Psychological theories shape the way we think about human nature and behavior. Even though certain opinions are at odds with each other, they provide valid points of view. Comparing various standpoints might prove to be useful when analyzing various cases, as they can often point to an unexpected solution. We will discuss the theories of one of the most influential psychologists in the world, Sigmund Freud. His exceptional work had a profound impact on the development of psychology, as well as on philosophy. Furthermore, the concepts developed by Freud can be applied in working with patients who suffer from substance abuse problems.
The hallmarks of Freudian theories are his ideas about the personality structure, innate human instincts, and the unconscious. Basic human instincts can be divided into two categories: life instincts (pleasure-centered), and death instincts (destructive). Each instinct manifests itself through a particular drive (Haugaard, 2008, p. 66). Freud puts a special emphasis on the sexual instinct (Eros) as a drive toward experiencing pleasure. Intercourse and reproduction are not the only elements of Eros, as it also extends to other pleasant activities, such as eating and drinking (Ewen, 2014, p. 15).
Freud maintained that human nature is saturated with conflicts, especially between our aggressive and sexual drives and the expectations of society. This conflict is further elaborated in the theory of personality structure.
Id, Ego, and Superego
Id, ego, and superego are the basic aspects of the human personality. The id is the unconscious, irrational element, while the ego constitutes its outer layer. The ego has rational, conscious qualities, is in contact with the outside world, and strives to find a way to satisfy the needs of the id (Ewen, 2014, p.18). Not only does the ego seek to satisfy the id, but it also eliminates sources of displeasure with the use of a mental mechanism known as repression. The superego is the latest element of the human personality to develop. It encompasses societal expectations and ethical values. The conflict between the instinctual energy of the id and the moral principles of the superego is one of the fundamental problems in life. Sublimation is a way of unconsciously transforming a forbidden drive into a form approved by society, in order to achieve drive reduction, the ultimate source of pleasure.
Strengths and Criticism of Freud’s Theories
Freud’s theories had an immense influence on the development of psychology. The unconscious aspects of personality are embedded in his work, including psychoanalysis, an innovative form of therapy invented by Freud. Psychoanalytic methods are used to identify and clarify the unconscious thoughts, which are rooted in the id. The main strength of Freud’s theories is their widely comprehensive character. Not only do they describe the basic concepts of human behavior and mental development, but they also help determine certain notions in other spheres besides psychology (Beystehner, n.d.). However, some critics air their suspicions toward the credibility of Freud’s theories. For instance, the lack of predictability of interpretive guidelines in psychoanalysis is subject to criticism (Beystehner, n.d.). Critics contend that conclusions drawn by psychoanalysts are largely subjective, and cannot be regulated in any way, so that varying interpretations may be made of the same data. In addition, since psychoanalysis deals with the unconscious and the irrational, the role of common sense is largely diminished, and this is widely criticized as well.
In dealing with clients suffering from substance abuse, it is possible to apply several principles of Freud’s theories. However, it should be noted that, despite the development of various theories, a unique approach to each client must be devised (Rotgers, 2011, p. 115). Since dual diagnosis is often needed, two treatment plans should be created, pertaining to both aspects of the problem—mental disorder and substance abuse.
Our hypothetical client is an example of such a case. Freud’s psychoanalytical methods can help with establishing whether the underlying cause of his substance abuse problem is a mental disorder. Once the dual diagnosis is reached, we can further analyze the client’s unconscious ideas, rooted in his id, using the method of examining his free associations, disorganized thoughts, dreams, and an inability to recall certain words. According to Ewen (2014), in Freudian psychoanalysis, the state of alcohol intoxication is similar to the state of dreaming (p. 19), which is why thorough observation of the client’s speech in the state of intoxication would be crucial. It is thereby a window to the repressed thoughts and ideas of our client, which should be analyzed in order to determine the underlying cause of his substance abuse. Revealing the repressed ideas and consequently establishing the nature of the conflict between the id and the superego is crucial to the success of the therapy.
Freud’s theories remain controversial to this day, as they raise many additional questions and lead to varied conclusions. However, they have undeniably influenced the development of psychological theory and practice. Despite many aspects being criticized, they serve as inspirational guidelines for numerous psychotherapists around the world.
Beystehner, K. M. (n.d.). Psychoanalysis: Freud’s revolutionary approach to human personality. Web.
Ewen, R. (2014). An introduction to theories of personality. New York, NY: Psychology Press.
Haugaard, J. J. (2008). Child psychopathology. Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Rotgers, F. (2011). Cognitive-behavioral theories of substance abuse. In S. T. Walters & F. Rotgers (Eds.), Treating substance abuse: theory and technique (pp. 113-138). New York, NY: Guilford Press.