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Psychoanalysis was the brainchild of Freud in the 1890’s who believed mental health was influenced primarily by the repression of sexual and aggressive desires which the conscious mind judged to be unacceptable. Repressing such instinctive drives, however, did not make them go away and the conflict that arose because of them was capable of influencing thought and behaviour in a negative way. Psychoanalysis consisted initially of free association where the patient would lie on a couch in Freud’s office and talk about dreams, hopes and fantasies in a non-judgmental atmosphere.

Schools of thought

From that beginning, the following schools of psychoanalysis have emerged.

  • ego psychology, which looks into the different mechanisms and unconscious fantasies;
  • self psychology, which emphasizes the development of a strong sense of self;
  • Laconian psychoanalysis, which is a combination of psychoanalysis, semiotics and Hegelian philosophy;
  • object relations theory, which looks into the way relationships interact with internal fantasies;
  • interpersonal psychoanalysis, which focuses on interpersonal relationships; and
  • relational psychoanalysis, which combines interpersonal and object relations theory.

While the schools are very different in their approaches, they have as a similarity the importance of the influence of self-deception and they all accept the premise that a person’s past has a great influence on their present.

Different models

Psychoanalytical thinking is based on the following models –

  • The topographical model of the mind divided it into the conscious, which contained all the material we are aware of, the preconscious which contains everything we are capable of becoming aware of and the unconscious, which is where we store all the material we have removed from consciousness by the use of defense mechanisms.
  • The structural model is the one which divided the mind into the id, the ego and the superego. Conflict arises when the ego is unable to deal with the instinctual drives of the id and the moral high ground of the superego.
  • The economic model is rarely used today and proposed the mind to be an energy system.
  • The conflict model divides the mind into compromise formations in which a wish, the discomfort about the wish and the defense mechanism used to deal with it, influences behaviour.
  • The object relations model is probably the most widely used today. In this theory, behaviour is influenced by the way we internalize our childhood experiences.
  • The intersubjective model is like the object relations model but emphasizes the interaction of our subjectivities with those others have.