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Freud on Psychodynamic Theory

Freud on Psychodynamic Theory

Author: Erick Taggart

This lesson will introduce the methods, people, and theories of Psychoanalysis and Neo-Freudians and their contributions to the origins of field of psychology.

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Source: S. Freud Pub Domain,; Red Couch Creative Commons; Rorschach Blot Public Domain

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Hello, class. Today we're going to be talking about someone who's probably the most famous figure in psychology. You've probably heard the term of Freudian slip before, which is to say, you say something that you didn't mean to say, but that you might have been thinking about. And that comes from the name Sigmund Freud.

Now, Freud's a pretty interesting figure. He was an Austrian doctor who in 1873 begin working in a hospital treating patients for what they called hysteria, which at the time, was a kind of nebulous disease that they didn't really have much of an idea of or a treatment for. From there, he began to start his own therapy in 1885, set up a private practice, and he began treating people for nervous disorders and brain disorders. So in a lot of ways, Freud's theory was sort of created backwards, where they started with the treatment, or the clinical, and then began developing the theory from what he was seeing in his patients.

So let's talk about that theory. Freud described our mental life as a sort of iceberg, which is this a lot of stuff that we're aware of, that we can perceive that's outside of the water is actually only a small amount when compared to the part that's under the water, that's outside of our awareness, which is to say, it's unconscious. And so our behaviors, as a result of these unconscious sorts of thoughts, impulses, desires, can actually influence our behaviors outside of that in our lives.

In addition, a lot of those different urges that we might feel that are outside of our knowledge might be repressed. And as a result, they can lead to sorts of dysfunctional behaviors, a lot of the problems that Freud was seeing and treating. An example of this is Freud is often cited as saying there are certain sexual urges that are outside of our normal understanding, or our normal consciousness, which can influence our behaviors in strange ways.

Another term that you might hear in regards to Freud is the Oedipus or the Electra complexes, which are repressed sexual desires that can influence our behaviors. And we'll learn a bit more about those later. But overall, this idea that internal motives and unconscious forces can affect our behaviors and our mental processes in our daily lives is what we call psychodynamic theory, which is the theory that's attributed to Freud.

You've probably seen the famous picture of Freud talking to somebody while they're laying down on a couch. This is actually in reference to the treatment-- the therapy-- that was developed as a result of psychodynamic theory. That therapy is called psychoanalysis.

The goal of psychoanalysis is to uncover these sort of unconscious forces that are influencing us and affecting us in adverse ways, using a variety of different sorts of methods. For example, Freud was very big into dream analysis, trying to discover how dreams are sort of a language of our unconscious mind, trying to tell us in our sleep the sorts of things that are going on sort of under the surface.

Another example is the Rorschach inkblot test, which a lot of you might have seen in popular culture. Again, something else that's made famous from Freud, in which you're looking at the inkblot, and you have to try to describe what you see, which in turn tells us what's going on under the surface in our unconscious minds.

While Freud did a lot of the original research that goes into psychodynamic theory, a lot of the later research that was done can be attributed to who we call the neo-Freudian, which is to say the new Freudian or psychoanalytical figures. And we have three of them here for you to remember. Again, we'll go into greater detail with them later.

The first is Karen Horney. Horney was an American scientist who did a lot of work into the specific needs of individuals and how those needs influence their behaviors, as well as their coping strategies that go along with those.

The second one is Alfred Adler, who discussed how power was a huge influence on people, and the need for power or the will to power, caused them to behave in certain ways. He's also famous for coming up for what we call the inferiority complex, or the Napoleon complex, which you also might have heard of.

And the last one is Carl Jung. Carl Jung was very popular in different types of literature and pop culture because of a lot of his ideas. He furthered the idea of dream analysis. He also presented the idea of archetypes, which are to say, these sorts of classical ideas that everybody has in their minds of different things, like the shadow, the feminine, or the masculine, as well as the collective unconsciousness, which is to say the unconsciousness that all of us share.

Terms to Know

Someone in the field of psychology who accepts Freud’s theory for the most part, but adds their own unique ideas and benefits.


Freudian psychodynamic therapy that attempts to uncover unconscious conflict.

Psychodynamic Theory

A psychological theory of behavior that examines the role of the unconscious and internal conflicts.