Individual Differences


Critique of Psychoanalytic Theory

Last updated:
22 Sep 2003

Some positive aspects of the Freudian or psychoanalytic perspective are that it:

  • is a complete theory of personality and explains behaviour

  • emphasizes the role of the unconscious mind and early childhood experiences

  • emphasizes dynamic nature of behaviour

  • emphasizes defense mechanisms of ego and stimulated further theoretical/research work in personality

  • resulted in a serious interest in psychological treatment of mental disorders.

There is some recent research evidence supporting and extending various aspects of Freud's theory, e.g.,

  • The unconscious part of mind can perceive things without conscious awareness (Erdelyi, 1974)

  • Defense mechanisms occur e.g. repression appears to occur (Weinberger & Davidson, 1994)

  • Anal characteristics are intercorrelated.  And oral characteristics are intercorrelated (Weston, 1990)

  • Catharsis is helpful for physical/psychological health (Erdelyi, 1994)

  • Lab studies have demonstrated transference (Andersen & Baum, 1994)

However there are some negative aspects of this perspective:

  • concepts seem poorly designed: “psychic energy” what is it? What units is it measured in?

  • lack of scientific proof

  • role of environment overlooked

  • case-study method (used neurotic wealthy European females)

  • over-emphasis on sexual drive

  • pessimistic psychic determinism - is there no free will?

  • time-consuming and expensive therapy

  • low cure rate