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History of Psychology

Although psychotherapy might be viewed as having been around for centuries, most scholars attribute today’s views of and approach to psychotherapy to Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries such as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and their associates around the turn of the nineteenth century. In medieval history, situations that we generally view as being associated with psychotherapeutic treatment were thought to involve demonic possession and to require that a member of the church intercede. Victims were treated in inhuman and inhumane ways, confined and punished.

Such treatment began to change in the 18th century, but the real awakening didn’t occur until the ideas and approaches of Sigmund Freud and his contemporaries such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler at the beginning of the 20th Century. (ref) Prior to Freud, the psyche and the mind were no more than a vague concept. Although by the end of the 19th century psychologists began to avoid such terms as consciousness, the psyche and the mind, Freud divided the mind (not the psyche) into the “id, ego and superego”.

In my view, this was one of Freud’s mistakes and on that continues to the present because he focused on the mind to the elimination of, or at least in the absence of the psyche and made no distinction between them. Although some from the school of psychotherapy such as Otto Rank have considered the psyche (Rank, 1930), today there is as much confusion as regards the psyche or the distinction between the psyche and the mind as there has ever been with psychologists and neuroscientists still preferring to discard and disregard both the psyche and the mind.

At least Freud openly dealt with the mind even though his efforts never dealt with the basic question of psychology and the neurosciences, “Do the mind exist separate and independent of the brain,” a question that still draws hot controversy and debate even though there is growing data and evidence to suggest that it does (Pascal-Leone), contrary to the preferred view of psychology and neuroscience.

Freud viewed the id as the unconscious part of the brain (or mind, neither he nor psychologists today have resolved the muddled issue as to their unitary or independent existence) and the center in control of on individual’s pleasure and desires, especially (but not only) one’s sexual pleasures and desires. The id was viewed as being responsible for our basic impulses and drives. (Freud, 1920, 1923) Freud believed that the id, ego and superego were in a constant struggle for control of behavior. He focused on humans, but it would be interesting to ask if the same holds for other animals, not a question of interest in psychotherapy.

Although most of Freud’s ideas are no longer given much credibity in science and medicine, his construct of the id, ego and superego is still a central construct of psychotherapy. One concern with Freud is the confusion as regards the “unconscious” and the “subconscious”. We shall touch upon this question next after introducing how I shall use these and all terms throughout this essay. Freud dealt with the issue by eliminating use of the term “subconscious” in favor of the “unconscious” to eliminate confusion.

Prior to this move, the subconscious was viewed to include the unconscious and the XXX. Freud viewed the superego as the conscience. He postulated the existence of the libido as sexual desire. His contemporary refined the term referring to it as an individual’s free creative or psychic energy. Freud felt that the libido was contained in the id and viewed the id as part of the unconscious structure of the psyche. Even from what has been said up to now, it is clear that the terms that ushered in psychoanalysis were contradictory and confusing.

For example, Freud defined the “id, ego and superego” as part of the mind and yet the literature moves back and forth between the idea of the mind and the psyche without any clear distinction as to whether they are one and the same. To make matters worse, the fundamental controversy of neuroscience is whether the mind exists separate from the brain only adds to the confusion as to the use of the terms that ushered in the age of psychotherapy and this issue remains unresolved even though the data is accumulating to suggest that the mind and the brain are separate, independent ‘things’ despite the continued strong resistence to this idea.

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