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Psychoanalytic theory is a general term for approaches to psychoanalysis which attempt to provide a conceptual framework more-or-less independent of clinical practice rather than based on empirical analysis of clinical cases.
The predominant psychoanalytic theories can be grouped into several theoretical "schools". Although these theoretical "schools" differ, most of them continue to stress the strong influence of unconscious elements affecting people's mental lives. There has also been considerable work done on consolidating elements of conflicting theory (cf. the work of Theodore Dorpat, B. Killingmo, and S. Akhtar). As in all fields of healthcare, there are some persistent conflicts regarding specific causes of some syndromes, and disputes regarding the best treatment techniques. In the 2000s, psychoanalytic ideas are embedded in Western culture, especially in fields such as childcare, education, literary criticism, cultural studies, and mental health, particularly psychotherapy. Though there is a mainstream of evolved analytic ideas, there are groups who follow the precepts of one or more of the later theoreticians. Psychoanalytic ideas also play roles in some types of literary analysis such as Archetypal literary criticism.
Topographic theory was first described by Freud in "the Interpretation of Dreams" (1900) The theory posits that the mental apparatus can be divided in to the systems Conscious, Pre-conscious and Unconscious. These systems are not anatomical structures of the brain but, rather, mental processes. Although Freud retained this theory throughout his life he largely replaced it with the Structural theory. The Topographic theory remains as one of the metapsychological points of view for describing how the mind functions in classical psychoanalytic theory.
Structural theory breaks the mind up into the id, the ego, and the superego. Actually, in German, the word for id is "es," which means "it." The word ego was coined by Freud's translators; Freud used the term, "ich" meaning "I" in English. Freud called the superego the "Über-ich." The id was designated as the repository of sexual and aggressive wishes, which Freud called "drives." The ego was composed of those forces that opposed the drives – defensive operations. The superego was Freud's term for the conscience – values and ideals, shame and guilt. One problem Brenner (2006) later found with this theory (see above) was that Freud also suggested that forgotten thoughts ("the repressed") were also "located" in the id. However, Freud here realized that drives could be conscious or unconscious, and that consciousness vs. unconsciousness was a quality of any mental operation or any mental conflict. Forgetting things could be done on purpose, or not. People could be aware of guilt, or not aware.
Ego psychology was initially suggested by Freud in Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety (1926). The theory was refined by Hartmann, Loewenstein, and Kris in a series of papers and books from 1939 through the late 1960s. Leo Bellak was a later contributor. This series of constructs, paralleling some of the later developments of cognitive theory, includes the notions of autonomous ego functions: mental functions not dependent, at least in origin, on intrapsychic conflict. Such functions include: sensory perception, motor control, symbolic thought, logical thought, speech, abstraction, integration (synthesis), orientation, concentration, judgment about danger, reality testing, adaptive ability, executive decision-making, hygiene, and self-preservation. Freud noted that inhibition is one method that the mind may utilize to interfere with any of these functions in order to avoid painful emotions. Hartmann (1950s) pointed out that there may be delays or deficits in such functions.
Frosch (1964) described differences in those people who demonstrated damage to their relationship to reality, but who seemed able to test it. Deficits in the capacity to organize thought are sometimes referred to as blocking or loose associations (Bleuler), and are characteristic of the schizophrenias. Deficits in abstraction ability and self-preservation also suggest psychosis in adults. Deficits in orientation and sensorium are often indicative of a medical illness affecting the brain (and therefore, autonomous ego functions). Deficits in certain ego functions are routinely found in severely sexually or physically abused children, where powerful affects generated throughout childhood seem to have eroded some functional development.
Ego strengths, later described by Kernberg (1975), include the capacities to control oral, sexual, and destructive impulses; to tolerate painful affects without falling apart; and to prevent the eruption into consciousness of bizarre symbolic fantasy. Synthetic functions, in contrast to autonomous functions, arise from the development of the ego and serve the purpose of managing conflictual processes. Defenses are an example of synthetic functions and serve the purpose of protecting the conscious mind from awareness of forbidden impulses and thoughts. One purpose of ego psychology has been to emphasize that there are mental functions that can be considered to be basic, and not the derivatives of wishes, affects, or defenses. However, it is important to note that autonomous ego functions can be secondarily affected because of unconscious conflict. For example, a patient may have an hysterical amnesia (memory being an autonomous function) because of intrapsychic conflict (wishing not to remember because it is too painful).
Taken together, the above theories present a group of Metapsychological Assumptions. Therefore, the inclusive group of the different classical theories provides a cross-sectional view of human mentation. There are six "points of view", five of which were described by Freud and a sixth added by Hartmann. Unconscious processes can therefore be evaluated from each of these six points of view. The "points of view are" are: 1. Topographic 2. Dynamic (the theory of conflict) 3. Economic (the theory of energy flow) 4. Structural 5. Genetic (propositions concerning origin and development of psychological funtions) and 6. Adaptational (psychological phenomena as it relates to the external world).
Conflict theory is an update and revision of structural theory that does away with some of the more arcane features of structural theory (such as where repressed thoughts are stored). Conflict theory looks at how emotional symptoms and character traits are complex solutions to mental conflict.  This revision of Freud's structural theory (Freud, 1923, 1926) dispenses with the concepts of a fixed id, ego and superego, and instead posits unconscious and conscious conflict among wishes (dependent, controlling, sexual, and aggressive), guilt and shame, emotions (especially anxiety and depressive affect), and defensive operations that shut off from consciousness some aspect of the others. Moreover, healthy functioning (adaptive) is also determined, to a great extent, by resolutions of conflict.
A major goal of modern conflict theorist analysts is to attempt to change the balance of conflict through making aspects of the less adaptive solutions (also called compromise formations) conscious so that they can be rethought, and more adaptive solutions found. Current theoreticians following Brenner's many suggestions (see especially Brenner's 1982 book, "The Mind in Conflict") include Sandor Abend, MD (Abend, Porder, & Willick, (1983), Borderline Patients: Clinical Perspectives), Jacob Arlow (Arlow and Brenner (1964), Psychoanalytic Concepts and the Structural Theory), and Jerome Blackman (2003), 101 Defenses: How the Mind Shields Itself).
Object relations theory
- Main article: Object relations theory
Object relations theory attempts to explain vicissitudes of human relationships through a study of how internal representations of self and of others are structured. The clinical problems that suggest object relations problems (usually developmental delays throughout life) include disturbances in an individual's capacity to feel warmth, empathy, trust, sense of security, identity stability, consistent emotional closeness, and stability in relationships with chosen other human beings. (It is not suggested that one should trust everyone, for example). Concepts regarding internal representations (also sometimes termed, "introjects," "self and object representations," or "internalizations of self and other") although often attributed to Melanie Klein, were actually first mentioned by Sigmund Freud in his early concepts of drive theory (1905, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality). Freud's 1917 paper "Mourning and Melancholia", for example, hypothesized that unresolved grief was caused by the survivor's internalized image of the deceased becoming fused with that of the survivor, and then the survivor shifting unacceptable anger toward the deceased onto the now complex self image.
Vamik Volkan, in "Linking Objects and Linking Phenomena," expanded on Freud's thoughts on this, describing the syndromes of "Established pathological mourning" vs. "reactive depression" based on similar dynamics. Melanie Klein's hypotheses regarding internalizations during the first year of life, leading to paranoid and depressive positions, were later challenged by Rene Spitz (e.g., The First Year of Life, 1965), who divided the first year of life into a coenesthetic phase of the first six months, and then a diacritic phase for the second six months. Margaret Mahler (Mahler, Fine, and Bergman (1975), "The Psychological Birth of the Human Infant") and her group, first in New York, then in Philadelphia, described distinct phases and subphases of child development leading to "separation-individuation" during the first three years of life, stressing the importance of constancy of parental figures, in the face of the child's destructive aggression, to the child's internalizations, stability of affect management, and ability to develop healthy autonomy.
Later developers of the theory of self and object constancy as it affects adult psychiatric problems such as psychosis and borderline states have been John Frosch, Otto Kernberg, and Salman Akhtar. Peter Blos described (1960, in a book called On Adolescence) how similar separation-individuation struggles occur during adolescence, of course with a different outcome from the first three years of life: the teen usually, eventually, leaves the parents' house (this varies with the culture). During adolescence, Erik Erikson (1950–1960s) described the "identity crisis," that involves identity-diffusion anxiety. In order for an adult to be able to experience "Warm-ETHICS" (warmth, empathy, trust, holding environment (Winnicott), identity, closeness, and stability) in relationships (see Blackman (2003), 101 Defenses: How the Mind Shields Itself), the teenager must resolve the problems with identity and redevelop self and object constancy.
Self psychology emphasizes the development of a stable and integrated sense of self through empathic contacts with other humans, primary significant others conceived of as "selfobjects." Selfobjects meet the developing self's needs for mirroring, idealization, and twinship, and thereby strengthen the developing self. The process of treatment proceeds through "transmuting internalizations" in which the pt gradually internalizes the selfobject functions provided by the therapist. Self psychology was proposed originally by Heinz Kohut, and has been further developed by Arnold Goldberg, Frank Lachmann, Paul and Anna Ornstein, Marian Tolpin, and others.
Lacanian psychoanalysis integrates psychoanalysis with semiotics and Hegelian philosophy, is popular in France and Latin America. Lacanian psychoanalysis is a departure from the traditional British and American psychoanalysis, which is predominantly Ego psychology. Lacan frequently used the phrase "retourner à Freud" in his seminars and writings meaning "back to Freud" as he claimed that his theories were an extension of Freud's own, contrary to those of Anna Freud, the Ego Psychology, object relations and "self" theories. Lacan's first major contributions concern the "mirror stage", the Real, the Imaginary and the Symbolic, and the claim the "unconscious is structured as a language".
The term often attaches to conceptual uses of analysis in critical theory, literary, film, or other art criticism, broader intersubjective phenomena (for example, those broadly conceived as "cultural" or "social" in nature), religion, law], or other non-clinical contexts, sometimes signifying its use as a hermeneutic or interpretative framework. In some respects this can resemble phenomenology insofar as it attempts to account for consciousness and unconsciousness in a more or less eidetic fashion, although there are inherent conflicts between phenomenology as a study of consciousness and the frequent psychoanalytic emphasis on the unconscious or non-coincidence of consciousness with itself. (Unlike those who take up psychoanalysis for clinical practice, those with theoretical interests often see little value in spending time as an analysand.)
Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, and Jacques Lacan are often treated as canonical thinkers within psychoanalytic theory, although there are considerable objections to their authority, particularly from feminism. Precisely in the interest of a theoretical approach to psychoanalysis, Lacan read Freud with G. W. F. Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. Major thinkers within psychoanalytic theory include Nicholas Abraham, Serge Leclaire, Michel Foucault, Julia Kristeva, Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Derrida, René Major, Luce Irigaray, and Jacques-Alain Miller; their work is anything but unitary — Derrida, for example, has remarked that virtually the entirety of Freud's metapsychology, while possessing some strategic value previously necessary to the elaboration of psychoanalysis, ought to be discarded at this point, whereas Miller is sometimes taken as heir apparent to Lacan because of his editorship of Lacan's seminars, his interest in analysis is even more philosophical than clinical, whereas Major has questioned the complicity of clinical psychoanalysis with various forms of totalitarian government.
Some of the theoretical orientation of psychoanalysis in both German and French and, later, American contexts results in part from its separation from psychiatry and institutionalisation closer to departments of philosophy and literature (or American cultural studies programs). Psychoanalytic theory heavily influenced the work of Frantz Fanon, Herbert Marcuse, Louis Althusser, and Cathy Caruth, among others (the implications for these is exemplary in their dispersion; Fanon's interests were in racial and colonial identity, whereas Marcuse and Althusser represent distinct Marxist positions that, among other things, attempt to use psychoanalysis in the study of ideology, whereas Caruth, coming from a background in de Manian deconstruction and working in comparative literature, has articulated notions of trauma through literary studies informed by philosophy, psychology, neurology, and Freudian and Lacanian theory). Theory can be so expansive a container as to include the work of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, who believed psychoanalysis ultimately radically reductionist and strongly opposed the psychiatric institutions of their time.
- Ego development
- Free association
- Neopsychoanalytic schools
- Psychoanalyic interpretation
- René Major article on Foucault and psychoanalysis (in French)
- Home page of the États Generaux de la psychanalyse, which was organized in part by Jacques Derrida and René Major (in French)
- Critical psychology glossary.
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