Psychoanalytic theory was developed by Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud in the late nineteenth/early twentieth century and is closely related to his psychotherapeutic practice. It is a theory that seeks to describe the etiology of mental disorders, the development of man and his personality, and explain human motivation. Based on this of theory, Freud developed a type of psychotherapy. The complex formed by the theory, based on psychotherapeutic practice and methods he used, received the name of psychoanalysis.
Freud imagined the psyche (or mental apparatus) of the human being as an energy system: Each person had, he said, for a limited amount the psychic energy. This means, first, that the energy required to perform certain activity (e.g., artistic expression) will not be available for other purposes (e.g., sexuality), on the other hand, if a person cannot spend his energy in some way (e.g., sexuality), the person must do so in another way (e.g., artistic expression). This energy comes from the drives (sometimes incorrectly called instincts).
According to the author, the human being has two innate, sexual and death instincts. These two drives are opposed to the ideal of society and therefore need to be controlled through education, so that the energy generated by the drives cannot be released directly. The human being is thus sexual and aggressive by nature and function of society is to tame these natural human tendencies.
The situation of not being able to vent this energy generates the individual a state of internal tension that needs to be solved. Every action of man is thus motivated by hedonistic search to vent accumulated psychic energy.
Human beings, however, are not aware of this whole process of generating and releasing the energy. To explain this fact, Freud describes three levels of consciousness:
- Conscious (Bewusste), which includes all phenomena that at any given time can be perceived by the individual conscious way;
- The preconscious (Vorbewusste) refers to phenomena of which an individual is not aware at any given time, but can become, if the individual wishes to know them;
- The unconscious (Unbewusste ) refers to phenomena and contents that we are not aware of, and only under very special circumstances can become. (The term “subconscious” is often used synonymously, despite having been abandoned by Freud.)
Freud was not the first to propose that part of the psychic life develops unconsciously. He was, however, the first to investigate deeply that territory. According to him, human desires and thoughts often produce content that would cause fear to the individual, if they were not stored in the unconscious. This well has an important stabilizing function of conscious life. His research led him to propose that the unconscious is alogical (and therefore open to contradictions); timeless and aespacial (i.e., content belonging to different times or spaces). Dreams are seen as symbolic expression of unconscious contents.
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