The Therapeutic Process

How psychoanlaysis can be applied therapeutically.

Freudian Slips
Studies On Hysteria

Critique of Freud’s Theory of Psychosexual Development

Today, few people are strong proponents of Freud’s psychosexual theory, and criticism has been widespread, with many pointing out its limitations and cultural bias.


Some question the scientific validity due to Freud’s reliance on anecdotal evidence rather than empirical data.

Others have argued that the theory is too focused on heterosexuality and ignores other sexual orientations. Additionally, it has been criticized for being too deterministic and not taking into account individual differences or environmental influences.

There are also concerns about how this theory may be used to pathologize certain behaviors or lifestyles that do not fit within traditional gender roles. These critiques have led to a re-evaluation of Freud’s theories by contemporary psychoanalysts who seek to create more inclusive models of human development.

The Psychoanalytical Therapeutic Process

In traditional psychoanalysis, the therapeutic process consists of talk therapy between a client and a therapist. The goal is to help people gain insight into their unconscious thoughts and emotions.


At its core, this therapy relies on open dialogue between client and therapist. Clients must be willing to explore their innermost thoughts and emotions without fear or judgment, and they are also required to share them openly with the therapist.

The idea is that by examining the underlying issues that are contributing to our psychological distress, we can better recognize and overcome them.

Psychoanalytical Tools

Psychoanalysis has a variety of techniques aimed to help the client access and understand their unconscious mind.

Free association involves the client speaking freely without censoring themselves. The therapist would then interpret what was said, drawing attention to underlying patterns and themes. The idea was that this could help uncover hidden connections between seemingly unrelated ideas.

Somewhat similar, a lot of attention was paid to slips of the tongue. These were thought to reveal hidden thoughts or desires that have been unintentionally expressed through speech errors. Today, we often call these ‘Freudian slips’.


A classic example is accidentally calling one’s partner by an ex’s name – potentially indicating unresolved feelings or desires.

Another frequently used tool that is still popular today is dream analysis which delves into the symbolic language of dreams to uncover unconscious desires and fears.


In Freudian terms, catharsis refers to the emotional release experienced when repressed feelings and memories are brought to conscious awareness. This allows us to confront and resolve deep-seated psychological conflicts, ultimately leading to personal growth and healing.

The term traces back to the Greek word kathairein, which means “to cleanse or purge,” and it was an important element of Greek tragedy – referring to the emotional purification that audiences can experience through watching dramatic plays.


While the term has been around since ancient Greek times, it was Freud’s colleague, Josef Breuer, who first used it to refer to a therapeutic technique. In their book Studies on Hysteria, Freud and Breuer defined catharsis as “the process of reducing or eliminating a complex by recalling it to conscious awareness and allowing it to be expressed.”

Transference and Countertransference

Transference and countertransference are key concepts in psychoanalysis that refer to the dynamic and complex emotional interactions that take place between the client and therapist.

Transference occurs when clients unconsciously project feelings and attitudes onto their therapist. For example, someone might unconsciously transfer feelings of anger or dependence onto the therapist that they actually feel or felt toward a parent.

While Freud first saw this as an obstacle, he soon realized the benefits it could bring by revealing unresolved conflicts and providing insights into the client’s emotional world.


Countertransference, on the other hand, refers to therapists’ unconscious reactions toward clients based on personal experiences or biases. This can include feelings of attraction, irritation, or frustration. For example, a therapist might feel overly protective of a client who reminds them of their younger sibling, potentially clouding objective judgment.


Freud believed that seemingly insignificant details could reveal profound truths about our inner lives. To uncover these truths, interpretation is necessary. It involves deciphering unconscious material to help clients understand and make sense of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.


For instance, a therapist might interpret a client’s recurring dream of being chased by an angry dog as symbolizing unresolved fear or anxiety from childhood experiences.


As another example, consider a client who consistently arrives late for therapy sessions. The therapist may interpret this behavior as an unconscious expression of resistance toward confronting painful emotions. By discussing these interpretations with the client, therapists can help them recognize underlying patterns and work to resolve deep-seated psychological issues.

Resistance and Working Through

Through his work, Freud observed that speaking and listening were often helpful at first, but that many clients’ progress was short-lived – they either returned to their initial state or developed another issue. This led him to the discovery of the psyche’s unconscious resistance to change.

Resistance is a common obstacle in psychoanalytic therapy that manifests as clients unconsciously resisting exploring certain topics or feelings due to fear or discomfort. This can show itself in various ways such as avoidance, procrastination, or even aggression toward the therapist.


In his book, Remembering, Repeating and Working Through, Freud highlighted the importance of working through said resistance. Freud believed that this was mostly the clients’ work and he proposed that it consisted of two phases: insight and change – recognizing and overcoming.

First, we must have an insight that helps us recognize our resistance. Secondly, we must change by overcoming our resistance.

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You might also like

Introduction to Psychoanalysis;

The theory of unconscious behaviors that shape our psychology.

Defense Mechanisms;

Our learned defensive behaviors that shape our responses to the world.

Case Studies;

Examples of psychoanalysis in practice.

Psychosexual Development;

Freud's theories of the different stages of psychological development, and their complex relationship to sexuality.

The Unconscious Mind;

How Freud's theory of mind laid the groundwork for the idea of the unconsious.

Psychoanalytic Critiques;

Some of the arguments made against Freud and psychoanalysis.

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