Psychoanalysis was introduced in the 1890’s by the Austrian, Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis is concerned with the unconscious basis for behaviours, phobias, desires and anxieties. This essay will investigate whether Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis help predict how a child may develop, whether the psychoanalytical model can successfully foretell the pathologies Freud researched. In the other psychological disciplines, many experiments and tests are conducted in order to be able to predict how a person may turn out.
John Watson (1924) claimed that men are built, not born and given a dozen healthy infants could train them to either be doctors or thieves. Freud never claimed this; the idea would be completely against his nature. Although he had theories on child development they were focused on fixations, and did not make any predictions unlike Watson’s. None of Freud’s subjects were children, which makes it very difficult to state that a child will for instance have an oral fixation if something goes wrong during the oral stage.
Watson, it seems was trying to prove that he you could condition a person to do anything, whereas Freud was looking at the reasons why people would have strange behaviours. In all other schools of Psychology, researchers are expected to project the outcomes of their theoretical models. This is not possible within the psychoanalytic model; no easily repeatable experiments or tests can be done nor is it possible to make clear predictions. Freud commented: “Mediocre spirits demand of science a kind of certainty which it cannot give, a sort of religious satisfaction.
Only the real, rare, true scientific minds can endure doubt, which is attached to all our knowledge. I always envy the physicists and mathematicians who can stand firm ground. I hover, so to speak, in the air. Mental events seem to be immeasurable and probably always will be. ” Sigmund Freud (Freud as cited in Ward & Zarate) Freud used a lot of case studies to formulate his theories of the unconscious. Considering the majority of his case studies took place within middle class, white, female Viennese society it is doubtful whether the outcomes of such case studies should be applied to the world outside Vienna.
Case studies of this kind do not appear to have any conclusive information to enable one to make any predictions of psychoses, neuroses or any kind of behaviour. However, Freud conceived some theories which are still widely used today and have been throughout the last century, surely demonstrating that his ideas had some validity and currency. Freud perhaps, did not seek to predict human behaviour but instead to explain irrational characteristics of human life.
As mentioned above it is almost impossible to carry out any kind of psychoanalytical experiments. There would be ethical issues involved; if a particular theory were to be tested it could completely alter the mental state of the subject as Freud was mainly looking at pathologies. If experiments were to be carried out they would probably seem unethical or ridiculous. We cannot predict the behaviour of something we cannot measure, and since Freud so clearly states the ‘unconscious’ is below the surface it would be very difficult to do this.
For instance if we looked at Freud’s theory of the Oedipus complex, (where a child has a hidden sexual desire for one parent around the ages of 3-6), and tried to predict how this complex would lead to certain behaviours in adult life, we would have great difficulty, as there is no definite way to test the theory. It is ludicrous to ask a child whether they have sexual feeling toward their parent as they would not have consciously experienced this. The whole idea of the ‘unconscious’ is that it something that a person is not aware of.
There are so many attributing factors toward human behaviour, perhaps this is what Freud was trying to express. Every single individual will have completely different experiences and perceptions of their experiences, there are too many confounding variables within human existence and things cannot be controlled in the manner they would in an experiment. Essentially any number of variables could affect the development of a healthy adult. It would be too difficult to pin-point one particular thing. If we look at Freud’s ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ a book in which he compiled various case studies including his own daughter’s dreams.
Freud conceived various theories of what dreams actually meant. This is an interesting method of interpretation of the unconscious, but how can we ever be sure that this method can irrefutably show what lies in the unconscious or a person’s behaviour can be predicted. There is no definite link between the dreams events and what Freud said they represented. Although his dream interpretation was very astute and perhaps even correct, there is no way of testing whether it is correct as it may differ from gender, race, culture, age and many more variables.
In order to make predictions about something you need to have clear outcomes and this does not appear to be the case within the psychoanalytic model. How could say for definite that an event in a dream was wish fulfilment rather than a fear of something. Freud does appear to make some kind of prediction within his ideas of the psychosexual stages, developing the idea that if something went wrong at any particular stage then it could lead to fixation later in life. He doesn’t however; make any clear cut predictions about these fixations.
He believed that only by becoming aware of the fixation and the reasons behind it could alterations be made, therefore making this a treatment which could only be used later in life. So is psychoanalysis pretty useless at preventing or foreseeing any problems in adulthood. I am reminded of a book written by Jeffrey Masson, in which he examines one of Freud’s case studies named ‘Dora’. ‘Dora’ is a young woman and is the daughter of a rich, Viennese industrialist whom after appearing to seem depressed and withdrawn was sent to Freud by her parents who sought to cure this depression. Dora’ had had a sexual advance made toward her by a family friend, with whose wife her father was having an affair. This made her feel as though there had been an unspoken bargaining between this gentleman and her father. Freud however; thought he had unearthed a deep sexual desire for her father; ‘Dora’ was outraged by Freud’s insinuations at her reasons for her attitude toward her parents. She did eventually benefit from psychotherapy with Freud but not in the way in which either her father or Freud agreed with.
She confronted her parents with her perception of the situation. If Freud had seen this girl at a young age, and spoken to her at length would he have reached the same prognosis? Would he have thought her then a child with a deep desire for her father’s affection? It is questionable as most children want to be loved and accepted by their parents. If Freud had examined ‘Dora’ as a child would he have been able to come to the same conclusions about her, or any of his other patients, so much happens from childhood to adulthood it is difficult to isolate where the problem started.
Masson writes that Freud became disenchanted with ‘Dora’ after she would not accept his ideas regarding her situation. This show’s that he could have been wrong. It is also presumptuous of Freud to tell his patient how she perceives her emotions. To summarise, Freud was unable to predict any problems later in life. Firstly, he did not study children, which he would have to have done in order to have any conclusive evidence to support his theories.
He did not, nor it seems could not carry out any experiments in order to prove his theories whether this be due to ethical reasons or simply because he couldn’t. Freud’s studies were also collated amongst a relatively small society of people in the Western world and cannot necessarily apply to people outside of Vienna during that period. Therefore his theories were not valid in predicting future behaviour. However, Freud does not claim to be able to make predictions. Instead he looked at psychology in a philosophical manner, asking questions which may not have direct answers.
In a world so obsessed with science and religion wherein outcomes were explicitly stated, this was quite brave of him. Considering that his ideas are still currently taught and used within Psychology worldwide, this must show that they are effective in some manner. His ideas on defence mechanisms and the id, ego and superego seem to be enduring of time and would be valid in one form or another nowadays. So, although Freud could not make conclusive predictions about people, his ideas are useful today and will go on to be for some time to come.