Criticism of Freud’s Psychoanalysis

Does anyone have all the answers for everything that happens? Is the behavior influenced by something that one is not aware of? How is that known to anyone? Have you ever done something for which you do not have the answers? Does every therapy work for everyone? No, there Is no one fit for all solutions. Every person is different, as is every technique. Sigmund Freud is a very prominent figure, but on the other hand, he was heavily criticized. Why? Because of his extreme theories like the Oedipus complex, which is not socially acceptable, or because every theory is focused on sex and aggression and no other motivation.

Psychoanalysis Theory and Its Criticism

Sigmund Freud is a well-known name in the field of psychology. He subscribed to the psychodynamic school of thought, emphasizing the role of unconscious desires in behavior and how the conflict between the id, ego, and superego leads to maladaptive behavior. He was solely concerned with the unconscious part of the brain and provided numerous techniques for determining what was going on in the subconscious and unconscious. He was mainly concerned with what goes on in the unconscious mind and how it is reflected. He developed some techniques that helped in studying the unconscious.

These techniques are -

  • Free association − In this, Freud made his patients lie down and start talking about whatever came to their minds. This was known as "free association," as no boundaries were maintained, and they could talk about anything and everything. It was done because, at some point, the psychologist would be able to make a pattern of the client's thoughts and then work accordingly.

  • Dream analysis − According to Freud, dreams were a window to the unconscious. Whatever was suppressed was shown in the dreams, and recording the dreams helped identify unconscious conflicts and impulses.

  • Freudian slip − This represented the theory that a misspelled word, a mistake in speaking, or a "slip" was an indication or representation of the unconscious. Sigmund Freud discovered it.

These were some of the techniques that Freud used to talk and learn more about the unconscious. However, as time progressed, the discipline of psychology shifted toward what was observable and quantifiable after the Behavioral school of thought. So many critics ridiculed Freud's theory.

There were many supporters of Freud, but he also received some strong criticisms from other people. Krafft-Ebing stated that Freud's theories were "scientific fairy tales," and he projected his personality into the theories. They criticize Freud for telling the patients his thoughts and projecting himself onto the theories he developed. His theories were panned for being "overgeneralized" and providing "excessive and absolute formulations. "William James referred to psychoanalysis as very dangerous and described Freud as a fixed man with no flexibility in his ideas and theories. Jasper characterized Freud's theories as reckless, with every explanation pointing back to sexuality. His explanation of every issue was simple and always caused by sex. As for him, it was the only active force. Even Freud's disciples followed this simplistic approach. Freud was very repetitive, and according to his critics, Freud was not empathetic.

Hollingsworth stated that the concept of the Oedipus complex was as real as demons, evil, and spirits. All of these ideas were created by the psychoanalyst, not the patient. Along with that, psychodynamic therapy is a long and tedious process, and if it has to be given for some mental health disorder, then there would be no immediate relief from the symptoms.

Strengths of Freud's Theory

Even though there are several criticisms of Freud, on the other side, there are some strengths. Freud used case studies as a form of assessment, which provided a detailed and comprehensive picture of the client, and this formed the basis for various types of assessments. He also developed the concept of defense mechanisms, which is now well established and researched. He also tried to bring out the dark side of humans, which was repressed, and things that are very anxiety-provoking for any person to deal with. He also gave the structure of personality and how it developed as one grew in age, which helped in finding out more about human development.


Sigmund Freud was heavily criticized for his theories and focus on sex and aggression. Several critics stated that Freud was too simplistic and repetitive in his ways and was focused on what could not be seen. He was also regarded as not being empathetic and projecting his feelings into the theories he conceptualized. His theories were regarded as mythical with no scientific basis, and even his disciples went on the same path. On the other hand, using case studies and developing theories on defense mechanisms, His theories of the ego and the expansion of his theories are still very valid.

Updated on: 07-Dec-2022

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