. The final stage is referred to as the 'phallic stage', where the child focuses or their own penis / clitoris.

Now we come to the Oedipus Complex. The theory states that a young boy will focus sexual desire on his mother. Furthermore, the child resents his fathers possession of his mother. The child’s anger towards the father leads the child to fear castration from the father's retaliation. Freud had no doubt in his mind that there was a female equivalent, but this was something that he never fully explored. For the complex to be overcome, Freud explained,  the child would have to identify with the same-sex parent.

Freud's work has contributed to our understanding of clinical psychology and human development

Next up is the idea of the Freudian Personality. This consists of three elements: The Id, the ego and the superego. The Id is the animalistic part of our personality. Primarily, it is driven by sex and aggression, which are dominating forces. The ego (our self) is the weakest part of our personality. It serves as a voice of reason, constantly battling the Id. The superego comprises of internalised rules from both our parents and society as a whole.

Freud outlined a number of coping mechanisms, however didn't really recommend them as they were merely temporary fixes. These included intoxication, isolation and sublimation. The first two are fairly self explanatory, but the theme of sublimation can be explored a little further.

Sublimation refers to the idea of finding a socially acceptable way of releasing our aggression. Ultimately, sublimation gives us a way of unleashing our animalistic qualities (our Id) without punished for doing so.


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