The term psychoanalysis was coined by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). According to him, the main cause for human behavior lay in the unconscious mind. As a result, he believed that people could be cured by motivating the unconscious thoughts and motivations and in so doing gaining insight. Freud’s contribution to psychoanalysis included the view of the human nature, level of mental life, structure of personality, psychosexual stages, defense mechanisms as well as the interpretation of dreams etc. A host of other scholars referred to as neo-Freudians also made contributions to this theory notable being Anna Freud, Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Carl Jung etc. (AMA, 2017).

Contributions of psychoanalytic models to the explanation of human behavior

One of the best contributions by Freud to explain human behavior is the structural theory of the mind. Here, he came up with two approaches namely the levels of mental life as well as the structure of personality. The levels of mental life according to Freud are the unconscious, the subconscious and the conscious. The unconscious level is comprised of the buried memories, the impulses and desires for which the conscious level has no direct voluntary access. Subconscious level on the other hand, stores information that is readily available for the conscious level. The conscious level is comprised of events, memories and fantasies that an individual is aware of at the moment. In addition, there is the structure of personality comprised of three components i.e. id, ego and super ego. The id is one that is present at birth and is selfish in nature. Ego focuses on morality and justice and tries to control the impulses of the id. The super ego on the other hand is one that makes decisions based on what is right or wrong (Jacobson, 2013).

Freud also came up with the psychosexual development stages indicating that a child undergoes a number of stages of development i.e. oral (0-2 years), anal (2-3 years), phallic (3-7 years), latency (7-11 years) and Genital (adult). In the oral stage, emphasis is on satisfying the needs of the mouth. In the anal stage, satisfaction is derived from aggression and in the excretory function. As for the phallic phase, the focus is on sexual and aggressive feelings. In the latency phase, the individuals engage more in their adult sexual roles with the adult stage taking over to maturity. There is also the issue of defense mechanisms which individuals tend to unconsciously develop to resolve conflicts. Such mechanisms include denial, fantasy, compensation, projection, displacement, sublimation, reaction formation, regression as well as repression.

Apart from personality theory contributions, there is also the issue of psychotherapy to cure neuroses. One of the techniques is free association where the patients are free to say that which comes to mind. This technique unlocks the unconscious wishes, conflicts and motivation which the therapists interpret. There is also the dream analysis therapy where therapists study the unconscious material and in so doing give the client insight on areas of unsolved problems. The other therapy is the analysis of resistance. An increase in uncomfortable thoughts and feelings can generate resistance from the patient. This can be detected through certain behaviors such as changing the topic, not paying the fees, lateness, refusal to recall past memories, deflecting etc. These acts in psychotherapy indicate presence of buried material.  The other contribution from psychotherapy is analysis of transference. Here, clients view therapists as significant figures in their past. Transference untangles the client from their present day relationships thus enabling them to move onto another developmental stage (Kernberg, 2016).


A number of criticisms have emerged with regard to the psychoanalytic theory. The first one is that this approach is unscientific in its analysis of human behavior. The critics point out issues such as the scientific possibility of studying certain concepts for instance, the unconscious mind. The theory is also critiqued for being too sexist against women. Alfred Adler, in particular, attacked the sexual aetiology of neurosis by replacing the libidinal theory with the theory of inferiority feeling. Carl Jung, on the other hand, placed more emphasis on the parental neurotic difficulties on the development of difficulties in children. He focused on the significant role that a mother has on a child as opposed to the mainstream psychoanalysis which depended more on Freud’s sexual theory. There are also critics who point out bias in Freud’s research in which they accuse him of distorting patient’s case histories to fit his theory (McLeod, 2017).



AMA. (2017). Psychoanalytic Theory & Approaches . Retrieved December 17, 2017, from

Jacobson, S. (2013, January 31). Sigmund Freud’s Main Theories in Psychoanalysis: A Summary. Retrieved December 17, 2017, from

Kernberg, O. F. (2016). The four basic components of psychoanalytic technique and derived psychoanalytic psychotherapies. World Psychiatry , 15 (3), 287-288.

McLeod, S. (2017). Psychodynamic Approach. Retrieved December 17, 2017, from

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