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Classifying Psychoanalysis

[11/25/11]

[A continuation to Psychology’s Development into a Science.]

A small room, furnished with homely carpets and paintings, is brightly lit and air-conditioned. An elongated leather sofa in the corner of the room faces an open window overlooking the city. An exhausted man lies on the sofa, legs crossed and arms folded, as he stares vaguely through the window. He ponders aloud about his day, indifferent to any listeners. Over time, his words scratch through the veneer of his thoughts and into his more clandestine contemplations. Behind him, a professionally dressed woman jots down notes while interjecting every so often.

The scenario is classic. It is the archetypal Freudian setting to the minutest detail. Anyone who walked in on this appointment would know it. Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud’s ideas have become so widespread that, even a century after their establishment, they are still recycled and debated over.

Many would argue that Freud deserved such fame. He introduced free association therapy, as aforementioned, in which a client jumps freely from thought to thought while the therapist takes notes. Freud’s thoughts on personality—largely, the superego, ego, and id—have influenced how people view the actions of others and themselves. Literary classics have been shaped by Freud’s tenets, including William Golding’s allegory Lord of the Flies, in which the author’s three main characters—Ralph, Piggy, and Jack—coincide with the representations of the ego, superego, and id, respectively.

Some of Freud’s justifications for behavior, despite their controversy, have survived the century. Although people may not be familiar with the names of the theorist’s scientific terms, they often know the intended meanings behind them. For example, Freud’s system of defensemechanisms—including repression, displacement, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, and regression—illustrates an individual’s attempt to transfer anxiety using methods of distorting reality. Projection and reaction formation are ways of viewing situations in the opposite light in order to better their appearance. Displacement and regression summarize the means in which the individual reverts to more-so immature actions in order to vent feelings.

The most well-known of the mechanisms are rationalization—in which an individual justifies his actions to feel better about them—and repression—where one dissolves all anxious thoughts and memories from consciousness. Concurring with repression, Freud’s coinage of parapraxis, the “Freudian slip,” refers to when an individual accidentally voices a repressed idea in writing or speech.

The thinker’s opinions on sexual desires were revolutionary for their time, although most are now disclaimed. He introduced the psychosexual stages of fixations throughout human development along with the Oedipus- and Electra-complex relationships between children and their parents.

Freud altogether delved into basic mental processes and related all human motives to unconscious or hidden desires. His thinking was radical, even though it was basically derived from his opinions and everyday observations. But most importantly, society connected such theoretical thinking to psychology, the “science of mental life,” according to William James. [See the previous article.]

In this sense, psychoanalysis hindered psychology’s development into a science. It would be more reasonable for psychoanalysis to instead be a subcategory of philosophy, which entails the opinions and theories on life that psychoanalysis encompasses. Because of psychoanalysis’s association with psychology, society has enslaved the latter to a humanity study that involves therapy and theorization.

On the contrary, psychology is a broader subject that can incorporate biology, chemistry, physics, or therapy, depending on the direction of focus that one chooses. Psychologists do not have to be therapists; they can specialize in neuropsychology, psychobiology, psychophysics, mathematical psychology, and more.

Many of the notions in psychoanalysis have been deemed faulty, while some people consider the entire subject flawed. The study’s views cannot be derived through scientific experimentation because they developed from mere observation and opinionated interpretations. Thus, it only makes sense that psychoanalysis be classified with the theorizations of philosophy rather than the investigations in psychology.

Freud’s psychoanalysis has caused a segment of psychology to become stale; it cannot be developed further unless it is greatly modified.

Even if Freud may not be competition for timeless philosophers Aristotle, Plato, and Locke, he most certainly does not belong with psychologists Wundt, Skinner, and Pavlov.

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