Psychoanalysis is the revelation of unconscious relations, that a person might not be aware of, in a systematic way through an associative process.

Psychoanalysis was first devised in Vienna in the 1890s by Sigmund Freud, a doctor interested in finding an effective treatment for patients with neurotic or hysterical symptoms. As a result of talking with these patients Freud came to believe that their problems stemmed from culturally unacceptable, thus repressed and unconscious desires and fantasies of a sexual nature. Since Freud's day psychoanalysis has developed in many ways, and there are various different schools as well.

The basic method of psychoanalyis is free association. The patient, in a relaxed posture, is directed to say whatever comes into his or her mind. Dreams, hopes, wishes, fantasies are of interest, as are recollections of early family life. Generally the analyst simply listens, making comments only when, in his or her professional judgement, an opportunity for insight on the part of the patient arises.

Although psychoanalytic techniques have been claimed to have been successfully used to treat psychosis in a few cases (with great effort and major sacrifice on the part of the analyst), psychoanalysis is generally useful only in cases of neurosis and with character problems. In fact, it is often thought that patients with schizophrenia do not have the mental resources necessary for the strenuous and often drawn-out analytic process, and the prevailing view is that psychoanalysis may worsen the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Psychoanalysis is:

  • A therapeutic technique for the treatment of neurosis.
  • A technique used to train psychoanalysts. A basic requirement of psychoanalytic training is to undergo a successful analysis.
  • A scientific technique of critical observation. The successors and contemporaries of Freud: Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Reich, Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, Jacques Lacan, and many others have refined Freud's theories and advanced new theories using the basic method of quiet critical observation and study of individual patients and other events.
  • A body of knowledge so acquired.
  • A movement, particularly as led by Freud, to secure and defend acceptance of the theories and techniques.

Today psychoanalytic ideas are imbedded in the culture, especially in childcare, education, literary criticism, and in psychiatry, particularly medical and non-medical psychotherapy. Though there is a mainstream of evolved analytic ideas, there are groups who more specifically follow the precepts of one or more of the later theoreticians.

The Psychoanalysis of Culture

Recent developments suggest that psychoanalysis constitutes a tool, not only for understanding the individual, but also, within the field of psychohistory, for comprehending cultural, political and historical realities. Unconscious ideas and fantasies can be played out on the stage of society. It is therefore possible to analyse and interpret ideas and fantasies by observing the manner in which they are being expressed and acted out in culture. Prominent psychoanalysts such as Slavoj Zizek apply the theories of their forebears, in this case Jacques Lacan, to great effect in critical analysis of cultural artefacts and current political discussions.