Freud and Psychoanalysis

Dr. C. George Boeree

Precursors of Psychoanalysis

It often surprises students that psychiatry - meaning the doctoring of the mind - was not invented by Sigmund Freud.  Psychoanalysis - a particular (and very significant) brand of psychiatry - was his baby.  Psychiatrists existed before Freud, and most, psychiatrists today are not Freudian.

The term psychiatry was coined by the German physician Johann Reil1 in 1808, and would slowly replace the older term "alienist."  The new respect signalled by the new name was based on some significant improvements in the care of the mentally ill in the second half of the 1700's.

There are three people I would like to pay my respects to as important precursors to psychoanalysis:  Franz Anton Mesmer, who discovered hypnotism; Philippe Pinel, who changed the way we thought of and treated the mentally ill; and Jean-Martin Charcot, who is often considered the father of neurology.

Franz Anton Mesmer

Franz Anton Mesmer was born May 23, 1734 in Iznang, Germany, near Lake Constance.  He received his MD from the University of Vienna in 1766.  His dissertation concerned the idea that the planets influenced the health of those of us on earth.  He suggested that their gravitational forces could change the distribution of our animal spirits.  Later, he changed his theory to emphasize magnetism rather than gravity -- hence the term “animal magnetism.”  It would soon, however, come to be known as mesmerism.

He was, in fact, able to put people into trance states, even convulsions, by waving magnetized bars over them.  His dramatic performances were quite popular for a while, although he believed that anyone could achieve the same results.  In point of fact, some of his patients did in fact get relief from their symptoms -- a point that would later be investigated by others.

When accused of fraud by other physicians in Vienna, he went to Paris.  In 1784, the King of France, Louis XVI, appointed a commission including Benjamin Franklin to look into Mesmer and his practices.  They concluded that his results were due to nothing more than suggestion.

Despite condemnation by many of the educated elite, mesmerism  became a popular fad in the salons of Europe.  In order to serve the many poor people who came to him for help, he designed a sort of bathtub in which they could sit while holding the magnetic rods themselves.  He eventually created an organization to train other mesmerists.

Mesmer died March 5, 1815 in Meersburg, also near Lake Constance, Germany.

An English physician, James Braid (1795-1860), a much more careful researcher of Mesmer’s phenomenon, termed it hypnotism.  Disassociated from Mesmer, hypnotism would go on to have a long, if contraversial, life into the twentieth century.

Philippe Pinel

Philippe Pinel was born on April 20, 1745, in the small town of Saint André. His father was both a barber and a surgeon, a common combination in those days, as both vocations required a steady hand with the razor.  His mother was also from a long line of physicians.

Philippe began his studies more interested in literature -- especially Jean-Jacques Rousseau -- than in medicine.  But, after a few years studying theology, he began the study of medicine, and he recieved his MD from university at Toulouse in 1773.

Pinel moved to Montpellier in 1774 where he tutored wealthy students in anatomy and mathematics.  He was admited into the Montpellier Société Royale des Sciences after presenting two papers on the use of mathematics in anatomical studies.  He moved to Paris in 1778, where he came into contact with a number of the renowned scientists and philosophers of the day (including Ben Franklin), as well as becoming familiar with the radical new ideas of John Locke and the French sensationalists.  Although he could not practice in Paris, he became a well respected medical writer, particularly known for his careful and exhaustive case studies.

A turning point in Pinel's life came in 1785, when a friend of his developed a mental illness ending in his death.  He became devoted to the study of mental illness, and became the head of the Paris asylum for insane men at Bicêtre in 1792.  In that year, he also married Jeanne Vincent, with whom he had three sons.

It was at Bicêtre that he made his place in history:  Prior to his coming to Bicêtre, the men were kept in chains, treated abominably, and put on daily display to the public as curiosities.  In 1793, Pinel instituted a new program of human care, which he referred to as moral therapy.  The men were given clean, comfortable accommodations, and were instructed in simple but productive work.

In 1795, he was appointed the head physician at the world famous hospital at Salpêtrière.  Here, too, he provided his enlightened treatment conditions to the mentally ill.  In that same year, he was made professor of medical pathology at Paris.  In 1801, Phillipe Pinel introduced the first textbook on moral therapy to the world.

Pinel is also remembered for dismissing the demonic possession theory of mental illness for once and for all, and for eliminating treatments such as bleeding from his hospital.  He also introduced other novelties to his hospital, such as vaccinations and the use of the stethoscope.  He was a physician to Napoleon and was made a knight of the Legion d'Honneur in 1804.  He died in Paris on October 25, 1826.

Pinel's innovations were soon imitated in other countries, by such notable as William Tuke in England, Vincenzo Chiarugi in Florence, and Dorothea Dix in the U.S.

Jean-Martin Charcot

Jean-Martin Charcot was born in Paris on November 29, 1825.  He received his MD at the University of Paris in 1853. In 1860 he became a professor at his alma mater.  Two years later, he began to work at Salpêtrière Hospital as well. In 1882, he opened a neurological clinic at Salpêtrière Hospital.  It, and he, became known throughout Europe, and students came from everywhere to study the new field.  Among them were Alfred Binet and a young Sigmund Freud.

Charcot is well known in medical circles for his studies of the neurology of motor disorders, resulting diseases, aneurysms, and localization of brain functions.  He is considered the father of modern neurology as well as the person who first diagnosed of Multiple Sclerosis

In psychology, he is best known for his use of hypnosis to successfully treating women suffering from the psychological disorder then known as hysteria.  Now called conversion disorder, hysteria involved a loss of some physiological function such as vision, speech, tactile sensations, movement, etc., that was nonetheless not based in actual neurological damage.

Charcot believed that hysteria was due to a congenitally weak nervous system, combined with the effects of some traumatic experience.  Hypnotizing these patients brought on a state similar to hysteria itself.  He found that, in some cases, the symptoms would actually lessen after hypnosis -- although he was only interested in studying hysteria, not in curing it!  Others would later use hypnosis as a part of curing the problem.

Charcot died in Morvan, France, on August 16, 1893.  The stamp bearing his image is from the web site of Michael Jacobson, MD, at

The Unconscious

Before we turn to the really big names, let's take a peek at the concept of the unconscious, so strongly associated with psychoanalysis.  Most historians agree that the first mention of such a concept was Leibniz's discussion of "petite perceptions" or little perceptions.  By this he meant certain very low-level stimuli that could enter the mind without the person's awareness - what today we would call subliminal messages.  The reality of such things is very much in doubt.

Johann Friedrich Herbart (1776-1841) was the author of a texbook on psychology, published in 1816.  But, following Kant, he did not believe psychology could ever be a science.  He took the concepts of the associationists and blended them with the dynamics of Leibniz's monads.  Ideas had an energy of their own, he said, and could actually force themselves on the person's conscious mind by exceeding a certain threshold.  When ideas were incompatable, one or the other would be repressed, he said - meaning forced below the threshold into the unconscious.  This should remind you of Freud's ideas - except that Herbart had them nearly a century earlier!

Schopenhauer is often seen as the originator of the unconscious, and he spoke at great lengths about instincts and the irrational nature of man, and freely made use of words like repression, resistance, and sublimation! Nietzsche also spoke of the unconscious:  One of his most famous statements is "My memory says I did it.  My pride says I could not have done that.  In the end, my memory yields."

One more pre-Freudian should be mentioned:  Karl Eduard von Hartmann (1842-1906).  He blended the ideas of Schopenhauer with Jewish mysticism (the kaballah) and wrote Philosophy of the Unconscious in 1869, just in time to influence a young neurologist name Sigmund Freud.

The reader should understand that there are many theorists with little or no use for the concept of the unconscious.  Brentano, forefather of phenomenology and existentialism, did not believe in it.  Neither did William James.  Neither did the Gestalt psychologists.  Memories, for example, can be understood as stored in some physical state, perhaps as traces in the brain.  When activated, we remember.  But they aren't in the mind - conscious or unconscious - until so activated.

In addition to the concept of the unconscious, another early landmark of psychiatry was the introduction of careful diagnosis of mental illness, beginning with Emil Kraepelin's work (1856-1926).  The first differentiated classification was of what he labelled dementia praecox, which meant the insanity of adolescence.  Kraepelin also invented the terms neurosis and psychosis, and named Alzheimer's disease after Alois Alzheimer, who first described it.  I should also mention Eugen Bleuler, who coined the term schizophrenia to replace dementia praecox in 1911.

Now, on to Freud....

Sigmund Freud

Freud's story, like most people's stories, begins with others. In his case those others were his mentor and friend, Dr. Joseph Breuer, and Breuer's patient, called Anna O.

Anna O. was Joseph Breuer's patient from 1880 through 1882. Twenty one years old, Anna spent most of her time nursing her ailing father. She developed a bad cough that proved to have no physical basis. She developed some speech difficulties, then became mute, and then began speaking only in English, rather than her usual German.

When her father died she began to refuse food, and developed an unusual set of problems. She lost the feeling in her hands and feet, developed some paralysis, and began to have involuntary spasms. She also had visual hallucinations and tunnel vision. But when specialists were consulted, no physical causes for these problems could be found.

If all this weren't enough, she had fairy-tale fantasies, dramatic mood swings, and made several suicide attempts. Breuer's diagnosis was that she was suffering from what was then called hysteria (now called conversion disorder), which meant she had symptoms that appeared to be physical, but were not.

In the evenings, Anna would sink into states of what Breuer called "spontaneous hypnosis," or what Anna herself called "clouds." Breuer found that, during these trance-like states, she could explain her day-time fantasies and other experiences, and she felt better afterwards. Anna called these episodes "chimney sweeping" and "the talking cure."

Sometimes during "chimney sweeping," some emotional event was recalled that gave meaning to some particular symptom. The first example came soon after she had refused to drink for a while: She recalled seeing a woman drink from a glass that a dog had just drunk from. While recalling this, she experienced strong feelings of disgust...and then had a drink of water! In other words, her symptom -- an avoidance of water -- disappeared as soon as she remembered its root event, and experienced the strong emotion that would be appropriate to that event. Breuer called this catharsis, from the Greek word for cleansing.

It was eleven years later that Breuer and his assistant, Sigmund Freud, wrote a book on hysteria. In it they explained their theory: Every hysteria is the result of a traumatic experience, one that cannot be integrated into the person's understanding of the world. The emotions appropriate to the trauma are not expressed in any direct fashion, but do not simply evaporate: They express themselves in behaviors that in a weak, vague way offer a response to the trauma. These symptoms are, in other words, meaningful. When the client can be made aware of the meanings of his or her symptoms (through hypnosis, for example) then the unexpressed emotions are released and so no longer need to express themselves as symptoms. It is analogous to lancing a boil or draining an infection.

In this way, Anna got rid of symptom after symptom. But it must be noted that she needed Breuer to do this: Whenever she was in one of her hypnotic states, she had to feel his hands to make sure it was him before talking! And sadly, new problems continued to arise.

According to Freud, Breuer recognized that she had fallen in love with him, and that he was falling in love with her.  Plus, she was telling everyone she was pregnant with his child. You might say she wanted it so badly that her mind told her body it was true, and she developed an hysterical pregnancy. Breuer, a married man in a Victorian era, abruptly ended their sessions together, and lost all interest in hysteria.  Please understand that recent research suggests that many of these events, including the hysterical pregnancy and Breuer's quick retreat, were probably Freud's "elaborations" on reality!

It was Freud who would later add what Breuer did not acknowledge publicly - that secret sexual desires lay at the bottom of all these hysterical neuroses.

To finish her story, Anna spent time in a sanatorium. Later, she became a well-respected and active figure - the first social worker in Germany - under her true name, Bertha Pappenheim. She died in 1936. She will be remembered, not only for her own accomplishments, but as the inspiration for the most influential personality theory we have ever had.


Sigmund Freud was born May 6, 1856, in a small town - Freiberg - in Moravia. His father was a wool merchant with a keen mind and a good sense of humor. His mother was a lively woman, her husband's second wife and 20 years younger. She was 21 years old when she gave birth to her first son, her darling, Sigmund. Sigmund had two older half-brothers and six younger siblings. When he was four or five - he wasn't sure - the family moved to Vienna, where he lived most of his life.

A brilliant child, always at the head of his class, he went to medical school, one of the few viable options for a bright Jewish boy in Vienna those days. There, he became involved in research under the direction of a physiology professor named Ernst Brücke. Brücke believed in what was then a popular, if radical, notion, which we now call reductionism: "No other forces than the common physical-chemical ones are active within the organism." Freud would spend many years trying to "reduce" personality to neurology, a cause he later gave up on.

Freud was very good at his research, concentrating on neurophysiology, even inventing a special cell-staining technique. But only a limited number of positions were available, and there were others ahead of him. Brücke helped him to get a grant to study, first with the great psychiatrist Charcot in Paris, then with his rival Bernheim in Nancy. Both these gentlemen were investigating the use of hypnosis with hysterics.

After spending a short time as a resident in neurology and director of a children's ward in Berlin, he came back to Vienna, married his patient fiancée Martha Bernays, and set up a practice in neuropsychiatry, with the help of Joseph Breuer.

It is true that Freud experimented with cocaine, encouraged his fiancée and friends to try it, and wrote about its great restorative powers. He later came to regret his enthusiasm for the drug and withdrew his endorsement.

Freud's books and lectures brought him both fame and ostracism from the mainstream of the medical community. He drew around him a number of very bright sympathizers who became the core of the psychoanalytic movement. Unfortunately, Freud had a penchant for rejecting people who did not totally agree with him. Some separated from him on friendly terms; others did not, and went on to found competing schools of thought.

Freud emigrated to England just before World War II when Vienna became an increasing dangerous place for Jews, especially ones as famous as Freud. Not long afterward, he died of the cancer of the mouth and jaw that he had suffered from for the last 20 years of his life.


Freud didn't exactly invent the idea of the conscious versus unconscious mind, but he certainly was responsible for making it popular. The conscious mind is what you are aware of at any particular moment, your present perceptions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, feelings, what have you. Working closely with the conscious mind is what Freud called the preconscious, what we might today call "available memory:" anything that can easily be made conscious, the memories you are not at the moment thinking about but can readily bring to mind. Now no-one has a problem with these two layers of mind. But Freud suggested that these are the smallest parts!

The largest part by far is the unconscious. It includes all the things that are not easily available to awareness, including many things that have their origins there, such as our drives or instincts, and things that are put there because we can't bear to look at them, such as the memories and emotions associated with trauma.

According to Freud, the unconscious is the source of our motivations, whether they be simple desires for food or sex, neurotic compulsions, or the motives of an artist or scientist. And yet, we are often driven to deny or resist becoming conscious of these motives, and they are often available to us only in disguised form. We will come back to this.

The id, the ego, and the superego

Freudian psychological reality begins with the world, full of objects. Among them is a very special object, the organism. The organism is special in that it acts to survive and reproduce, and it is guided toward those ends by its needs -- hunger, thirst, the avoidance of pain, and sex.

A part - a very important part - of the organism is the nervous system, which has as one its characteristics a sensitivity to the organism's needs. At birth, that nervous system is little more than that of any other animal, an "it" or id. The nervous system, as id, translates the organism's needs into motivational forces called, in German, Trieben, which has been translated as instincts or drives. Freud also called them wishes. This translation from need to wish is called the primary process.

The id works in keeping with the pleasure principle, which can be understood as a demand to take care of needs immediately. Just picture the hungry infant, screaming itself blue. It doesn't "know" what it wants in any adult sense; it just knows that it wants it and it wants it now. The infant, in the Freudian view, is pure, or nearly pure id. And the id is nothing if not the psychic representative of biology.

Unfortunately, although a wish for food, such as the image of a juicy steak, might be enough to satisfy the id, it isn't enough to satisfy the organism. The need only gets stronger, and the wishes just keep coming. You may have noticed that, when you haven't satisfied some need, such as the need for food, it begins to demand more and more of your attention, until there comes a point where you can't think of anything else. This is the wish or drive breaking into consciousness.

Luckily for the organism, there is that small portion of the mind we discussed before, the conscious, that is hooked up to the world through the senses. Around this little bit of consciousness, during the first year of a child's life, some of the "it" becomes "I," some of the id becomes ego. The ego relates the organism to reality by means of its consciousness, and it searches for objects to satisfy the wishes that id creates to represent the organisms needs. This problem-solving activity is called the secondary process.

The ego, unlike the id, functions according to the reality principle, which says "take care of a need as soon as an appropriate object is found." It represents reality and, to a considerable extent, reason.

However, as the ego struggles to keep the id (and, ultimately, the organism) happy, it meets with obstacles in the world. It occasionally meets with objects that actually assist it in attaining its goals. And it keeps a record of these obstacles and aides. In particular, it keeps track of the rewards and punishments meted out by two of the most influential objects in the world of the child - mom and dad. This record of things to avoid and strategies to take becomes the superego. It is not completed until about seven years of age. In some people, it never is completed.

There are two aspects to the superego: One is the conscience, which is an internalization of punishments and warnings. The other is called the ego ideal. It derives from rewards and positive models presented to the child. The conscience and ego ideal communicate their requirements to the ego with feelings like pride, shame, and guilt.

It is as if we acquired, in childhood, a new set of needs and accompanying wishes, this time of social rather than biological origins. Unfortunately, these new wishes can easily conflict with the ones from the id. You see, the superego represents society, and society often wants nothing better than to have you never satisfy your needs at all!

The stages

Freud noted that, at different times in our lives, different parts of our skin give us greatest pleasure. Later theorists would call these areas erogenous zones. It appeared to Freud that the infant found its greatest pleasure in sucking, especially at the breast. In fact, babies have a penchant for bringing nearly everything in their environment into contact with their mouths. A bit later in life, the child focuses on the anal pleasures of holding it in and letting go. By three or four, the child may have discovered the pleasure of touching or rubbing against his or her genitalia. Only later, in our sexual maturity, do we find our greatest pleasure in sexual intercourse. In these observations, Freud had the makings of a psychosexual stage theory.

The oral stage lasts from birth to about 18 months. The focus of pleasure is, of course, the mouth. Sucking and biting are favorite activities.

The anal stage lasts from about 18 months to three or four years old. The focus of pleasure is the anus. Holding it in and letting it go are greatly enjoyed.

The phallic stage lasts from three or four to five, six, or seven years old. The focus of pleasure is the genitalia. Masturbation is common.

The latent stage lasts from five, six, or seven to puberty, that is, somewhere around 12 years old. During this stage, Freud believed that the sexual impulse was suppressed in the service of learning. I must note that, while most children seem to be fairly calm, sexually, during their grammar school years, perhaps up to a quarter of them are quite busy masturbating and playing "doctor." In Freud's repressive era, these children were, at least, quieter than their modern counterparts.

The genital stage begins at puberty, and represents the resurgence of the sex drive in adolescence, and the more specific focusing of pleasure in sexual intercourse. Freud felt that masturbation, oral sex, homosexuality, and many other things we find acceptable in adulthood today, were immature.

This is a true stage theory, meaning that Freudians believe that we all go through these stages, in this order, and pretty close to these ages.

The Oedipal crisis

Each stage has certain difficult tasks associated with it where problems are more likely to arise. For the oral stage, this is weaning. For the anal stage, it's potty training. For the phallic stage, it is the Oedipal crisis, named after the ancient Greek story of king Oedipus, who inadvertently killed his father and married his mother. 

Here's how the Oedipal crisis works: The first love-object for all of us is our mother. We want her attention, we want her affection, we want her caresses, we want her, in a broadly sexual way. The young boy, however, has a rival for his mother's charms: his father! His father is bigger, stronger, smarter, and he gets to sleep with mother, while junior pines away in his lonely little bed. Dad is the enemy.

About the time the little boy recognizes this archetypal situation, he has become aware of some of the more subtle differences between boys and girls, the ones other than hair length and clothing styles. From his naive perspective, the difference is that he has a penis, and girls do not. At this point in life, it seems to the child that having something is infinitely better than not having something, and so he is pleased with this state of affairs.

But the question arises: where is the girl's penis? Perhaps she has lost it somehow. Perhaps it was cut off. Perhaps this could happen to him! This is the beginning of castration anxiety, a slight misnomer for the fear of losing one's penis.

To return to the story, the boy, recognizing his father's superiority and fearing for his penis, engages some of his ego defenses: He displaces his sexual impulses from his mother to girls and, later, women; And he identifies with the aggressor, dad, and attempts to become more and more like him, that is to say, a man. After a few years of latency, he enters adolescence and the world of mature heterosexuality.

The girl also begins her life in love with her mother, so we have the problem of getting her to switch her affections to her father before the Oedipal process can take place. Freud accomplishes this with the idea of penis envy: The young girl, too, has noticed the difference between boys and girls and feels that she, somehow, doesn't measure up. She would like to have one, too, and all the power associated with it. At very least, she would like a penis substitute, such as a baby. As every child knows, you need a father as well as a mother to have a baby, so the young girl sets her sights on dad.

Dad, of course, is already taken. The young girl displaces from him to boys and men, and identifies with mom, the woman who got the man she really wanted. Note that one thing is missing here: The girl does not suffer from the powerful motivation of castration anxiety, since she cannot lose what she doesn't have. Freud felt that the lack of this great fear accounts for fact (as he saw it) that women were both less firmly heterosexual than men and somewhat less morally-inclined.

Before you get too upset by this less-than-flattering account of women's sexuality, rest assured that many people have responded to it. I will discuss it in the discussion section.


Freud's therapy has been more influential than any other, and more influential than any other part of his theory. Here are some of the major points:

Relaxed atmosphere. The client must feel free to express anything. The therapy situation is in fact a unique social situation, one where you do not have to be afraid of social judgment or ostracism. In fact, in Freudian therapy, the therapist practically disappears. Add to that the physically relaxing couch, dim lights, sound-proof walls, and the stage is set.

Free association. The client may talk about anything at all. The theory is that, with relaxation, the unconscious conflicts will inevitably drift to the fore. It isn't far off to see a similarity between Freudian therapy and dreaming! However, in therapy, there is the therapist, who is trained to recognize certain clues to problems and their solutions that the client would overlook.

Resistance. One of these clues is resistance. When a client tries to change the topic, draws a complete blank, falls asleep, comes in late, or skips an appointment altogether, the therapist says "aha!" These resistances suggest that the client is nearing something in his free associations that he - unconsciously, of course - finds threatening.

Dream analysis. In sleep, we are somewhat less resistant to our unconscious and we will allow a few things, in symbolic form, of course, to come to awareness. These wishes from the id provide the therapist and client with more clues. Many forms of therapy make use of the client's dreams, but Freudian interpretation is distinct in the tendency to find sexual meanings.

Parapraxes. A parapraxis is a slip of the tongue, often called a Freudian slip. Freud felt that they were also clues to unconscious conflicts. Freud was also interested in the jokes his clients told. In fact, Freud felt that almost everything meant something almost all the time - dialing a wrong number, making a wrong turn, misspelling a word, were serious objects of study for Freud. However, he himself noted, in response to a student who asked what his cigar might be a symbol for, that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Or is it?

Other Freudians became interested in projective tests, such as the famous Rorschach or inkblot tests. The theory behind these test is that, when the stimulus is vague, the client fills it with his or her own unconscious themes. Again, these could provide the therapist with clues.

Transference, catharsis, and insight

Transference occurs when a client projects feelings toward the therapist that more legitimately belong with certain important others. Freud felt that transference was necessary in therapy in order to bring the repressed emotions that have been plaguing the client for so long, to the surface. You can't feel really angry, for example, without a real person to be angry at. The relationship between the client and the therapist, contrary to popular images, is very close in Freudian therapy, although it is understood that it can't get out of hand.

Catharsis is the sudden and dramatic outpouring of emotion that occurs when the trauma is resurrected. The box of tissues on the end table is not there for decoration.

Insight is being aware of the source of the emotion, of the original traumatic event. The major portion of the therapy is completed when catharsis and insight are experienced. What should have happened many years ago - because you were too little to deal with it, or under too many conflicting pressures - has now happened, and you are on your way to becoming a happier person.

Freud said that the goal of therapy is simply " to make the unconscious conscious."


The only thing more common than a blind admiration for Freud seems to be an equally blind hatred for him. Certainly, the proper attitude lies somewhere in between. Let's start by exploring some of the apparent flaws in his theory.

The least popular part of Freud's theory is the Oedipal complex and the associated ideas of castration anxiety and penis envy. What is the reality behind these concepts? It is true that some children are very attached to their opposite sex parent, and very competitive with their same-sex parent. It is true that some boys worry about the differences between boys and girls, and fear that someone may cut their penis off. It is true that some girls likewise are concerned, and wish they had a penis. And it is true that some of these children retain these affections, fears, and aspirations into adulthood.

Most personality theorists, however, consider these examples aberrations rather than universals, exceptions rather than rules. They occur in families that aren't working as well as they should, where parents are unhappy with each other, use their children against each other. They occur in families where parents literally denigrate girls for their supposed lack, and talk about cutting off the penises of unruly boys. They occur especially in neighborhoods where correct information on even he simplest sexual facts is not forthcoming, and children learn mistaken ideas from other children.

If we view the Oedipal crisis, castration anxiety, and penis envy in a more metaphoric and less literal fashion, they are useful concepts: We do love our mothers and fathers as well as compete with them. Children probably do learn the standard heterosexual behavior patterns by imitating the same-sex parent and practicing on the opposite-sex parent. In a male-dominated society, having a penis - being male - is better than not, and losing one's status as a male is scary. And wanting the privileges of the male, rather than the male organ, is a reasonable thing to expect in a girl with aspirations. But Freud did not mean for us to take these concepts metaphorically. Some of his followers, however, did.


A more general criticism of Freud's theory is its emphasis on sexuality. Everything, both good and bad, seems to stem from the expression or repression of the sex drive. Many people question that, and wonder if there are any other forces at work. Freud himself later added the death instinct, but that proved to be another one of his less popular ideas.

First let me point out that, in fact, a great deal of our activities are in some fashion motivated by sex. If you take a good hard look at our modern society, you will find that most advertising uses sexual images, that movies and television programs often don't sell well if they don't include some titillation, that the fashion industry is based on a continual game of sexual hide-and-seek, and that we all spend a considerable portion of every day playing "the mating game." Yet we still don't feel that all life is sexual.

But Freud's emphasis on sexuality was not based on the great amount of obvious sexuality in his society -- it was based on the intense avoidance of sexuality, especially among the middle and upper classes, and most especially among women. What we too easily forget is that the world has changed rather dramatically over the last hundred years. We forget that doctors and ministers recommended strong punishment for masturbation, that "leg" was a dirty word, that a woman who felt sexual desire was automatically considered a potential prostitute, that a bride was often taken completely by surprise by the events of the wedding night, and could well faint at the thought.

It is to Freud's credit that he managed to rise above his culture's sexual attitudes. Even his mentor Breuer and the brilliant Charcot couldn't fully acknowledge the sexual nature of their clients' problems. Freud's mistake was more a matter of generalizing too far, and not taking cultural change into account. It is ironic that much of the cultural change in sexual attitudes was in fact due to Freud's work!

The unconscious

One last concept that is often criticized is the unconscious. It is not argued that something like the unconscious accounts for some of our behavior, but rather how much and the exact nature of the beast.

Behaviorists, humanists, and existentialists all believe that (a) the motivations and problems that can be attributed to the unconscious are much fewer than Freud thought, and (b) the unconscious is not the great churning cauldron of activity he made it out to be. Most psychologists today see the unconscious as whatever we don't need or don't want to see. Some theorists don't use the concept at all.

On the other hand, at least one theorist, Carl Jung, proposed an unconscious that makes Freud's look puny! But we will leave all these views for the appropriate chapters.

Positive aspects

People have the unfortunate tendency to "throw the baby out with the bath water." If they don't agree with ideas a, b, and c, they figure x, y, and z must be wrong as well. But Freud had quite a few good ideas, so good that they have been incorporated into many other theories, to the point where we forget to give him credit.

First, Freud made us aware of two powerful forces and their demands on us. Back when everyone believed people were basically rational, he showed how much of our behavior was based on biology. When everyone conceived of people as individually responsible for their actions, he showed the impact of society. When everyone thought of male and female as roles determined by nature or God, he showed how much they depended on family dynamics. The id and the superego - the psychic manifestations of biology and society - will always be with us in some form or another.

Second is the basic theory, going back to Breuer, of certain neurotic symptoms as caused by psychological traumas. Although most theorists no longer believe that all neurosis can be so explained, or that it is necessary to relive the trauma to get better, it has become a common understanding that a childhood full of neglect, abuse, and tragedy tends to lead to an unhappy adult.

Third is the idea of ego defenses. Even if you are uncomfortable with Freud's idea of the unconscious, it is clear that we engage in little manipulations of reality and our memories of that reality to suit our own needs, especially when those needs are strong. I would recommend that you learn to recognize these defenses: You will find that having names for them will help you to notice them in yourself and others!

Finally, the basic form of therapy has been largely set by Freud. Except for some behaviorist therapies, most therapy is still "the talking cure," and still involves a physically and socially relaxed atmosphere. And, even if other theorists do not care for the idea of transference, the highly personal nature of the therapeutic relationship is generally accepted as important to success.

Some of Freud's ideas are clearly tied to his culture and era. Other ideas are not easily testable. Some may even be a matter of Freud's own personality and experiences. But Freud was an excellent observer of the human condition, and enough of what he said has relevance today that he will be a part of personality textbooks for years to come. Even when theorists come up with dramatically different ideas about how we work, they compare their ideas with Freud's.

Carl Jung

Freud said that the goal of therapy was to make the unconscious conscious. He certainly made that the goal of his work as a theorist. And yet he makes the unconscious sound very unpleasant, to say the least: It is a cauldron of seething desires, a bottomless pit of perverse and incestuous cravings, a burial ground for frightening experiences which nevertheless come back to haunt us. Frankly, it doesn't sound like anything I'd like to make conscious!

A younger colleague of his, Carl Jung, was to make the exploration of this "inner space" his life's work. He went equipped with a background in Freudian theory, of course, and with an apparently inexhaustible knowledge of mythology, religion, and philosophy. Jung was especially knowledgeable in the symbolism of complex mystical traditions such as Gnosticism, Alchemy, Kabala, and similar traditions in Hinduism and Buddhism. If anyone could make sense of the unconscious and its habit of revealing itself only in symbolic form, it would be Carl Jung.

He had, in addition, a capacity for very lucid dreaming and occasional visions. In the fall of 1913, he had a vision of a "monstrous flood" engulfing most of Europe and lapping at the mountains of his native Switzerland. He saw thousands of people drowning and civilization crumbling. Then, the waters turned into blood. This vision was followed, in the next few weeks, by dreams of eternal winters and rivers of blood. He was afraid that he was becoming psychotic.

But on August 1 of that year, World War I began. Jung felt that there had been a connection, somehow, between himself as an individual and humanity in general that could not be explained away. From then until 1928, he was to go through a rather painful process of self-exploration that formed the basis of all of his later theorizing.

He carefully recorded his dreams, fantasies, and visions, and drew, painted, and sculpted them as well. He found that his experiences tended to form themselves into persons, beginning with a wise old man and his companion, a little girl. The wise old man evolved, over a number of dreams, into a sort of spiritual guru. The little girl became "anima," the feminine soul, who served as his main medium of communication with the deeper aspects of his unconscious.

A leathery brown dwarf would show up guarding the entrance to the unconscious. He was "the shadow," a primitive companion for Jung's ego. Jung dreamt that he and the dwarf killed a beautiful blond youth, whom he called Siegfried. For Jung, this represented a warning about the dangers of the worship of glory and heroism which would soon cause so much sorrow all over Europe - and a warning about the dangers of some of his own tendencies towards hero-worship, of Sigmund Freud!

Jung dreamt a great deal about the dead, the land of the dead, and the rising of the dead. These represented the unconscious itself - not the "little" personal unconscious that Freud made such a big deal out of, but a new collective unconscious of humanity itself, an unconscious that could contain all the dead, not just our personal ghosts. Jung began to see the mentally ill as people who are haunted by these ghosts, in an age where no-one is supposed to even believe in them. If we could only recapture our mythologies, we would understand these ghosts, become comfortable with the dead, and heal our mental illnesses.

Critics have suggested that Jung was, very simply, ill himself when all this happened. But Jung felt that, if you want to understand the jungle, you can't be content just to sail back and forth near the shore. You've got to get into it, no matter how strange and frightening it might seem.


Carl Gustav Jung was born July 26, 1875, in the small Swiss village of Kessewil. His father was Paul Jung, a country parson, and his mother was Emilie Preiswerk Jung. He was surrounded by a fairly well educated extended family, including quite a few clergymen and some eccentrics as well.

The elder Jung started Carl on Latin when he was six years old, beginning a long interest in language and literature -- especially ancient literature. Besides most modern western European languages, Jung could read several ancient ones, including Sanskrit, the language of the original Hindu holy books.

Carl was a rather solitary adolescent, who didn't care much for school, and especially couldn't take competition. He went to boarding school in Basel, Switzerland, where he found himself the object of a lot of jealous harassment. He began to use sickness as an excuse, developing an embarrassing tendency to faint under pressure.

Although his first career choice was archeology, he went on to study medicine at the University of Basel. While working under the famous neurologist Krafft-Ebing, he settled on psychiatry as his career.

After graduating, he took a position at the Burghoeltzli Mental Hospital in Zurich under Eugene Bleuler, an expert on (and the namer of) schizophrenia. In 1903, he married Emma Rauschenbach. He also taught classes at the University of Zurich, had a private practice, and invented word association at this time!

Long an admirer of Freud, he met him in Vienna in 1907. The story goes that after they met, Freud canceled all his appointments for the day, and they talked for 13 hours straight, such was the impact of the meeting of these two great minds! Freud eventually came to see Jung as the crown prince of psychoanalysis and his heir apparent.

But Jung had never been entirely sold on Freud's theory. Their relationship began to cool in 1909, during a trip to America. They were entertaining themselves by analyzing each others' dreams (more fun, apparently, than shuffleboard), when Freud seemed to show an excess of resistance to Jung's efforts at analysis. Freud finally said that they'd have to stop because he was afraid he would lose his authority! Jung felt rather insulted.

World War I was a painful period of self-examination for Jung. It was, however, also the beginning of one of the most interesting theories of personality the world has ever seen.

After the war, Jung traveled widely, visiting, for example, tribal people in Africa, America, and India. He retired in 1946, and began to retreat from public attention after his wife died in 1955. He died on June 6, 1961, in Zurich.

Ego, personal unconcious, and collective unconscious

Jung's theory divides the psyche into three parts. The first is the ego,which Jung identifies with the conscious mind. Closely related is the personal unconscious, which includes anything which is not presently conscious, but can be. The personal unconscious is like most people's understanding of the unconscious in that it includes both memories that are easily brought to mind and those that have been suppressed for some reason. But it does not include the instincts that Freud would have it include.

But then Jung adds the part of the psyche that makes his theory stand out from all others: the collective unconscious. You could call it your "psychic inheritance." It is the reservoir of our experiences as a species, a kind of knowledge we are all born with. And yet we can never be directly conscious of it. It influences all of our experiences and behaviors, most especially the emotional ones, but we only know about it indirectly, by looking at those influences.

There are some experiences that show the effects of the collective unconscious more clearly than others: The experiences of love at first sight, of deja vu (the feeling that you've been here before), and the immediate recognition of certain symbols and the meanings of certain myths, could all be understood as the sudden conjunction of our outer reality and the inner reality of the collective unconscious. Grander examples are the creative experiences shared by artists and musicians all over the world and in all times, or the spiritual experiences of mystics of all religions, or the parallels in dreams, fantasies, mythologies, fairy tales, and literature.

A nice example that has been greatly discussed recently is the near-death experience. It seems that many people, of many different cultural backgrounds, find that they have very similar recollections when they are brought back from a close encounter with death. They speak of leaving their bodies, seeing their bodies and the events surrounding them clearly, of being pulled through a long tunnel towards a bright light, of seeing deceased relatives or religious figures waiting for them, and of their disappointment at having to leave this happy scene to return to their bodies. Perhaps we are all "built" to experience death in this fashion.


The contents of the collective unconscious are called archetypes. Jung also called them dominants, imagos, mythological or primordial images, and a few other names, but archetypes seems to have won out over these. An archetype is an unlearned tendency to experience things in a certain way.

The archetype has no form of its own, but it acts as an "organizing principle" on the things we see or do. It works the way that instincts work in Freud's theory: At first, the baby just wants something to eat, without knowing what it wants. It has a rather indefinite yearning which, nevertheless, can be satisfied by some things and not by others. Later, with experience, the child begins to yearn for something more specific when it is hungry -- a bottle, a cookie, a broiled lobster, a slice of New York style pizza.

The archetype is like a black hole in space: You only know its there by how it draws matter and light to itself.

The mother archetype

The mother archetype is a particularly good example. All of our ancestors had mothers. We have evolved in an environment that included a mother or mother-substitute. We would never have survived without our connection with a nurturing-one during our times as helpless infants. It stands to reason that we are "built" in a way that reflects that evolutionary environment: We come into this world ready to want mother, to seek her, to recognize her, to deal with her.

So the mother archetype is our built-in ability to recognize a certain relationship, that of "mothering." Jung says that this is rather abstract, and we are likely to project the archetype out into the world and onto a particular person, usually our own mothers. Even when an archetype doesn't have a particular real person available, we tend to personify the archetype, that is, turn it into a mythological "story-book" character. This character symbolizes the archetype.

(To the right is one of his many drawings from the famous Red Book, which wasn't published until 2009.)

The mother archetype is symbolized by the primordial mother or "earth mother" of mythology, by Eve and Mary in western traditions, and by less personal symbols such as the church, the nation, a forest, or the ocean. According to Jung, someone whose own mother failed to satisfy the demands of the archetype may well be one that spends his or her life seeking comfort in the church, or in identification with "the motherland," or in meditating upon the figure of Mary, or in a life at sea.

Of the more important archetypes, we have the shadow, which represents our animal ancestry and is often the locus of our concerns with evil and our own "dark side;" there's the anima, representing the female side of men, and the animus, representing the male side of women;  and the persona, which is the surface self, that part of us we allow others to see.

Other archetypes include father, child, family, hero, maiden, animal, wise old man, the hermaphrodite, God, and the first man.

The self

The goal of life is to realize the self. The self is an archetype that represents the transcendence of all opposites, so that every aspect of your personality is expressed equally. You are then neither and both male and female, neither and both ego and shadow, neither and both good and bad, neither and both conscious and unconscious, neither and both an individual and the whole of creation. And yet, with no oppositions, there is no energy, and you cease to act. Of course, you no longer need to act.

To keep it from getting too mystical, think of it as a new center, a more balanced position, for your psyche. When you are young, you focus on the ego and worry about the trivialities of the persona. When you are older (assuming you have been developing as you should), you focus a little deeper, on the self, and become closer to all people, all life, even the universe itself. The self-realized person is actually less selfish.

The Myers-Briggs test

Katharine Briggs and her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers found Jung's ideas about people's personalities so compelling that they decided to develop a paper-and-pencil test. It came to be called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and is one of the most popular, and most studied, tests around.

On the basis of your answers on about 125 questions, you are placed in one of sixteen types, with the understanding that some people might find themselves somewhere between two or three types. What type you are says quite a bit about you -- your likes and dislikes, your likely career choices, your compatibility with others, and so on. People tend to like it quite a bit. It has the unusual quality among personality tests of not being too judgmental: None of the types is terribly negative, nor are any overly positive. Rather than assessing how "crazy" you are, the "Myers-Briggs" simply opens up your personality for exploration.

The test has four scales. Extroversion - Introversion (E-I) is the most important. Test researchers have found that about 75 % of the population is extroverted.

The next one is Sensing - Intuiting (S-N), with about 75 % of the population sensing.

The next is Thinking - Feeling (T-F). Although these are distributed evenly through the population, researchers have found that two-thirds of men are thinkers, while two-thirds of women are feelers. This might seem like stereotyping, but keep in mind that feeling and thinking are both valued equally by Jungians, and that one-third of men are feelers and one-third of women are thinkers. Note, though, that society does value thinking and feeling differently, and that feeling men and thinking women often have difficulties dealing with people's stereotyped expectations.

The last is Judging - Perceiving (J-P), not one of Jung's original dimensions. Myers and Briggs included this one in order to help determine which of a person's functions is superior. Generally, judging people are more careful, perhaps inhibited, in their lives. Perceiving people tend to be more spontaneous, sometimes careless. If you are an extrovert and a "J," you are a thinker or feeler, whichever is stronger. Extroverted and "P" means you are a senser or intuiter. On the other hand, an introvert with a high "J" score will be a senser or intuiter, while an introvert with a high "P" score will be a thinker or feeler. J and P are equally distributed in the population.


Quite a few people find that Jung has a great deal to say to them. They include writers, artists, musicians, film makers, theologians, clergy of all denominations, students of mythology, and, of course, some psychologists. Examples that come to mind are the mythologist Joseph Campbell, the film maker George Lucas, and the science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin. Anyone interested in creativity, spirituality, psychic phenomena, the universal, and so on will find in Jung a kindred spirit.

But scientists, including most psychologists, have a lot of trouble with Jung. Not only does he fully support the teleological view (as do most personality theorists), but he goes a step further and talks about the mystical interconnectedness of synchronicity. Not only does he postulate an unconscious, where things are not easily available to the empirical eye, but he postulates a collective unconscious that never has been and never will be conscious.

In fact, Jung takes an approach that is essentially the reverse of the mainstream's reductionism: Jung begins with the highest levels - even spiritualism - and derives the lower levels of psychology and physiology from them.

Even psychologists who applaud his teleology and antireductionist position may not be comfortable with him. Like Freud, Jung tries to bring everything into his system. He has little room for chance, accident, or circumstances. Personality - and life in general - seems "over-explained" in Jung's theory.

I have found that his theory sometimes attracts students who have difficulty dealing with reality. When the world, especially the social world, becomes too difficult, some people retreat into fantasy. Some, for example, become couch potatoes. But others turn to complex ideologies that pretend to explain everything. Some get involved in Gnostic or Tantric religions, the kind that present intricate rosters of angels and demons and heavens and hells, and endlessly discuss symbols. Some go to Jung. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with this; but for someone who is out of touch with reality, this is hardly going to help.

These criticisms do not cut the foundation out from under Jung's theory. But they do suggest that some careful consideration is in order.

Alfred Adler

Alfred Adler was born in the suburbs of Vienna on February 7, 1870, the third child, second son, of a Jewish grain merchant and his wife. As a child, Alfred developed rickets, which kept him from walking until he was four years old. At five, he nearly died of pneumonia. It was at this age that he decided to be a physician.

Alfred was an average student and preferred playing outdoors to being cooped up in school. He was quite outgoing, popular, and active, and was known for his efforts at outdoing his older brother, Sigmund.

He received a medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1895. During his college years, he became attached to a group of socialist students, among which he found his wife-to-be, Raissa Timofeyewna Epstein. She was an intellectual and social activist who had come from Russia to study in Vienna. They married in 1897 and eventually had four children, two of whom became psychiatrists.

He began his medical career as an opthamologist, but he soon switched to general practice, and established his office in a lower-class part of Vienna, across from the Prader, a combination amusement park and circus. His clients included circus people, and it has been suggested (Furtmuller, 1964) that the unusual strengths and weaknesses of the performers led to his insights into organ inferiorities and compensation.

He then turned to psychiatry, and in 1907 was invited to join Freud's discussion group. After writing papers on organic inferiority, which were quite compatible with Freud's views, he wrote, first, a paper concerning an aggression instinct, which Freud did not approve of, and then a paper on children's feelings of inferiority, which suggested that Freud's sexual notions be taken more metaphorically than literally.

Although Freud named Adler the president of the Viennese Analytic Society and the co-editor of the organization's newsletter, Adler didn't stop his criticism. A debate between Adler's supporters and Freud's was arranged, but it resulted in Adler, with nine other members of the organization, resigning to form the Society for Free Psychoanalysis in 1911. This organization became The Society for Individual Psychology in the following year.

During World War I, Adler served as a physician in the Austrian Army, first on the Russian front, and later in a children's hospital. He saw first hand the damage that war does, and his thought turned increasingly to he concept of social interest. He felt that if humanity was to survive, it had to change its ways!

After the war, he was involved in various projects, including clinics attached to state schools and the training of teachers. In 1926, he went to the United States to lecture, and he eventually accepted a visiting position at the Long Island College of Medicine. In 1934, he and his family left Vienna forever. On May 28, 1937, during a series of lectures at Aberdeen University, he died of a heart attack.


Alfred Adler postulates a single "drive" or motivating force behind all our behavior and experience. By the time his theory had gelled into its most mature form, he called that motivating force the striving for perfection. It is the desire we all have to fulfill our potentials, to come closer and closer to our ideal. It is, as many of you will already see, very similar to the more popular idea of self-actualization.

"Perfection" and "ideal" are troublesome words, though. On the one hand, they are very positive goals. Shouldn't we all be striving for the ideal? And yet, in psychology, they are often given a rather negative connotation. Perfection and ideals are, practically by definition, things you can't reach. Many people, in fact, live very sad and painful lives trying to be perfect! As you will see, other theorists, like Karen Horney and Carl Rogers, emphasize this problem. Adler talks about it, too. But he sees this negative kind of idealism as a perversion of the more positive understanding. We will return to this in a little while.

Striving for perfection was not the first phrase Adler used to refer to his single motivating force. His earliest phrase was the aggression drive, referring to the reaction we have when other drives, such as our need to eat, be sexually satisfied, get things done, or be loved, are frustrated. It might be better called the assertiveness drive, since we tend to think of aggression as physical and negative. But it was Adler's idea of the aggression drive that first caused friction between him and Freud. Freud was afraid that it would detract from the crucial position of the sex drive in psychoanalytic theory. Despite Freud's dislike for the idea, he himself introduced something very similar much later in his life: the death instinct.

Another word Adler used to refer to basic motivation was compensation, or striving to overcome. Since we all have problems, short-comings, inferiorities of one sort or another, Adler felt, earlier in his writing, that our personalities could be accounted for by the ways in which we do - or don't - compensate or overcome those problems. The idea still plays an important role in his theory, as you will see, but he rejected it as a label for the basic motive because it makes it sound as if it is your problems that cause you to be what you are.

One of Adler's earliest phrases was masculine protest. He noted something pretty obvious in his culture (and by no means absent from our own): Boys were held in higher esteem than girls. Boys wanted, often desperately, to be thought of as strong, aggressive, in control - i.e. "masculine" - and not weak, passive, or dependent - i.e. "feminine." The point, of course, was that men are somehow basically better than women. They do, after all, have the power, the education, and apparently the talent and motivation needed to do "great things," and women don't.

You can still hear this in the kinds of comments older people make about little boys and girls: If a baby boy fusses or demands to have his own way (masculine protest!), they will say he's a natural boy; If a little girl is quiet and shy, she is praised for her femininity; If, on the other hand, the boy is quiet and shy, they worry that he might grow up to be a sissy; Or if a girl is assertive and gets her way, they call her a "tomboy" and will try to reassure you that she'll grow out of it!

But Adler did not see men's assertiveness and success in the world as due to some innate superiority. He saw it as a reflection of the fact that boys are encouraged to be assertive in life, and girls are discouraged. Both boys and girls, however, begin life with the capacity for "protest!" Because so many people misunderstood him to mean that men are, innately, more assertive, lead him to limit his use of the phrase.

The last phrase he used, before switching to striving for perfection, was striving for superiority. His use of this phrase reflects one of the philosophical roots of his ideas: Friederich Nietzsche developed a philosophy that considered the will to power the basic motive of human life. Although striving for superiority does refer to the desire to be better, it also contains the idea that we want to be better than others, rather than better in our own right. Adler later tended to use striving for superiority more in reference to unhealthy or neurotic striving.

Life style

A lot of this playing with words reflects Adler's groping towards a really different kind of personality theory than that represented by Freud's. Freud' theory was what we nowadays would call a reductionistic one: He tried most of his life to get the concepts down to the physiological level. although he admitted failure in the end, life is nevertheless explained in terms of basic physiological needs. In addition, Freud tended to "carve up" the person into smaller theoretical concepts - the id, ego, and superego - as well.

Adler was influenced by the writings of Jan Smuts, the South African philosopher and statesman. Smuts felt that, in order to understand people, we have to understand them more as unified wholes than as a collection of bits and pieces, and we have to understand them in the context of their environment, both physical and social. This approach is called holism, and Adler took it very much to heart.

First, to reflect the idea that we should see people as wholes rather than parts, he decided to label his approach to psychology individual psychology. The word individual means literally "un-divided."

Second, instead of talking about a person's personality, with the traditional sense of internal traits, structures, dynamics, conflicts, and so on, he preferred to talk about style of life (nowadays, "lifestyle"). Life style refers to how you live your life, how you handle problems and interpersonal relations. Here's what he himself had to say about it: "The style of life of a tree is the individuality of a tree expressing itself and molding itself in an environment. We recognize a style when we see it against a background of an environment different from what we expect, for then we realize that every tree has a life pattern and is not merely a mechanical reaction to the environment."


The last point -- that lifestyle is "not merely a mechanical reaction" -- is a second way in which Adler differs dramatically from Freud. For Freud, the things that happened in the past, such as early childhood trauma, determine what you are like in the present. Adler sees motivation as a matter of moving towards the future, rather than being driven, mechanistically, by the past. We are drawn towards our goals, our purposes, our ideals. This is called teleology.

Moving things from the past into the future has some dramatic effects. Since the future is not here yet, a teleological approach to motivation takes the necessity out of things. In a traditional mechanistic approach, cause leads to effect: If a, b, and c happen, then x, y, and z must, of necessity, happen. But you don't have to reach your goals or meet your ideals, and they can change along the way. Teleology acknowledges that life is hard and uncertain, but it always has room for change!

Another major influence on Adler's thinking was the philosopher Hans Vaihinger, who wrote a book called The Philosophy of "As If." Vaihinger believed that ultimate truth would always be beyond us, but that, for practical purposes, we need to create partial truths. His main interest was science, so he gave as examples such partial truths as protons an electrons, waves of light, gravity as distortion of space, and so on. Contrary to what many of us non-scientists tend to assume, these are not things that anyone has seen or proven to exist: They are useful constructs. They work for the moment, let us do science, and hopefully will lead to better, more useful constructs. We use them "as if" they were true. He called these partial truths fictions.

Vaihinger, and Adler, pointed out that we use these fictions in day to day living as well. We behave as if we knew the world would be here tomorrow, as if we were sure what good and bad are all about, as if everything we see is as we see it, and so on. Adler called this fictional finalism. You can understand the phrase most easily if you think about an example: Many people behave as if there were a heaven or a hell in their personal future. Of course, there may be a heaven or a hell, but most of us don't think of this as a proven fact. That makes it a "fiction" in Vaihinger's and Adler's sense of the word. And finalism refers to the teleology of it: The fiction lies in the future, and yet influences our behavior today.

Adler added that, at the center of each of our lifestyles, there sits one of these fictions, an important one about who we are and where we are going.


Criticisms of Adler tend to involve the issue of whether or not, or to what degree, his theory is scientific. The mainstream of psychology today is experimentally oriented, which means, among other things, that the concepts a theory uses must be measurable and manipulable. This in turn means that an experimental orientation prefers physical or behavioral variables. Adler, as you saw, uses basic concepts that are far from physical and behavioral: Striving for perfection? How do you measure that? Or compensation? Or feelings of inferiority? Or social interest? The experimental method also makes a basic assumption: That all things operate in terms of cause and effect. Adler would certainly agree that physical things do so, but he would adamantly deny that people do! Instead, he takes the teleological route, that people are "determined" by their ideals, goals, values, "final fictions." Teleology takes the necessity out of things: A person doesn't have to respond a certain way to a certain circumstance; A person has choices to make; A person creates his or her own personality or lifestyle. From the experimental perspective, these things are illusions that a scientist, even a personality theorist, dare not give in to.

There would be many more psychiatrists and psychoanalysts and other therapists going by other titles.  It is impossible to overemphasize the impact that these gentlemen, especially Freud himself, would have on psychology, and in particular on clinical psychology.  Following and offering their own slants on the issues would be Anna Freud, Heinz Hartman, Erik Erikson, Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, Harry Stack Sullivan, Henry Murray, Gordon Allport, Gardner Murphy, George Kelly, Carl Rogers, Ludwig Binswanger, and many, many more.

1 I can't help but mention that Reil (otherwise an admirable physician) suggested that the use of a cat-piano might be helpful in getting the attention of catatonic schizophrenics. (Rhapsodies on a Cat-Piano, or Johann Christian Reil and the Foundations of Romantic Psychiatry, by Robert J. Richards  (Return to text)

© Copyright 2000 by C. George Boeree