Psychoanalysis is a psychological and psychotherapeutic theory founded in the late 19th century by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Since then, psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's colleagues and students, such as Alfred Adler, Carl Gustav Jung and Wilhelm Reich, and later by neo-Freudians such as Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Harry Stack Sullivan and Jacques Lacan.
The basic tenets of psychoanalysis include the following:
- beside the inherited constitution of personality, a person's development is determined by events in early childhood;
- human behavior, experience, and cognition are largely determined by irrational drives;
- those drives are largely unconscious;
- attempts to bring those drives into awareness meet psychological resistance in the form of defense mechanisms;
- conflicts between conscious and unconscious (repressed) material can result in mental disturbances such as neurosis, neurotic traits, anxiety, depression etc.;
- the liberation from the effects of the unconscious material is achieved through bringing this material into the conscious mind (via e.g. skilled guidance).
Under the broad umbrella of psychoanalysis there are at least 22 theoretical orientations regarding human mental development. The various approaches in treatment called "psychoanalysis" vary as much as the theories do. The term also refers to a method of studying child development.
Freudian psychoanalysis refers to a specific type of treatment in which the "analysand" (analytic patient) verbalizes thoughts, including free associations, fantasies, and dreams, from which the analyst induces the unconscious conflicts causing the patient's symptoms and character problems, and interprets them for the patient to create insight for resolution of the problems. The analyst confronts and clarifies the patient's pathological defenses, wishes and guilt. Through the analysis of conflicts, including those contributing to resistance and those involving transference onto the analyst of distorted reactions, psychoanalytic treatment can hypothesize how patients unconsciously are their own worst enemies: how unconscious, symbolic reactions that have been stimulated by experience are causing symptoms.
Psychoanalysis has been criticized on numerous fronts, including the view that it constitutes pseudoscience, but it remains influential within psychiatry.