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Psychoanalytic Terms And Concepts

Updated: Apr 3

Understanding the core psychoanalytic concepts will allow you to take a step closer towards making the conscious mind conscious. In this section, we will look into the different psychoanalytic concepts and terms.

Psychoanalysis Is Both A Theory & Therapy


This is a practice often done prior to an intervention where the patient is encouraged to attend to experiences that they have been avoiding.


This refers to the analyst’s feelings and attitudes towards the patient: his/her reaction to the patient’s transference, how his/her own experiences impact his/her understanding of the patient, and the analyst’s emotional responses to the patient.


Defense mechanisms are used by the ego as a way to deal with conflict of problems in life. Operating at an unconscious level, defense mechanisms help to reduce negative feelings (e.g. anxiety and guilt). Common defense mechanisms include repression, denial, and projection.


Denial is an individual’s refusal to accept certain or confront (or all) aspects of a given reality in order to avoid potential feelings of discomfort. It exists on a continuum as it can be seen as just a normal reaction to a stressful event or to severe psychosis. While commonly defined as a type of defense mechanism, denial plays a role in all defense mechanisms. Freud also referred to it as disavowal.


It is a mental event that consists of hallucinations involving imagery and emotions. Dreams occur during the rapid-eye movement (REM) stage during sleep. According to Freud, current concerns and unconscious childhood wishes are present during the day and require gratification and it is dreams that allow us to respond to this demands while continuing to sleep (e.g., a person who is thirsty dreams about drinking water which allows him to continue sleeping rather than having to wake up and satisfy his thirst).


Sigmund Freud theorized that the mind was divided into three parts: id, ego and superego . The function of the ego can be described as running interference between the id and the superego. It mediates between the drives of the id and the need for self-preservation. The ego is responsible for the development of the skills needed to function in the world, for example, impulse control, perception, evaluation and judgment.


This is a part of the superego that contains standards, values and moral ideals. Failure to meet these standards can cause feelings of guilt or shame, while success can enhance self-esteem.


A term coined by Jung as the female counterpoint to what Freud called the oedipus complex, it takes its name from the Greek myth of Elektra who, along with her brother Orestes, avenged the murder of their father, Agamemnon, by killing their mother Clytemnaestra and her lover Aegisthus. The term describes the urge of a 3-6 year old girl to have her father to herself, excluding her mother. Freud did not use this term, but continued to use oedipus complex to refer to the phenomenon in both genders.


A fantasy loosely refers to an imagined situation that expresses certain desires or aims of the imagining individual. It can occur at the conscious level, also known as a daydream, or unconsciously, sometimes referred to as phantasy.


Fixation is a state where a person becomes attached to or overly invested in another individual or object. Fixation is the result of conflict occurring during the psychosexual stages of development. Due to frustration or overindulgence occurs, the libido becomes focused on that stage leading to problematic behaviors later on (e.g., an individual with an oral fixation may engage in nail biting).


Sigmund Freud theorized that the mind was divided into three parts: id, ego and superego. The id is the part of the mind that contains one’s most basic and instinctive drives. It is governed by sexual and aggressive desires and pleasure seeking. The contents of the id are entirely unconscious; Freud stated that the goal of analysis is to uncover what is repressed in the id so that, “where id was, there ego shall be.” (Sigmund Freud, 1933, New Introductory Letters on Psychoanalysis, Standard Edition, 22.


A term generally used to refer to one’s sexual desires or more specifically, the mental energy responsible for one’s sex drive. This concept represents Freud’s notion that sexual interest exists throughout life and that it is responsible for activities that involve sexual desire and/or affection.


Freud used the Greek myth of Oedipus to illustrate a childhood developmental stage, occurring between the ages of three and six, when a child desires to have the parent of the opposite sex all to him/herself, to the exclusion of the other parent. In the myth, Oedipus kills Laius, who he does not realize is his father, and then marries his widow, Jokasta, who is actually Oedipus’s mother.


Revealing an unconscious desire or conflict through a mistake, for example, a slip of the tongue or forgetting someone’s name.


The driving force of the id, this refers to one’s desire to obtain immediate gratification of needs by obtaining pleasure and avoiding pain. When our basic needs are not met, feelings of anxiety may develop.


Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a form of psychotherapy derived from psychoanalytic theories and modeled after a psychoanalytic model of mental functioning. Psychodynamic psychotherapy is primarily for individuals who will benefit from a more focused method of treatment that is active and focuses on the realities of one’s daily life. Other terms include psychoanalytic psychotherapy, insight-oriented Psychotherapy, and expressive psychotherapy


Repression is a defensive process where an individual’s impulses and instinctual desires are blocked from entering one’s conscious. Regarded by Freud as the cornerstone of defense mechanisms, the process of repression involves unconsciously censoring ideas or memories deemed unacceptable.


Resistance refers to a patient’s unconscious opposition to the unveiling and exploration of painful memories during psychoanalysis. It is often conveyed through mental processes, fantasies, memories, character defensives, and behaviors. While it initially occurs unconsciously, it may persist long after the patient is made consciously aware of this behavior.


Sigmund Freud theorized that the mind was divided into three parts: id, ego and superego. The superego can be thought of as the part of the mind that acts as the conscience. Its function is to stop or punish behavior that is unacceptable according to the ego ideal, i.e., the standards, values, and images of perfection that begin to develop in childhood, and which some psychoanalysts believe to develop over a lifetime. Failure to live up to these standards results in feelings of guilt or shame. Success in living up to the ego ideal results in enhanced self-esteem, i.e. feeling good about oneself.


Transference is the projection onto another person (e.g., the analyst) of feelings, past associations, or experiences. This is an important concept in psychoanalysis because it demonstrates that past experiences impact the present. Interpreting transference in the psychoanalytic setting can shed light on unresolved conflicts.


Sigmund Freud proposed that there are three parts (levels) of the mind, the conscious, preconscious, and the unconscious. The unconscious is the part of the mind that stores feelings, thoughts, and urges unaware to the individual. These mental contents and processes often influence the conscious experience even though we are unaware of their existence.

All my best,


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