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"Psychoanalysis" is used in a variety of meanings that range from psychic therapy to a method of cultural analysis.


First and foremost, the term designates the method of psychiatric treatment created by Sigmund Freud, who coined the term in two publications of 1896: Weitere Bemerkungen über Abwehr-Neuropsychosen (Further Remarks on the Neuro-Psychoses of Defense) and L´hérédité et l´étiologie des névroses (Heredity and the Aetiology of the Neuroses), the latter a treatise written in French, in which he depicts "a new method of psychoanalysis."

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As a specific method of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis presupposes a relation between the psychoanalyst and the patient in which the patient manifests the contents of his unconscious through free association, and the psychoanalyst engages in the interpretation of these contents. In the psychoanalytic situation as described by Freud, there is no attempt to influence the patient by suggestion or hypnosis. Rather, the session takes the form of a conversation between two awakened people. During this conversation, the patient must avoid any bodily effort or sensorial impressions that would distract him or her from concentrating on his or her own psychic activity.

In the history of psychoanalysis, the clinical treatments that Freud undertook or supervised and then related, have attained a paradigmatic status. Besides the clinical histories presented in Studien über Hysterie (Studies on Hysteria, 1895), that Freud wrote with Josef Breuer, the psychoanalytical cures of Ida Bauer ("Dora"), Ernst Lanzer ("Rat Man"), and Sergei Constantinovitch Pankejeff ("Wolf Man"), all conducted between 1905 and 1914, constitute the core of the Freudian clinical corpus. Highly relevant in this connection are also the analysis of "Little Hans" undertaken by his father, Max Graff, with the assistance of Freud, as well as the study of the memoirs of Daniel Paul Schreber, whose case Freud considered to be one of paranoia.

Freud's therapeutic method rests on what he termed the five theoretical "pillars" of psychoanalysis: the unconscious, the Oedipus complex, resistance, repression, and sexuality. According to Freud, their acknowledgment should be the condition for being accepted as a psychoanalyst.

While Freudians generally agree upon the fundamental status of these tenets, their views on psychoanalytical technique and didactic have often diverged. All through its history, psychoanalysis has been deeply marked by dissidents, who questioned or contested the centrality of one or more of these "pillars."

Psychoanalysis also designates a worldwide movement that encompasses all schools of Freudian thought and therapy. Freud himself designed an institutional framework that would ensure the internal unity of doctrine and practice of psychoanalysis and at the same time provide the means for its expansion.

Early History

Along with Alfred Adler, Wilhelm Stekel, Rudolf Reitler, and Max Kahane, Freud created in 1902 the so-called Mittwochsgesellschaft (Wednesday Society), the first discussion circle in the history of the movement. In 1907, it was replaced by the Wiener Psychoanalytical Vereinigung (WPV) (Vienna Psycho-Analytical Society), which in its turn was transformed in 1910 into the Internationale Psychoanalytische Vereinigung (IPV). Founded by Freud and Sandor Ferenczi, this society functioned under its German name until 1936, when it adopted its current English designation, International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA).

Since Freud's disciples in the formative years of psychoanalysis in Vienna were mostly Jews with an Austrian or Hungarian cultural background, the first sphere of expansion and influence of psychoanalysis as a movement was the German-speaking world. Thanks to the efforts of Marie Bonaparte, Freud's analysand, disciple, and translator, psychoanalysis was subsequently introduced and established in France. Ernest Jones, the author of Freud's canonical three-volume biography, played a similar role in establishing psychoanalysis in Great Britain.

With the rise to power of Nazism, many Jewish analysts sought refuge in America in the 1930s, and thereby paved the way for the most extensive reception of Freudian ideas in the history of psychoanalysis. Thanks to its popularization in America, psychoanalysis soon attained worldwide recognition as a therapeutic method, and eventually as a new conception of humankind.

Psychoanalysis and the Arts

Beyond its therapeutic relevancy, psychoanalysis became, along with Marxism, structuralism, and phenomenology, one of the intellectual driving forces of the twentieth century. As early as the 1920s, psychoanalysis exerted a distinctive influence on the avant-garde art world through André Breton's surrealistic applications of the Freudian theory of the unconscious.

Thanks to its increasing scope and diffusion by orthodox and dissenting interpreters alike, psychoanalysis became a powerful method of analysis of works of art, literary texts, and social phenomena. Among the plurality of methods employed in post-modern philosophy and deconstructionism, psychoanalysis offers a distinct approach to the central issues of gender constructions and their resulting power distribution.

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Sigmund Freud in 1936.
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