This essay has a total of 2417 words and 13 pages.



These notes form only the merest introduction into this topic and you will need to do
further reading around the subject yourself if you are going to gain more detailed
insights into this area of psychology. The aim of this handout is to clarify the basic
principles of Freud's theories and to raise the main issues.

It is important to be clear about the meanings of certain terms that you may come across
and throughout the handout you will find footnotes clarifying certain terms. Firstly
though, a word about the terms psychoanalysis and psychodynamics. Psychoanalysis refers to
both Freud's original attempt at providing a comprehensive theory of the mind and also to
the associated treatment. The term encompasses both Freudian theory and therapy. You will
also come across the term psychodynamics. This term is used to denote the approach which
began with psychoanalysis but which has now broadened into a much more diverse collection
of theories and models developed by other psychologists, all of which nevertheless retain
some of the main ideas of Freud's original theory.


Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 in Moravia, which was then part of the Austrian Empire and
is now in the Czech Republic. He spent most of his life in Vienna, from where he fled, in
1937, when the Nazis invaded. Neither Freud (being Jewish) or his theories were very
popular with the Nazis and he escaped to London where he died in 1939.

He had wanted to be a research scientist but anti-Semitism forced him to choose a medical
career instead and he worked in Vienna as a doctor, specialising in neurological disorders
(disorders of the nervous system). He constantly revised and modified his theories right
up until his death but much of his psychoanalytic theory was produced between 1900 and

Freud originally attempted to explain the workings of the mind in terms of physiology and
neurology ...(but)... quite early on in his treatment of patients with neurological
disorders, Freud realised that symptoms which had no organic or bodily basis could imitate
the real thing and that they were as real for the patient as if they had been
neurologically caused. So he began to search for psychological explanations of these
symptoms and ways of treating them.

In 1885 he spent a year in Paris learning hypnosis from the neurologist Charcot; he then
started using hypnosis with his patients in Vienna. However, he found its effects to be
only temporary at best and it did not usually get to the root of the problem; nor was
everybody capable of being hypnotised. Meanwhile Breuer, another Viennese doctor, was
developing another method of therapy which he called the cathartic method, where patients
would talk out their problems. Freud adopted Breuer's method and called it free
association which became one of the three fundamental tools of psychoanalysis.

Freud began his self-analysis during the 1890s and in 1900 published The Interpretation of
Dreams, in which he outlined his theory of the mind, followed by The Psychopathology of
Everyday Life (1904), A Case of Hysteria and Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality

Two of Freud's closest colleagues, Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, helped him form the
psychoanalytic movement and the first International Psychoanalytic Congress was held in
Salzburg in 1908. The Journal of Psychoanalysis was first published in 1909 and, in that
year, Freud and Jung made a lecture tour of the USA. (From Gross, R (1996) Psychology, The
Science of Mind and Behaviour, page 508)


Freud compared the human personality to an iceberg. The small part that shows above the
surface of the water represents conscious experience ; the much larger mass below the
water level represents the unconscious - a storehouse of impulses, passions, and
inaccessible memories that affect our thoughts and behaviour. It is this portion of the
mind that Freud sought to explore with the use of free association.

Freud also believed that personality was composed of three major systems: the id, the ego
and the superego. Each system has its own functions but the three interact to govern

(a) The id
The id is the most primitive part of the personality and the first to develop. It is
present in the newborn infant. It is located in the unconscious and it is from the id that
the ego and the superego later develop.

The id consists of the basic biological impulses (or drives): the need to eat, drink,
eliminate wastes, avoid pain and gain sexual pleasure. Freud also believed that aggression
was a basic biological drive.

The id seeks immediate gratification of these impulses. Like a young child, the id
operates on the pleasure principle : it endeavours to avoid pain and obtain pleasure
regardless of the external circumstances.

(b) The ego
As the child develops it learns that their impulses cannot always be immediately
gratified. Some must be delayed (for example, hunger must wait until someone provides
food) and some (for example, hitting someone) may be punished.

A new part of the personality, the ego, develops as the young child learns to consider the
demands of reality. The ego constitutes our conscious self and obeys the reality principle
: It is essentially the part of personality that decides what actions are appropriate and
which id impulses will be satisfied in what manner. The ego mediates among the demands of
the id, the realities of the world and the demands of the superego.

(c) The superego
The superego, is the internalised representation of the values and morals of society as
taught to the child by the parents and others. It is essentially the individuals
conscience. The superego decides whether an action is right or wrong. Initially, parents
control a child's behaviour directly by reward and punishment. Through the incorporation
of parental standards into the superego, behaviour is brought under self-control. The
superego develops in response to parental rewards and punishments.

In summary, the id seeks pleasure, the ego tests reality and mediates, the superego
constrains and strives for perfection. Not surprisingly, the three components of
personality are in constant conflict: the ego postpones the gratification the id wants
immediately and the superego battles with both because behaviour often falls short of the
moral code it represents.


In order to deal with this conflict, the ego develops a series of defence mechanisms which
allow it to protect itself from the pressures of the id, the real world and the superego.
Examples are:

Repression - burying a memory so thoroughly that it is not recalled at all - "it never happened".
Continues for 7 more pages >>