The Use of Psychoanalysis to Make Sense of Human Behavior
“Psychoanalysis offers a good story to make sense of behaviour, but it is
a story the truth of which can never be confirmed.” Discuss.
Psychoanalysis is an approach to the understanding of human behaviour by Freud and other famous psychologists. It is a method of treating mental and emotional disorders by discussion and analysis of one’s thoughts and feelings. It relies on the therapist’s ability to make the unconscious conscious and to help guide the patients to resolve their underlying conflicts. It is based on past experiences, but there is limited empirical evidence that supports this theory as it deals with the emotional side of psychology and lacks scientific rigour, partly because there are too many variables involved to enable it to be a controlled study. But that doesn’t mean to say that it is not true, it is just extremely difficult to confirm.
This essay discusses whether the story of psychoanalysis, used to make sense of human behaviour, can ever be confirmed as a story of truth.
Freud’s psychoanalytic theory showed how the mind can be seen as three parts, the ‘id’ (the primitive unconscious part of the personality that deals with pleasure), the ‘ego’ (dominates the conscious mind and carries out ‘secondary process thinking’) and the ‘superego’ (social conscience). He then went on to develop the theory of psychosexual development, in which the child goes through various stages, each characterised by different demands for sexual gratification and different ways of achieving that gratification. The first stage is called the ‘Oral stage’ (birth – 15 months old), in which the child governed by the id and gains gratification through the mouth, sucking, feeding, crying and such. The second stage is the ‘Anal stage’ (15 months – 3 years), where the child experiences pleasure from the elimination of faeces. In the third stage, the ‘phallic stage’, (3 - 5 years) the child takes a greater interest in its genitals and feels a desire for the opposite sex parent. This makes them view their same sex parent as a rival and unconsciously they feel hostile which turns to guilt and so they try to identify with their same sex parent. The boy does this if fear of being castrated by his father. Freud uses this theory as a way of interpreting situations, emotions and feelings when he psychoanalyses patients. He believed that if at any particular psychosexual stage the demands for this sexual gratification were not met, when the child became adult it would demand gratification for the activity of that stage leading to a fixation or neurosis. However Freud’s case studies were all based upon adults, with one exception (below), leaving his theory in big trouble, as studies of adults can not contribute to a valid theory of child development.
Freud found evidence to support his theory when he analysed a phobia in a 5-year-old boy. This is called ‘the case of little Hans’....