The conscious and unconscious mind

The Structure of the Mind According to Freud

Many of us have experienced what is commonly referred to as a Freudian slip. These misstatements are believed to reveal underlying, unconscious thoughts or feelings. Consider this example:

James has just started a new relationship with a woman he met at school. While talking to her one afternoon, he accidentally calls her by his ex-girlfriend's name.

If you were in this situation, how would you explain this mistake? Many of us might blame the slip on distraction or describe it as a simple accident. However, a psychoanalytic theorist might tell you that this is much more than a random accident. The psychoanalytic view holds that there are inner forces outside of your awareness that are directing your behavior. For example, a psychoanalyst might say that James misspoke due to unresolved feelings for his ex or perhaps because of misgivings about his new relationship.

The founder of psychoanalytic theory was Sigmund Freud. While his theories were considered shocking at the time and continue to create debate and controversy, his work had a profound influence on a number of disciplines, including psychology, sociology, anthropology, literature and art.

The term psychoanalysis is used to refer to many aspects of Freud's work and research, including Freudian therapy and the research methodology he used to develop his theories. Freud relied heavily upon his observations and case studies of his patients when he formed his theory of personality development.

Before we can understand Freud's theory of personality, we must first understand his view of how the mind is organized.

According to Freud, the mind can be divided into two main parts:

1. The conscious mind includes everything that we are aware of. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. A part of this includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily at any time and brought into our awareness. Freud called this ordinary memory the preconscious.

2. The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges and memories that outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.

More About Psychoanalytic Theory

• Biography of Sigmund Freud

• The Id, Ego and Superego

• Freud's Stages of Psychosexual Development

History of Training

Psychoanalysis was limited to those "in the know" from the early 1920s (when A.A. Brill began the New York Psychoanalytic Institute) through the end of World War II, although the idea that repression of sexual urges could make you mentally ill (Freud's first, discarded theory) proved popular with college students in the 1920s - who used the theory to argue with their conservative parents. During those early years Andrew Carnegie was perhaps one of the most famous patients who benefited; he later made his gratitude public by endowing a psychoanalytic fund in Pittsburgh.

Psychoanalysis became popular post-war, as many celebrities found it useful - such as Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows and Art Buchwald. Psychoanalytic treatment became somewhat less popular during the 1980s and early 1990s. Circa 1986, when insurance companies decimated health insurance coverage for all mental illnesses people for whom psychoanalytic treatment was indicated were increasingly unable to afford it. Gradually, as psychiatry departments became more dependent on grants from pharmaceutical companies, chairs of Psychiatry Departments in the nation's medical schools tended to come from backgrounds involving pharmacological research - not from backgrounds involving analytic training. Interestingly, psychoanalytic institutes have experienced an increase in the number of applicants in recent years, but, not surprisingly, about 70-80% of incoming students are non-MDs.

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