Sigmund Freud the artist, Sigmund Freud the scientist
Assignment – Discussion – Personality Theory & Research: Psychoanalysis is indisputably an important, fundamental part of our field’s history. It does tend to evoke very strong reactions from many folks. At this point in time, where do you stand? No matter your position, try to come up with 3 concepts from the theory that you can identify with, recognize in yourself or others, or find useful.
Sigmund Freud the Artist, Sigmund Freud the Scientist
In this post, I will discuss psychoanalysis, Freud, and his ideas concerning psychic conflict, the conscious and unconscious mind, and free association. While my definition and application of these concepts may differ slightly from the traditional psychoanalytic view, I believe they are pertinent and have integrated them into my own understanding of psychology and psychotherapy practice.
According to Funder (2016), Freud believed that the majority of people’s anxiety and unhappiness are the results of unconscious conflicts and that a person’s sense of well-being can be restored by understanding and resolving these conflicts. Additionally, these conflicts primarily reside in the unconscious mind as trapped psychic energy, and removing or freeing up these conflicts increases one’s life energy, or libido. The reason for the increase in energy is that psychoanalysis holds that avoiding or suppressing unpleasant thoughts and feelings consumes a great deal of energy, which is then unavailable for other tasks such as creativity or problem-solving.
Using free associations is one way to become aware of these hidden conflicts. The general idea is that inner conflicts are stored in the unconscious mind as unresolved and nonintegrated thoughts, feelings, and memories. Funder (2016) describes that these unconscious conflicts are hidden and “protected” from the conscious mind through various defense mechanisms such as denial, repression, projection, rationalization, intellectualization, and sublimation, to name a few. However, because psychic energy cannot be held in place indefinitely, it finds various ways to express or manifest itself in a person’s internal and external life, such as in dreams, slips, various reactions toward the therapist, also known as transference, or through the use of free association. Whatever shape these conflicts take, the important thing is for the client to understand what they mean, which the therapist is there to help with.
When I began writing this post, and more specifically when I considered free associations, I started thinking of the Hollywood portrayal of a psychoanalyst, in which the client lies on a sofa and speaks whatever comes to mind, while the therapist appears to be sleeping or preoccupied with convoluted thoughts. How accurate this depiction is, I’m afraid I lack sufficient knowledge of psychoanalysis to comment on. While some of it may be true, I believe it is grossly exaggerated for entertainment purposes, as most things in a film are.
However, when I read that Freud originally used hypnosis to induce a focused state of mind in order to facilitate the client’s discussion of their problems, something clicked (Funder, 2016). The combination of hypnosis and free associations brought to mind Eugene Gendlin’s (1982) Focusing technique and the concept of Felt-Sense, which entails directing open, nonjudgmental attention toward an inner knowing. This intuitive knowing is felt emotionally and physically but has not yet been articulated. By concentrating on and expressing this subtle somatic experience, the client can gain clarity about their feelings or desires, gain new perspectives on their situation, and stimulate change or healing in their situation (Cornell & McGavin, 2002).
I’m wondering if the Hollywood depiction of a modern psychoanalyst and client is accurate in that the therapist is not assisting the client in first quieting the busy mind of modern man and then establishing a deeper connection to one’s inner knowing, which Gendling refers to as Felt-Sense or neuroscientist Damasio (2008) refers to as somatic markers, which are allegedly critical in assisting in decision making. Maybe one of the primary reasons people benefited from Freud’s therapy and continued to seek out his “talking cure” was that he assisted his clients in strengthening their connection to themselves while discussing a problem, whether through hypnosis or simply by advising them to maintain an internal focus while speaking (Funder, 2016, p. 352).
I’d like to see or hear recordings of Freud working with clients in order to gain a better understanding of his work. To fully appreciate psychoanalysis’s impact, I personally believe it is necessary to distinguish between Freud as a therapist “working his magic” and his theoretical concepts that encompassed all of the conclusions he reached while working with his clients. In my mind, the former captures Freud as an artist creating artwork, whereas the latter represents Freud as a scientist attempting to comprehend the artist’s actions. Two critical functions, but diametrically opposed. Perhaps he was more gifted in the arts than in science (I say very modestly, knowing that I know too little about the matter…but nonetheless in the spirit of adding a different perspective on Freud).
Cornell, A., & McGavin, B. (2002). The focusing student’s and companion’s manual. Vol. 1 (1st ed.). Berkeley, CA: Calluna Press.
Damasio, A. (2008) Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason and the Human Brain. Random House.
Funder, D. (2016). The personality puzzle (7th ed.). Norton & Company.
Gendlin, E. (1982). Focusing (2nd ed.). Bantam Books.