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Psychoanalytic Therapy from a Christian Perspective

The following represents Arthur's opinions only and not necessarily those of Christie.

Psychoanalytic Therapy
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Psychoanalytic Therapy

            The theory of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud bases its view of human nature on determinism.  Structure of personality consists of three systems: the id, ego, and superego.  The id is the primary source of energy and the basis of instincts existing within the unconscious mind and is driven by what Freud called ďthe pleasure principle.Ē  This illogical, amoral entity serves to reduce tension and pain while restoring pleasure.  The ego controls and regulates personality, remaining in touch with reality while formulating plans of action to satisfy needs.  Finally, the superego is the individualís moral code judging whether action is good or bad.  This component also regulates traditions and ideals that are handed down from generation to generation.

            Freud identifies key concepts and levels of unconsciousness.  Through psychoanalysis, the unconscious is studied with a focus on dreams, behavior, slips of tongue, posthypnotic suggestion, and the use of techniques like free association that provide the client an opportunity to search their thoughts for links to various issues and problems.  In this therapy, unconscious thoughts and processes are the basis for all forms of problem symptoms and behaviors. 

            A significant component of Freudís approach is the concept of anxiety.  Defined as a state of tension, this feeling motivates individuals to action in order to alleviate the uncomfortable state.  Although Freud identified a number of types of anxiety, how an individual processes these inputs determines the effect these feeling have on the individual and overall experience of living. 

            Defense mechanisms are utilized which help individuals cope with anxieties and prevent the ego from becoming overwhelmed.  For example, the defense mechanism of repression results in the individual burying and forgetting the traumatic event in order to reduce painful thoughts and emotions.  Denial is used to negate the responsibility of accepting or integrating information into oneís life and schema.  The individual essentially blinds himself to reality and the potential pain that may accompany the acceptance of this.  To defend against a threatening impulse, the individual could respond with the opposite impulse to balance feelings.  This is known as a reaction formation and helps to conceal emotions that would either call into question ones own identity.  Numerous other defense mechanisms exist including projection and displacement and represent a key component of Freudian theory.  Interestingly enough, this aspect of psychoanalytic theory was developed by Freudís daughter, Anna.

            Psychoanalysis places significant importance on early development and the distinction between psychosocial and psychosexual development.  In regards to the psychosocial aspect, Erik Erikson built on Freudís concepts to integrate the psychosocial aspects of personality development into an inclusive theory.  While Erikson looks at the entire lifespan of development in the psychosocial stages, Freud focuses on personality development in the context of sexual development.

            Freudís psychosexual stages begin in the first year of life with the oral stage, as a child is fixated on sucking and satisfying the need for food and pleasure.  This shifts to the anal stage when the child is ages one to three and begins to develop independence, expressing strong emotions, and accepting personal power.  The third stage of psychosexual development is the phallic stage centering on the childís unconscious and incestuous desires for the parent of the opposite sex.  The next stage is latency, where previous sexual urges are replaced by a focus on school, playmates, and sports.  This is also a time of socialization as children develop relationships with others.  And finally, the genital stage marks the last step in Freudís psychosexual development and begins at age twelve, usually concluding at age eighteen, although may continue further into life.  This stage is a time of sexual development and remains in place as long as the individual remains mentally healthy.

            During therapy, the psychoanalytic therapist assists the client to make unconscious thoughts conscious and to develop strength in the ego to ensure behavior is based on reality rather than instinctual impulses arising from the id.  During this process, the therapist functions as a blank slate providing little or no self-disclosure, which fosters a relationship of neutrality.  In fact, Freud advocated clients lie on a couch facing away from the therapist, minimizing opportunity for client-therapist relationship.  The psychoanalytic therapist wants to reduce the chance that transference will occur whereby the client projects feelings. 

            During sessions, the therapist works through and explores unconscious feelings, thoughts, and experiences.  Therapy is usually long-term with treatment lasting two years or longer.  As issues result in childhood, psychotherapy focuses on early memories and dreams as a source for resolving current problems and anxiety.

            Criticisms to this modality of treatment originate from the basis of how psychotherapy developed.  This theory reflects the experience and values of the theorists arising from their own family interactions and the observations of their parents.  Since his or her own experiences are applied to everyone, a sense of objectivity appears to be lacking in the theory of psychoanalytic therapy.  Further, a practical concern of this theory is the length of time required to complete therapy.  As previously mentioned, two or more years with multiple sessions each week is required to fully apply and utilize this therapy.

Personal Evaluation

            Throughout my life, I have frequently heard Christians use to Freudian theory as a catch-all concept defining the evil agenda of secular psychology to remove the need for God from man.  While I agree that many concepts of Freud are antagonistic to Christian philosophy, I also feel that Freud, in a sublime way, confirms Biblical truth.  General revelation specifies that all men have built into them an understanding of universal right and wrong; a direct appeal to absolute moral law.  Furthermore, the Bible defines that all men understand that they innately cannot live up to this law, a testimony that no one is perfect.  This component of general revelation defines that man has a sinful nature.  The Freudian concept of the id as a self-seeking potentially destructive entity to the human psyche is a direct manifestation of this universal truth.  Psychoanalysis, therefore, recognizes the human propensity for selfishness and counter-moral actions, an indirect admission to manís sinful nature.  In essence, Freudís theory validates Biblical truth that even sinners understand moral law.   The problem with Freud, however, is that even though he admitted the selfish nature of man, he did not have the truth to understand what to do with it, thus devised the system of psychoanalysis. 

            Psychoanalytic components such as defense mechanisms and the unconscious mind are, I believe, valuable contributions to psychology.  Concepts such as the Freudian slip are so readily understood, that they have made their way into mainstream knowledge.  On the other hand, the postulation that children are driven by sexual urges towards their parents is a bizarre one.  I cannot help but to wonder if Freud himself had these fantasies and that this entire phase of his theory is simply a large scale defense mechanism of projection that Freud imposed on mankind in order to relieve his own childhood guilt.