psychological theory that was founded in 1890 by the Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud

Psychoanalysis (or Freudian psychology) is a body of ideas developed by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud and continued by others. It is primarily devoted to the study of human psychological functioning and behavior, although it can also be applied to societies.

The result for all too many patients is a diminution, a “tranquilizing” of their most interesting qualities and vices. The patient is indeed not so much altered as worn out—less bad, less good, less bright, less willful, less destructive, less creative. He is thus able to conform to that contradictory and unbearable society which first created his neurosis. He can conform to what he loathes because he no longer has the passion to feel loathing so intensely. ~ Norman Mailer
Psychoanalysis ... is convincing only if the student of his own life accepts Freud’s egalitarian revision of the traditional idea of a hierarchical human nature. ~ Philip Rieff

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  • In psychoanalysis nothing is true except the exaggerations.
  • I find it difficult to take these psycho-analysts at all seriously when they try to scrutinise spiritual experience by the flicker of their torch-lights,... yet perhaps one ought to, for half-knowledge is a powerful thing and can be a great obstacle to the coming in front of the true Truth. This new psychology looks to me very much like children learning some summary and not very adequate alphabet, exulting in putting their a-b-c-d of the subconscient and the mysterious underground super-ego together and imagining that their first book of obscure beginnings (c-a-t cat, t-r-e-e tree) is the very heart of the real knowledge. They look from down up and explain the higher lights by the lower obscurities; but the foundation of these things is above and not below, upari budhna esam [Rig-Veda, 1.24.7]. The superconscient, not the subconscient, is the true foundation of things. The significance of the lotus is not to be found by analysing the secrets of the mud from which it grows here; its secret is to be found in the heavenly archetype of the lotus that blooms for ever in the Light above. The self-chosen field of these psychologists is besides poor, dark and limited; you must know the whole before you can know the part and the highest before you can truly understand the lowest. That is the promise of the greater psychology awaiting its hour before which these poor gropings will disappear and come to nothing....
    • Sri Aurobindo, quoted from Sri Aurobindo, ., Nahar, S., Aurobindo, ., & Institut de recherches évolutives (Paris). India's rebirth: A selection from Sri Aurobindo's writing, talks and speeches. Paris: Institut de Recherches Evolutives. 3rd Edition (2000). [1]
  • [Freud’s psychology] turned out to be psychology without the psyche, i.e., without the soul. Freud just did not give a satisfying account of all the things we experience. Everything higher had to be a repression of something lower, and a symbol of something else rather than itself. … Aristotle said that man has two peaks, each accompanied by intense pleasure: sexual intercourse and thinking. … Freud saw only one focus in the soul, the same one as the brutes have, and had to explain all psychology’s higher phenomena by society’s repression or other such versions of the Indian rope trick.
    • Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: 1988), pp. 136-137
  • How such an elaborate theory could have become so widely accepted – on the basis of no systematic evidence or critical experiments, and in the face of chronic failures of therapeutic intervention in all of the major classes of mental illness... – is something that sociologists of science and popular culture have yet to fully explain.
    • Paul Churchland (1995) The Engine of Reason, the Seat of the Soul. p. 181: Talking about Freudian analysis.
  • A doctrine plagued by mechanism, reification, and arbitrary universalism.
  • It (the dream) is essentially a structure which is, in the terminology of the psycho-analyst, unconscious. The dreamer himself is unaware of it until, in collaboration with his psycho-analyst, he brings it to light. The mythological way of stating this fact is to say that the structure was "in the unconscious." This is frankly non-sense . . . because the structure is not in the unconscious but precisely in the dream, for it is the structure of the dream; and the dream is con? scious enough . . . the revelation made by psycho-analysis is not the bringing into consciousness of what was unconscious, but the bring? ing into explicitness of what was implicit, the noticing of something already actually experienced in a light in which it had not been noticed before . . . the new light in question is nothing but the hitherto overlooked structure of the experience in question ....
    • R. G. Collingwood, Speculum Mentis or The Map of Knowledge. Oxford (Clarendon Press), 1924, pp. 92-4.
  • Or look at it this way. Psychoanalysis is a permanent fad. A vogue here to stay because it tells an old story in a new way. I mean the traditional conflict between flesh and spirit, as viewed by the Christianity now supposedly outmoded, isn't likely to ease up because we have scrapped the notion of sin and now speak instead of the ego and superego between them riding herd on something called the id. It's the same keg of nails any way you open it. "Id" isn't just another big word, either. Far from it.
  • In conscious life, we achieve some sense of ourselves as reasonably unified, coherent selves, and without this action would be impossible. But all this is merely at the ‘imaginary’ level of the ego, which is no more than the tip of the iceberg of the human subject known to psychoanalysis. The ego is function or effect of a subject which is always dispersed, never identical with itself, strung out along the chains of the discourses which constitute it.
  • The educators in schools, public and private, elementary and collegiate, were ready to welcome and to understand the psychoanalytic psychiatrist as an aid and coworker in preparing students for adaptation in the democratic society.
    • Rudolf Ekstein et al. From learning for love to love of learning. p. 16
  • Psychoanalysis justifies its importance by asserting that it forces you to look to and accept reality. But what sort of reality? A reality conditioned by the materialistic and scientific ideology of psychoanalysis, that is, a historical product...
    • Mircea Eliade Journal entry (7 October 1965) as published in No Souvenirs (1977) later retitled Journal II, 1957-1969 (1989), p. 269.
  • I always say that a successful parent is one who raises a child so that they can pay for their own psychoanalysis.
    • Nora Ephron, in The Guardian, 26 June 1995, as reported in Chambers Dictionary of Quotations (1997), p. 379.
  • Psychoanalysis, which interprets the human being as a socialized being, and the psychic apparatus as essentially developed and determined through the relationship of the individual to society, must consider it a duty to participate in the investigation of sociological problems to the extent the human being or his/her psyche plays any part at all.
    • Erich Fromm "Psychoanalyse und Soziologie" (1929); published as "Psychoanalysis and Sociology" as translated by Mark Ritter, in Critical Theory and Society : A Reader (1989) edited by S. E. Bronner and D. M. Kellner
  • The application of psychoanalysis to sociology must definitely guard against the mistake of wanting to give psychoanalytic answers where economic, technical, or political facts provide the real and sufficient explanation of sociological questions. On the other hand, the psychoanalyst must emphasize that the subject of sociology, society, in reality consists of individuals, and that it is these human beings, rather than abstract society as such, whose actions, thoughts, and feelings are the object of sociological research.
    • Erich Fromm "Psychoanalyse und Soziologie" (1929); published as "Psychoanalysis and Sociology" as translated by Mark Ritter, in Critical Theory and Society : A Reader (1989) edited by S. E. Bronner and D. M. Kellner
  • One might compare the relation of the ego to the id with that between a rider and his horse. The horse provides the locomotor energy, and the rider has the prerogative of determining the goal and of guiding the movements of his powerful mount towards it. But all too often in the relations between the ego and the id we find a picture of the less ideal situation in which the rider is obliged to guide his horse in the direction in which it itself wants to go.
    • Sigmund Freud New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1932) The Anatomy of the Mental Personality (Lecture 31)
  • Thinking is an experimental dealing with small quantities of energy, just as a general moves miniature figures over a map before setting his troops in action.
    • Sigmund Freud New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1932) Anxiety and Instinctual Life (Lecture 32)
  • Freud is the father of psychoanalysis. It had no mother.
  • Freud’s link to a Hegelian tradition—with which he otherwise shares little—is in the deliberate renunciation of common sense. “A person who professes to believe in commonsense psychology,” Freud is reported saying once, “and who thinks psychoanalysis is ‘far-fetched’ can certainly have no understanding of it, for it is common sense which produces all the ills we have to cure.”
  • Although psychology and pedagogy have always maintained the belief that a child is a happy being without any conflicts, and have assumed that the sufferings of adults are the results of the burdens and hardships of reality, it must be asserted that just the opposite is true. What we learn about the child and the adult through psychoanalysis shows that all the sufferings of later life are for the most part repetitions of these earlier ones, and that every child in the first years of life goes through and immeasurable degree of suffering.
    • Melanie Klein Love, Guilt and Reparation: And Other Works 1921-1945. (2002) p. 173
  • Psychoanalysis . . . has been insufficiently aware of its underlying paradigm and its deep roots in Western culture. The implicit model of man that underlies the psychoanalytic meta-theory is certainly not universal; the psychoanalytic notion of the person as an autonomous, bounded, abstract individual is a peculiarly Western notion. In contrast, the holistic model of man that underlies Indian mystical approaches and propels their practices is rooted in the very different Indian cultural tradition which, in some ways, lies at an opposite civilizational pole.
  • Freud’s cultural influence [on the West] is based, at least implicitly, on the premise that his theory is scientifically valid. But from a scientific point of view, classical Freudian psychoanalysis is dead as both a theory of the mind and a mode of therapy. No empirical evidence supports any specific proposition of psychoanalytic theory.... This is what Freud believed, and so far as we can tell Freud was wrong in every respect. For example, the unconscious mind revealed in laboratory studies of automaticity and implicit memory bears no resemblance to the unconscious mind of psychoanalytic theory... Freud also changed the vocabulary with which we understand ourselves and others. […] While Freud had an enormous impact on 20th century culture, he has been a dead weight on 20th century psychology . . . At best, Freud is a figure of only historical interest for psychologists. He is better studied as a writer, in departments of [Western] language and literature, than as a scientist, in departments of psychology. Psychologists can get along without him […] Of course, Freud lived at a particular period of time, and it might be argued that his theories were valid when applied to European culture at the turn of the last century, even if they are no longer apropos today. However, recent historical analyses show that Freud’s construal of his case material was systematically distorted and biased by his theories of unconscious conflict and infantile sexuality, and that he misinterpreted and misrepresented the scientific evidence available to him. Freud’s theories were not just a product of his time: they were misleading and incorrect even when he published them.
  • Psychoanalysis provides truth in an infantile, that is, a schoolboy fashion: we learn from it, roughly and hurriedly, things that scandalize us and thereby command our attention. It sometimes happens, and such is the case here, that a simplification touching upon the truth, but cheaply, is of no more value than a lie. Once again we are shown the demon and the angel, the beast and the god locked in Manichean embrace, and once again man has been pronounced, by himself, not culpable.
    • Stanisław Lem His Master's Voice (1968) Translation by Michael Kandel (1983), Preface
  • Only a few years ago one could observe, at least among German psychologists, a quite pessimistic mood. After the initial successes of experimental psychology in its early stages, it seemed to become clearer and clearer that it would remain impossible for experimental method to press on beyond the psychology of perception and memory to such vital problems as those with which psychoanalysis was concerned. Weighty 'philosophical' and 'methodological' considerations seemed to make such an undertaking a priori impossible.
    • Kurt Lewin (1935) A Dynamic Theory of Personality p. v.
  • The stable middle-class values so prerequisite to sublimation have been virtually destroyed in our time, at least as nourishing values free of confusion or doubt. In such a crisis of accelerated historical tempo and deteriorated values, neurosis tends to be replaced by psychopathy, and the success of psychoanalysis (which even ten years ago gave promise of becoming a direct major force) diminishes because of its inbuilt and characteristic incapacity to handle patients more complex, more experienced, or more adventurous than the analyst himself. In practice, psychoanalysis has by now become all too often no more than a psychic blood-letting. The patient is not so much changed as aged, and the infantile fantasies which he is encouraged to express are condemned to exhaust themselves against the analyst’s non-responsive reactions. The result for all too many patients is a diminution, a “tranquilizing” of their most interesting qualities and vices. The patient is indeed not so much altered as worn out—less bad, less good, less bright, less willful, less destructive, less creative. He is thus able to conform to that contradictory and unbearable society which first created his neurosis. He can conform to what he loathes because he no longer has the passion to feel loathing so intensely.
  • There is considerable danger that psychoanalysis, as well as other forms of psychotherapy and adjustment psychology, will become new representations of the fragmentation of man, that they will exemplify the loss of the individual's vitality and significance, rather than the reverse, that the new techniques will assist in standardizing and giving cultural sanction to man's alienation from himself rather than solving it, that they will become expressions of the new mechanization of man, now calculated and controlled with greater psychological precision and on a vaster scale of unconscious and depth dimensions — that psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in general will become part of the neurosis of our day rather than part of the cure. This would indeed be a supreme irony of history. It is not alarmism nor the showing of unseemly fervor to point out these tendencies, some of which are already upon us. It is simply to look directly at our historical situation and to draw unflinchingly the implications.
    • Rollo May p. 35; also published in The Discovery of Being : Writings in Existential Psychology (1983), Part II : The Cultural Background, Ch. 5 : Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Freud, p. 86.
  • Psychoanalysis does not distort the truth by accident. It does so by necessity. It is an effective system for the suppression of the truth about childhood, a truth feared by our entire society. Not surprisingly, it enjoys great esteem among intellectuals... Fear of the truth about child abuse is a leitmotif of nearly all forms of therapy known to me.
    • Alice Miller The Drama of the Gifted Child (Das Drama des begabten Kindes, 1979).
  • You have got to be realistic. It is absurd to worry about universal truths; the only universals are these mechanical forces in your brain and in your pants. And, each person comes up with his or her own, more or less successful way of reconciling these forces with the experiences that you receive in the course of growing up. Why, the whole history of social science—from Freud and almost every psychologist, plus almost all of sociology, and almost all of anthropology—is one great effort to prove that you can't judge a truth in terms of all mankind; truth is all relative to the individual. And what is more, you have to accept that your mind is not truly free: Biology means that you can never completely control those erotic little demons inside you. So, don't set your sights unrealistically high: The only thing you can hope to discover—with the help of professionals like me—is how to be well-adjusted.
  • Psychoanalysis is unlikely to be repealed; people are not going to go back to reading novels in order to understand themselves and their lives.
  • Psychoanalysis is... an interesting psychological metaphysics (and no doubt there is some truth in it, as there is so often in metaphysical ideas), but it never was a science. There may be lots of people who are Freudian or Adlerian cases: Freud himself was clearly a Freudian case, and Adler an Adlerian case. But what prevents their theories from being scientific in the sense here described is, very simply, that they do not exclude any physically possible human behaviour. Whatever anybody may do is, in principle, explicable in Freudian or Adlerian terms. (Adler's break with Freud was more Adlerian than Freudian, but Freud never looked on it as a refutation of his theory.)
    • Sir Karl Raimund Popper, ‎Paul Arthur Schilpp (1974) The Philosophy of Karl Popper'. Vol. 1, p. 985
  • Analytic therapy is thus a form of re-education; Freud specifically called it that. It is re-education so far as it eliminates those symptoms through which the patient has tried, mistakenly, to resolve the contradictions in his life.
  • What hope there is derives from Freud’s assumption that human nature is not so much a hierarchy of high-low, and good-bad, as his predecessors believed, but rather a jostling democracy of contending predispositions, deposited in every nature in roughly equal intensities. … Psychoanalysis is full of such mad logic; it is convincing only if the student of his own life accepts Freud’s egalitarian revision of the traditional idea of a hierarchical human nature.
  • Because psychoanalysis emerged as a medical specialty concerned with the healing of the sick, it focused its attention on the pathological processes arising from the disruption of the adaptive capacities, and this subject matter was taken to be the totality of significant information concerning the structure of the personality. The diagnosis and treatment of mental illness is, however, a poor basis for the empiricism which a basic science requires. Mental illness, when it is seen in terms of the symptoms and syndromes which come to the attention of the psychotherapist, presents a picture of the personality which is readily fragmented and distorted out of proportion.
    • Paul Rosenfels Love and Power: The Psychology of Interpersonal Creativity (1966) 8. Psychotherapy and Social Welfare
  • For our purposes, the essential discovery of psycho-analysis is this: that an impulse which is prevented, by behaviourist methods, from finding overt expression in action, does not necessarily die, but is driven underground, and finds some new outlet which has not been inhibited by training. Often the new outlet will be more harmful than the one that has been prevented, and in any case the deflection involves emotional disturbance and unprofitable expenditure of energy. It is therefore necessary to pay more attention to emotion, as opposed to overt behaviour, than is done by those who advocate conditioning as alone sufficient in the training of character.
    • Bertrand Russell (1932) Education and the Social Order, Ch. 4: Emotion and Discipline.
  • Psychoanalysis and dianetics are, on the face of it, both absurd. People are what they are because of causes that go infinitely farther back than infancy of the mother's womb.
  • Freud becomes one of the dramatis personae, in fact, as discoverer of the great and beautiful modern myth of psychoanalysis. By myth, I mean a poetic, dramatic expression of a hidden truth; and in placing this emphasis, I do not intend to put into question the scientific validity of psychoanalysis.
  • What I have tried to show, by looking in depth at one modern theory of human nature, is that our modern intellectual culture, for all its secularism and its rationalism, remains largely theological or crypto-theological in its nature. This is why psychoanalysis, with its subtle reworking of Judaeo- Christian orthodoxies and its almost completely invisible reliance on the creationist theory of human nature, has proved so deeply appealing.
    • Why Freud Was Wrong: Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis, Richard Webster , p 501

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