Psychoanalytic theory has been both acclaimed for its effectiveness and highly criticized for its limitations. Freud used structural, developmental, and motivational constructs to describe the complexity of human personality functioning. Many theorists and practitioners focus their criticisms on the lack of specific attention to the present and future, and in particular the lack of attention to cross-cultural applications and the potential for bias toward specific client populations. Other theorists favor the theory because of the dynamic foundation of development and structural components used to explain personality development and its contemporary applications to present maladaptive functioning (Petrocelli, Glaser, Calhoun, & Campbell, 2001).
Although the limitations of psychoanalytic theory may challenge counselors in unique ways, numerous outcome studies have shown that its efficacy is equal to that of other mainstream counseling modalities such as a cognitive-behavioral approach (Horvath, 2005). One of the greatest strengths of psychoanalytic theory is the breadth and depth of the explorations into personality development and coping skills, making this a comprehensive theory with much versatility in practical use.
Originally intended as a theory to explain psychological concepts, psychoanalysis has evolved to include explanations of personality development and aberrant behaviors resulting from disturbances in that development. Many counselors suggest that psychoanalysis can also be used to describe or explain a vast array of other concepts outside the realm of the psychological field and is a powerful model for understanding the role and impact of early childhood conflicts in the client's life. Katz-Bearnot (2009) suggested that the psychoanalytic orientation offers the most comprehensive approach to counseling because the theory considers unconscious factors, including transference, enactments, and aspects of the client's personal relationships.
This theory is especially useful in understanding the basis for resistances, which may present as missing appointments, refusing to engage in introspection, and being reluctant to examine the use of defenses (Corey, 2008). From a psychoanalytic viewpoint, the client will bring to the session a consistent set of themes, rich with content accumulated over his or her lifetime. And individually or in combination with other theories, psychoanalysis is a valuable tool that counselors may use to develop an effective treatment plan based on the symptoms and patterns of behaviors initially observed within a psychoanalytic framework.