Follow TV Tropes


Analysis / All Psychology Is Freudian

Go To

Despite what the name suggests there are several differing and competing systems of psychology, some of which are based on different and opposing principles to that of Freud. This can include:

  • Psychodynamic – These days based loosely on the works of Freud and contemporaries of his like Jung, Adler, and Erikson, and the premise that childhood experiences shape the adult human.
  • Behaviorism – Pioneered by people like Watson and Skinner, based on the premise that attempted objective research on internal mental processes is unreliable at best. They focused on rigorous scientific experimentation on outward behavior of organisms in response to stimuli. They believed that every human is born as a blank slate and must develop their personality and behavior entirely through their experiences. This outdated philosophy eventually fell out of fashion when the Cognitive Revolution began.
  • Advertisement:
  • Humanistic (a field that grew out of a combination of behavioral and psychoanalytic psychology, which holds that the best way to help the patient is to build a trusting relationship with them, and help them achieve self actualization and creative expression in life).
  • Cognitive – A response to the Behaviorists' mostly ignoring internal mental states, it focuses on the ways people think, learn, and remember. Noam Chomsky's critique of Skinner was part of the paradigm change that was described as the Cognitive Revolution.
  • Biological – Focusing on physiological causes of behavior and mental illness; most of the research into psychotropic drugs comes out of this field, but not much in the way of therapy.
  • Evolutionary – Focused on determining which aspects of human behavior are genetic, and then tries to determine how those genes were naturally selected—a research-only field, with minimal therapeutic applications.
  • Advertisement:
  • Sociocultural – Focuses on how behavior is shaped by social and cultural influences—like evolutionary psych, is basically research-only.
  • Systemic – Not technically a paradigm of its own but rather a type of therapy, also known as "family therapy." It treats all behavior as "making sense in context" of the system they're part of, and draws heavily on an eclectic mix of psychodynamic, behavioral, and humanistic psychology.
  • Transpersonal – The study of spiritual and mystical experience, including altered states of consciousness, and how they relate to our everyday lives and choices.
  • Neuropsychology – An emerging and ongoing synthesis of neurology and classic Freudian psychology, led by Erich Kandel. This is based on reclaiming Freud's original training as a neuroscientist and its connections to psychoanalysis.

If a psychologist is asking about the patient's parents and childhood, sees sexuality as the lens to interpret everything the patient says, then he would be stereotypically Freudian. If he uses lots of projective tests like the Rorschach ink blot test or word association, you're probably looking at television's idea of Freudian psychology (since Freud never used these inkblots).

Freudian concepts are still around in psychology, but ironically in the field of psychiatry, "classic" Freudian psychology is seen as outdated, at least in America (where during The '40s to The '80s it had been dominant). The most widely accepted Freudian theories like "The Talking Cure" (therapy) and the "Freudian Excuse" is still mainstream across the Anglophone but the basis for it is no longer grounded on the intuitive and interpretive model of Freud's. Much of the basic therapy techniques that most people are familiar with looks like Freud's theories and treatment. Also, most intro to psychology textbooks begin with a history section that often starts with Freud, and history textbooks often focus on Freud when psychology is discussed.

Recent surveys by various psychological associations show that the vast majority of therapists favor a combined approach; for example, the vast majority of therapists use humanistic and systemic techniques, and most modern behaviorists (or "neo-behaviorists") blend cognitive and biological elements into their work, rather than treating the brain as an unknowable quantity and working only from visible actions, as their forerunners did.

There is also a tendency to use "psychology" and "psychiatry" interchangeably. The difference between the two is that psychiatrists are MDs, board-certified neurologists with two to six years' added training in psychology, who can provide therapy and prescribe medication.note  Psychologists, on the other hand, spend from two to six years in graduate studies before being certified. They receive a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree (one difference is the amount of statistical math required). They cannot prescribe medication—though most of them, if they feel it's necessary, will just write a referral for the client to a psychiatrist for a medication evaluation,note  or sometimes just a note to the patient's GP recommending one drug or another.

Psychologists also do nearly all of the research in the field of psychology. It's also a major part of why hard scientists consider psychology a pseudoscience. Licensed psychiatrists tend to view psychologists as "mumbo-jumbo mystics" while psychologists tend to view psychiatrists as "total quacks."note  Interestingly, both Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung were medical doctors (Freud trained as a neurologist, as did most early psychiatrists, and contributed greatly to the early research in this field). Their methods of working and researching would probably count as psychology today, but back then psychology didn't really exist as its own field, overlapping with philosophy instead (as in, having insights about human thinking and human nature; Nietzsche often wrote about "psychology" in this sense, which is how his calling Dostoevsky "the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn" makes any kind of sense). Psychology and Philosophy continue to overlap in the later decades, especially in France.

Modern psychiatry actually began prior to Freud in the Spooky Séance room with the study of mediums and experiments with hypnosis. That's another thing that today's mental health practitioners would like you to forget, although some professionals still use hypnosis to help clients relax.

Many of today's counselors are neither psychologists nor psychiatrists, but clinical social workers.

Since Freud's theories had a sizable impact on the arts, humanities and social science, and these days actual neuroscience, his model of psychology remains the most familiar and accessible, and remains highly influential, despite repeated criticism of his work as being "obsolete", at least in the Anglophone. Some of Freud's admirers, such as the literary critic Harold Bloom, argues that Freud is more of a philosopher than scientist, and feel that his work is best accepted in this fashion. Modern neuroscience argues that Freud's work is so singular that later psychological models have little to improve on him and to them this would very much be a Justified Trope, under the caveat that his work is more useful in neuroscience, and should be considered in that light. A lot of the problems with this concept stem from misunderstandings of Freud, whose body of work discussed a range of issues beyond the few stereotypes people still hold over him. Scientists such as Henri Laborit and Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel believe that Freud came closer than anyone to understand how the human mind works. Classic psychoanalysis, updated remains dominant in France and parts of South America, especially under the influence of Lacan, whose work is mostly considered (as he considered himself) as a Freud 2.0 (with whole new features!).

Other obsolete concepts/practices/theories that show up include:

  • 90% of Your Brain: Early psychologists are prone to invoking analogies similar to this. A famous one is the Freudian "iceberg" analogy for the Unconscious Mind (in an iceberg, only a small part is in the surface, the rest is underwater). Today, psychologists take to refer to that larger-than-consciousness object called "the unconscious mind" not due to Freudian repression analogies or Psychic Powers, but for simply that larger part of our mind that is literally ignored by our own awareness (like how to process sensory information).
  • All Behaviorism Is Pavlovian: The old behaviorist idea of psychology that thinks all learning, behavior, etc. is primarily founded on association of stimuli (reinforcement/reward and punishment), like for example Pavlov's dog learning to salivate when a bell paired with meat is rung, or Little Albert avoiding rabbits after being punished with loud noises. Said responses can then be exploited by dystopias for Mind Manipulation, as shown by A Clockwork Orange and Brave New World—while conditioning has been scientifically verified, and the Behaviorist movement did contribute to psychology's liberation from the Hard on Soft Science stigma, nowadays people acknowledge that conditioning does have its limits, the idea that "all behavior comes from reward and punishment" has been discredited (see also: Overjustification where, in sharp contrast to behaviorist experiments, rewards can actually kill intrinsic motivation), and neo-behaviorists are willing to accept neuroscience, cognitive science and humanist influences.
  • Structuralist models of personality, like the Freudian Trio and Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs: There's no scientific evidence for them. The Hierarchy Of Needs is an idea that first we focus on the physical necessities like sleeping and pooping, then needs relating to safety, then love and friendship, then esteem and being respected, and finally "self-actualization" at the top (a term endlessly debated because Maslow didn't bother defining it very well). But even then, it's just a list of needs in an arbitrary order that Maslow happened to like. One of the primary reasons such models are still taught as truth in lots of places is mainly for practical purposes: such models can be used to help people organize their thoughts, feelings and priorities.
  • Psycho Psychologists: Psychologists carrying out some unethical experiments, often involving Bedlam Houses, imprisonment, drugs, Electric Torture, Pavlovian fear conditioning, Mind Manipulation, etc. However, in fact, there is no way in hell a psychologist would be allowed to perform them. There are a LOT of checks in place to make sure there are no abuses of power.
    • Sadly, this was Truth in Television when the science was in its infancy. See also: Bedlam House and the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment.
    • Also, the Church of Scientology actually believed this one.
    • Some such experiments do still take place—but they only involve low-level shocks (and this in the context of studying fear conditioning).
    • It may also be related to the fake electrocutions done during Milgram's study of obedience. Participants thought they were delivering shocks to a helpless fellow test subject, but the target was an actor and nobody actually got shocked. Today, Milgram's experiment is used in psychology classes not only to demonstrate the power of authority, but also as a segue into professional ethics; ask any grad student, and you'll get a dozen reasons why you can't do today what Milgram did back then.
    • It should be noted that, while the use of potentially hazardous electric shocks as part of an experiment is simply not done, ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) still remains a valid form of therapy. It's neither the most common nor preferred form of psychotherapy in this day and age, but a valid one nonetheless, even if only used with rather extreme cases. Much of the confusion surrounding unethical electrical experiments can be attributed to this. It should also be noted that real electro-shock therapy is nearly painless and not the torture and convulsion-inducing barbarism shown on TV and Winston's torture in Nineteen Eighty-Four. Indeed, electro-shock therapy is now used only in severe cases of depression that are unresponsive to any other form of treatment. The patient is fully anesthetized before the treatment now, and every precaution is taken to ensure that the treatment is safe and humane. It works beautifully, but does have short-term memory loss as a potential side-effect, which is usually temporary but occasionally permanent; most patients with depression that is severe enough to need ECT consider this an acceptable trade off. Much of the controversy today concerns patients receiving ECT against their will.
  • Brain Cells Cannot Regenerate: This one haunted even the earliest fields of neuroscience, in that you're born with all the neurons you'll ever have in your life, and once you lose a neuron, it's lost forever. Actually, neurogenesis has been shown to occur even in adults, albeit mostly in the hippocampus and at a very limited rate.
  • Alcohol kills brain cells. It works on fetuses (the infamous Fetal Alcohol Syndrome) but it does not really work on adults; alcoholism mostly only damages dendrites which the adult can then restore with the appropriate lifestyle.
  • The theory of the stages. Character X constantly smokes, drinks or eats lollipops? Uh-oh, seems something went wrong with his oral stage, and by that we mean that his mother didn't breastfeed him enough. Or too much, who knows. And better don't ask about anal-retentive or anal-expulsive characters. Then, there's also the phallic stage (what, no Distaff Counterpart?).

Freud: Not entirely wrong.

Fact: Freud got a lot wrong. Not just Entertainingly Wrong. Painfully wrong. Harmfully Wrong, in some cases.

Fact: There are also things that he got right, and a lot more that he at least got less wrong than anyone else had before. While a popular Scrappy in psychology these days, there is a reason that Freud still gets into textbooks. Here are a few important things he got at least close to right, or got wrong for educational reasons:

First off, simply by bringing a doctor's analytical case-study approach to what had been pure abstract philosophy, and merging it with the then-novel concept in medicine that the brain may have something to do with personality, he helped push psychology into the realm of grounded science. This alone was one of the biggest advancements in psychology since Broca discovered that spot in the brain that makes you stop talking if you have a stroke there.

Freud also often gets misblamed due to the fact that his followers had a bad habit of taking everything he wrote down as gospel, except when he corrected himself. One common criticism leveled against his work, for instance, is that improperly handled psychotherapy can "discover" False Memories and issues that reflect the therapist's agenda more than the patient. What is rarely mentioned, however, is that when ALL of his patients started recounting memories of childhood sexual abuse, Freud eventually realized what was going on: after this he gradually revised or retracted much of his early work and began promoting more passive psychotherapy techniques that avoided leading the patient. The problem being that many of his supporters were not convinced that he was right about being wrong. He had to personally talk several of his colleagues out of continuing to reference his self-debunked, retracted theories and contaminated case studies. By the end of his career, some of his early publications had hit Old Shame status, and it wasn't until the 80's that clinical psychologists finally managed to get this idea of induced memories across to everyone who wasn't a Philip K. Dick fan.

In other cases, his training as a doctor rather than a scientist caused him to discard important realizations because they weren't useful for the treatment of patients. One of the most interesting examples involves his often-overlooked studies of neural tissue: Freud was an important figure in establishing that the odd cells with long, branching fibers were probably important, and proposed a means by which signals might jump between cells without a direct connection. Freud casually proposed what we know today as a "synapse" in a few lectures and papers on the subject and moved on, leaving the followup on the basis of modern neuroscience to those who suspected he was on to something. Even more surprising are a few pages of simple diagrams and musings in one of his notebooks where he idly speculates on the implications of his idea: together they outline a hypothesis predicting the modern synapse-entrainment model of learning and concept association note , along the way also laying out the fundamental concepts Watson's behaviorism and Skinner's operant conditioning would later study. Lacking obvious pragmatic utility, however, to Freud this epiphany was just an idle thought barely worth jotting down, let alone studying or sharing in any depth.

Freud was also quick to point out that not every human quirk is a sign of deep seated emotional issues: as he quipped when his son-in-law pointed out the obvious about his cigar habit:

While quirks and turns of phrase can reveal a lot about a person, sometimes a person just likes the color blue for no real particular reason, and other people just have weird but harmless fixations, fetishes, or recurring dreams for the same reason. Even the ones that do have meaning don't necessarily mean there's something wrong with a person, any more than displaying a trope makes a story bad. They do, however, offer clues about what makes a person tick, and they can often be affected by underlying issues.

One important factor to consider in his biggest blunders is that Freud's patients were mostly people with mental disorders or internal conflicts severe enough to get them sent to the famous psychologist, and humans being humans control subjects for psychological analysis are hard to come by. Some of his more derided ideas border on Aluminum Christmas Trees in that while he often over-generalized the issues of individual patients to humanity as a whole, those ideas were based on actual case studies with people who did have such issues. For instance, he traced at least one patient's issues to the fact that they felt they should have been born male, something they first realized in childhood. While incorrect in generalizing this to all women as "Penis Envy", he did identify the sense that one was born the wrong sex as the cause rather than the effect of that patient's emotional issues.note  Given the lack of other options available at the time, his attempts to help that patient accept being female put the whole matter in a very different light, with slightly less Values Dissonance.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: