Psychoanalysis Theory: Definition & Explanation

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: Wilhelm Wundt's Theory & Structuralism: Overview

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:01 Freud and Psychoanalysis
  • 1:29 Psychoanalytic Therapy
  • 2:42 Psychoanalysis Techniques
  • 3:51 Criticism
  • 4:38 Lesson Summary
Save Save Save

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Log in or Sign up

Speed Speed

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Sarah Cobarrubias
Expert Contributor
Lesley Chapel

Lesley has taught American and World History at the university level for the past seven years. She has a Master's degree in History.

In this lesson, we will focus on the definition of psychoanalysis, discuss Freud's theory of psychoanalysis, and delve into the concepts behind his theory. When you get to the end of the lesson, you can test your knowledge with a quiz.

Freud and Psychoanalysis

Perhaps the most famous name in psychology, Sigmund Freud, introduced psychoanalysis in the late 19th century. Psychoanalysis is the branch of psychology that focuses on treating mental disorders by recognizing the relationships between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind.

Freud first stumbled across psychoanalysis with the case of 'Anna O.', the patient of his mentor Dr. Joseph Breuer. When she was 21, Anna O. developed unexplained symptoms, such as paralysis, spasms, loss of the ability to speak her native language, and hallucinations, and she was diagnosed with hysteria. Breuer and Freud realized that, when hypnotized, Anna O. could vividly recall the painful repressed memories that caused her symptoms. After understanding those memories, she was able to overcome some of her symptoms of hysteria.

Some questionable sexual relations between Anna O. and Breuer cut the psychoanalytical study short and led to a rift between Freud and Breuer; however, the study still provided Freud with the basis for psychoanalysis. His findings revealed that the emotions linked to traumatic life experiences do not manifest themselves openly but are hidden in the unconscious mind. These repressed memories, fears, and desires stuck in the unconscious must be brought up to the conscious so that they no longer need to manifest themselves through symptoms.

Psychoanalytic Therapy

To fully understand psychoanalysis, you must have a firm grasp of the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious mind holds what you are currently aware of, including accessible memories, thoughts, and perceptions. Conversely, the unconscious mind contains what the conscious is not aware of, including suppressed desires or emotions and instincts - it is the source of our motivations, most of which, Freud believed, are sexual in nature.

There is also preconscious, which holds those thoughts and emotions that are not repressed and are not currently in the conscious, though they are readily available. Freud's theory eventually developed into a three-part system that holds that the human psyche is comprised of:

  • Ego - lies at the visible surface of your personality - what you show to society. It develops with life experience.
  • Id - hidden in your unconscious and is driven by the 'pleasure principle' - the demand to fulfill your biological needs immediately.
  • Superego - also hidden in your unconscious, is made up of the conscience (which helps us distinguish right from wrong) and the ego-ideal (which contains the ideal view of yourself).

Psychoanalysis Techniques

In order to pull suppressed emotions from the unconscious mind to the conscious mind, Freud utilized various therapeutic techniques. He relied heavily on dream analysis and even wrote a book on the subject in 1900 called The Interpretation of Dreams. He believed dreams revealed the unconscious mind's contents which, of course, needed to be released in order to resolve inner conflict. However, the meaning of these dreams was not clear-cut and had to be interpreted via symbols by a psychoanalyst. For example, if a patient had a dream that contained guns, Freud might determine that the gun represents a phallic symbol and, perhaps, that the dream represents the patient's repressed desire to be a man.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Additional Activities

Writing Prompts About Psychoanalysis Theory

Study Prompt 1:

Create a set of flashcards that list and define the prominent terms in Freud's theory of psychoanalysis: psychoanalysis, conscious mind, unconscious mind, preconscious mind, ego, id, superego, free association, and hypnosis.

Essay Prompt 1:

Write an essay of at least three to five paragraphs that details the history of how Freud's theory of psychoanalysis came into being. Tip: Be sure to delineate the case of Anna O.

Essay Prompt 2:

Write an essay that describes the importance of dreams and dream interpretation in the application of psychoanalytic therapeutic techniques.

Essay Prompt 3:

Write an essay that explains the main criticisms of Freud's psychoanalysis theory. Do you agree with these criticisms? Why or why not? Tip: Use examples from the lesson to help you explain why you agree or disagree with these criticisms.

Essay Prompt 4:

Write an essay that explains how free association and hypnosis are integral to the application of psychoanalysis.

Chart Prompt 1:

Design a chart or list that delineates the pros and cons of Freud's psychoanalysis theory. Tip: Consider doing this prompt before Essay Prompt 3, as it may provide you with more concrete insights to work with when composing your essay.

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account