What is Psychoanalysis? How Psychotherapy is Used to Treat Depression

Psychoanalysis is a method to treat mental disorders. In psychoanalysis, unconscious mind is unraveled thus making a person adaptive to his/her emotions and environment. Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) is the father Psychoanalysis. Oedipus complex is one of the notable theories of Sigmund Freud.

Erik Erikson elaborated Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis and proposed psychosocial stage theory of personality. Despite having some differences with Freud, Carl Jung also expounded psychoanalysis. Carl Jung contributed to psychoanalysis by propounding many theories including Electra complex. Some of the thinkers who have substantially contributed to psychoanalysis are Anna Freud, Erich Fromm, Karl Abraham, Otto Rank and Sabina Spielrein.

Freud developed the theory of psychoanalysis from his clinical observations of neurotic patients during 1890s. He often practiced hypnosis to bring ideas and impulses of a patient to conscious level. Some of the patients were willing to talk freely without being hypnotized, which helped Freud to develop the technique of free association of ideas. From the technique of free association of ideas, Freud could study the meanings of dreams, tongue-slips, forgetfulness, and mistakes in everyday life. The study led to the discovery of the id, the ego, and the superego.

Opponents often criticize Freud’s theories for its overt dependence on biological instincts, and failure to comprehend the psychology of larger population. However, psychoanalysis has made profound impact on understanding of human mind and behavior, culture, anthropology, sociology, literature, and the arts.

Psychoanalysis Key Terms

Ego: (Latin I) – The Ego is ‘I’ or ‘self’ in human beings. The ego is an element in human mind that responds to surrounding. In other words, the ego remembers, judges, imagines, anticipates and plans. According to Freud, the ego coexists with id and superego. The ego balances primitive demands of id and idealist demands of superego. The ego remembers past and relates to the actions committed in present, and anticipates about future, thus giving consistency of human behavior. The ego is subject to change in unusual situations such as fear, disease, threat etc. When the ego is strong in a person, he/she can immediately respond to environment and the social causes, and can properly channelize his wants, wishes and desires. In the other hand, a person with weak ego is emotionally weak, vulnerable and has inferiority complex. The concept of ego was defined by Freud and explored by Carl Jung.

Id: (Latin it) Id is one of the three elements of human mind (other two are ego and superego). Id is related to primitive human instincts such as needs, desires, aggression, and bodily pleasure. Id is present at the time of birth and works according to pain and pleasure principle. Id is not affected by reason or logic, however, prompts in the development of the conscious, even though it is in unconscious state. Freud believed that Id can be unraveled through dream analysis.

Superego: The Superego is associated with ethics and morality and prompts the ego to operate in moral standards, while suppressing the id. The superego criticizes prohibitions and inhibitions and cultivates positive ideals to project the idealized self-image of a person. Freud believed that the superego evolves during the initial five years in humans and continues to develop in young adulthood. The superego is the response to parental treatment and social upbringing. The child internalizes the ideals and standards of parents. Later he/she absorbs cultural beliefs of the society. When the superego is violated, human beings feel guilt or anxiety.

Unconscious: Memories that cannot be recalled at a particular time but unraveled later are hidden in unconscious.

In psychoanalysis, the Id is related to primitive human instincts such as needs, desires, aggression, and bodily pleasure.

Levels of Consciousness in Psychoanalysis

According to Freud, there are different levels of consciousness. Study of a person’s consciousness is based on inference.Conscious is the immediate awareness, for instance your current activity, i.e. reading. You can recall things because of preconscious. You may not be thinking about your mother at this moment, but when asked you can describe her.

Memories that cannot be recalled at a particular time but unraveled later are hidden in unconscious. A person may not have the memory of an accident he had in his childhood, but may remember while in psychotherapy session.

Conscious: Conscious is the part of human mind associated with awareness. Human beings can comprehend and talk about their conscious mind.

Unconscious: (Also called subconscious) Unconscious is the part of human mind that is beyond cognition, however, it effects his/her behavior. Freud believed that dreams and tongue slips are byproduct of unconscious. Everything that occurred to a person and his/her reactions to the stimulus are hidden in unconscious. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence a person’s behavior and experience even though he/she are unaware of these underlying influences.

Defense Mechanisms: Ego is the mediator between the id and the superego, and this mediation is called defense mechanism.

Psychoanalytic therapy

Psychoanalytic therapy cures different types of psychological disorders.Psychoanalytic therapy promotes good mental health by dealing with different forms of disorders such as:

Behavior disorders

Psychotic disorders

Neurotic disorders

Psychosomatic disorders

Personality disorders


In the early times, mental illness was believed to be caused by evil spirit, which could be cured only by priests and shamans by moderating certain rites. Later, mental illness was defined as a phenomenon, and was treated by promoting well-being and quality of life. In the late 18th century, Austrian physician Franz Anton Mesmer took his patient into trance state to treat mental disorders. This technique was called Mesmerism, which later gave birth to hypnotism. Sigmund Feud widely practiced hypnotism during his clinical observations. His studies gave birth to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy.

Today, psychoanalysis, more than a theory, is an applied science. Psychoanalysis analyzes human mind and finds cure for emotional or behavioral problems in a man and a woman through psychoanalytic therapies. Psychoanalyst moderates psychoanalytic therapy, which is also called counseling. The modern psychoanalytic therapies are based on Ivan P. Pavlov’s Classical Conditioning Theory, B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning Theory, and Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory.

In psychoanalytic therapy, medications may be administered, but the treatment, by and large, is based on talking sessions between the patient and the psychoanalyst. Individual or group counseling sessions are held to deal with patients’ cognitive, behavioral, even physical problems. During the psychoanalytic therapies, psychoanalyst facilitates development of problem resolution skills in a patient and helps him/her recover personality growth. Psychoanalytic therapy helps a patient understand his/her behavior and alter his/her emotional response.

Conscious is the immediate awareness, for instance your current activity

Treatments for Depression

Psychotherapy: In psychoanalytic therapy, patients are given emotional support so that he/she can adapt with life’s situations.

Psychotropic medication: Antidepressant drugs are administered to regulate the neurotransmitters.

Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT): Electric current is passed into a patient’s brain to cure severe depression.

Psychoanalytic therapy, along with administration of antidepressant drugs, is considered the most suitable treatment for depression. Psychoanalysis helps depression patient discover his/her personality by altering his/her behavior and thinking, and making him aware about life and living.
Psychoanalysis and Depression

Depression has been in existence since thousands of years. Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (460 – 375 BC) called it melancholia. Symptoms of depression varies from person to person, however, the most common characteristics are sleeping disorder, loss of appetite, inability to take interest in daily activities, pessimism; feeling low, sad, and dejected; full of self destructive thoughts, and low self-esteem.

All of us experience grief and unhappiness, nevertheless, if grief and unhappiness last long, there might be something wrong with your mind. Perhaps, you have depression. Depression can be mild, severe, acute or chronic, and can occur in any age. Women are more prone to depression than men. Severe depression leads to many psychological disorders.

Some of the causes of depression are:

Unfavorable events in a person’s life

Pessimism or self-destructive thoughts

Biochemical problems in neurotransmitters in the brain

Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep disorder


The Origin and Development of Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, Dodo Press, 2009

The Ego and the Id by Sigmund Freud, Pacific Publishing Studio, 2010

Encyclopedia Britannica Ultimate Reference Suite, 2011

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