Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud has been lauded as the “Godfather of Psychology” – such are his contributions to the field. Freud’s most significant involvement in psychology was his theory of Psychoanalysis.

Freud spearheaded and founded the theory of Psychoanalysis – which is a body of work which has shaped, and continues to influence, the field of mental health. Freud’s ideas are still very relevant to this day.

What is Psychoanalysis?

Put simply, Psychoanalysis is a set of theories and techniques which relate to the unconscious mind – which is the part of the mind that a person is unaware of, where memories of past experiences and traumas are hidden, yet continue to affect a person’s mood, thoughts and feelings to the present day.

Psychoanalysis revolves around the idea that a person’s unconscious mind influences a person hugely – and is able to explain many emotional disturbances. For instance, Psychoanalysis suggests that a person’s mental health problems could be traced back to a childhood event that they are unaware of, or have forgotten.

How does Psychoanalysis fit into mental health?

In mental health, Psychoanalysis has been the framework for many different therapeutic approaches. The main two types of therapy that have been born out of Psychoanalysis are Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy and Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. However, many other types of therapy have been influenced by Freud’s theory.

Psychoanalysis aims to help a person recognise and understand how certain unconscious thoughts and processes affect their relationships with others, thoughts and behaviours into the current day. In therapy that involves psychoanalysis, a person will often talk about whatever is on their mind – and a therapist will aim to find consistent themes or patterns of thoughts while listening.

Patients will often find that a certain past experience has negatively affected them. Analysing dreams and other interventions can help an individual learn about their past experiences, and the impact that they have.

Ultimately, the aim of psychoanalysis is to provide development to a person’s wellbeing and overall mental state, based on changing deep-rooted thoughts and beliefs. As these are rather big changes, psychoanalysis is usually delivered on a long-term basis.

Psychoanalysis Techniques

Freud proposed several techniques which can help in psychoanalysis. Dream analysis was one such technique – with the idea that dreams are crafted by everyday life. By analysing dreams, it is possible for parts of said dreams to be analysed, with potential troubling areas identified. Freud based this on his theory that dreams are a disguised fulfilment of a wish, and that this disguise is caused by past experiences being repressed.

‘Freudian Slips’ refers to another technique commonly employed in psychoanalysis. This theory states that a slip of the tongue or pen are examples of ‘para praxes’ – which have been transferred by the unconscious mind. Therefore, again these slips can lead to an individual’s real thoughts being revealed, including those from the unconscious mind.

As mentioned earlier, word association is also used – with a person’s thoughts analysed for consistent themes. Another area that is useful in this respect is providing a patient with a picture of something – perhaps an abstract image. A person will react and explain to what they see.

Freud suggested this helped areas of the unconscious mind become conscious, which helps a patient talk about hidden areas such as thoughts or desires. A well-known and commonly used form in this respect is the Rorschach test – which involves a person analysing pictures of inkblots in certain formations.

These various techniques form the crux of psychoanalysis, with this science still being used to this day. It has helped many people – whether through lessening the symptoms of a psychiatric disorder, allowing someone to explore their mind further, or any other discernible benefit. It appears as if psychoanalysis will continue to play a role at the forefront of psychology for some time.


However, Freud’s theory has faced significant criticism. Firstly, while evidence mainly suggests psychoanalytical psychotherapy is effective, there is still a wide body of evidence to suggest the contrary. There have been accusations that psychoanalysis is ‘outdated’, and/or ‘pseudoscience’.

Others have proposed that Freud’s theory on the unconscious mind is flawed, and that he failed to take into account individual differences from person-to-person – instead generalising large groups. Yet generally, studies suggest psychoanalysis is useful for many mental health conditions.


Freud’s theory of psychoanalysis may not be universally popular, though it has helped many people. It’s science has provided significant debate in the field of psychology, and will surely continue to do so. In the future, it seems that its use will continue.

Psychoanalysis is the overarching theory of Freud, however he has many other elements to his theories about psychology. You can see more by seeing our list of articles about Freud here.

See Also


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