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psychoanalysis

Criticisms of and Changes in Freudian Psychoanalysis

Orthodox Freudian psychoanalysis was challenged in the 1920s by Otto Rank, Sandor Ferenczi, and Wilhelm Reich; later, in the 1930s, by Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and Harry Stack Sullivan. These critics of Freud stressed the interpersonal aspect of the analyst-patient relationship (transference), and placed more emphasis on the processes of the ego. Despite a number of detractors and a lack of controlled research, Freudian psychoanalysis remained the most widely used method of psychotherapy until at least the 1950s.

Today, Freud's method is only one among many types of psychotherapy used in psychiatry. Many objections have been leveled against traditional psychoanalysis, both for its methodological rigidity and for its lack of theoretical rigor. A number of modern psychologists have pointed out that traditional psychoanalysis relies too much on ambiguities for its data, such as dreams and free associations. Without empirical evidence, Freudian theories often seem weak, and ultimately fail to initiate standards for treatment.

Critics have also pointed out that Freud's theoretical models arise from a homogeneous sample group—almost exclusively upper-class Austrian women living in the sexually repressed society of the late 19th cent. Such a sample, many psychologists contend, made Freud's focus on sex as a determinant of personality too emphatic. Other problems with traditional psychoanalysis are related to Freud's method of analysis. For Freudian analysis to reach its intended conclusions, the psychoanalyst required frequent sessions with a client over a period of years: today, the prohibitive costs of such methods compels most to seek other forms of psychiatric care.

Traditional psychoanalysis involved a distancing between therapist and client—the two did not even face each other during the sessions. In recent years, many clients have preferred a more interactive experience with the therapist. The subject matter of Freudian analysis has also fallen into disuse, even among those who still practice psychoanalysis: early childhood receives much less emphasis, and there is generally more focus on problems the client is currently experiencing. By the early 21st cent., various kinds of psychoanalysis continued to be practiced, but the theory and practice of psychoanalysis was increasingly overshadowed by cognitive psychology and discoveries in neurobiology.

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The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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