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Where Did Psychotherapy Come From?

Psychotherapy is the predominant type of psychiatric treatment. It has various textbook definitions, though it typically involves therapists using a range of techniques to help a patient overcome troubles, gain insights, and achieve personal growth.




With that said, there are many different types of philosophies and ideas surrounding the human mind and its behavior. For this reason, there are various ways that experts handle and treat ailments of the mind including psychotherapy. Each practicing psychotherapist will approach different psychological conditions with different techniques or a combination of techniques in order to achieve a desired outcome for the patient. Each experience is different and some situations, depending on the severity of the symptoms, require more help than others. Psychotherapy is grouped into four different schools of study including Existential-Humanistic Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Systemic Therapy, and Psychodynamic Therapy. Though these modalities operate under a specific set of rules and practices, they have one common origin at heart. Though there are additional styles of psychotherapy that were developed independently in both Europe and North America, many of the traditions of psychotherapy find origin in the teachings of Sigmund Freud. ​ In the 1900s, Freud founded the discipline of psychotherapy known as psychoanalysis. He published his initial research and findings in his book The Interpretation of Dreams. According to records, he followed this landmark periodical with at least 19 written works. The work of Sigmund Freud has influenced the development and the work of many other scholars in the field.


Freud, perhaps because of his own popularized afflictions, gained deep insights into the sources of human unhappiness and proposed that we are all driven by the Pleasure Principle. This means we are inclined to easy physical and emotional rewards but often avoid unpleasantries like drudgery and discipline. ​ According to Sigmund Freud, we are guided by this “Pleasure Principle” as a means of learning in early life. He theorized, if left unrestrained this principle can cause reckless behavior like overindulgence, procrastination, or lustful impulsive behavior ​​in adulthood and adolescence. To avoid this unwanted behavior, it is necessary for us to adjust to what the great psychoanalysis referred to as the “Reality Principle”. This can be done in positive or negative adaptations known as neuroses. These negative adaptations result from faulty negotiations and repression of the Pleasure Principle. This balance between the Reality Principle and the Pleasure Principle creates conflicts in the three segments of the mind. Popularized by Freud as the “ID”, which is driven by the Pleasure Principle, the “Superego” which is driven by the desire to follow the societal accepted norms, and the “Ego” which is burdened to accommodate between the two. Freud’s studies go on further to decipher the shared stages of human development that we all experience – the oral phase, anal phase, phallic phase, latency phase, and genital phase. He also developed general concepts of complexes that tie disorderly thinking back to events that may have occurred in these various phases. For example, the Oedipus Complex is used to describe the complicated emotions aroused in childhood by unconscious sexual desires for the parent of the opposite sex and wish to exclude the parent of the same sex. This complex is linked back to the Phallic Phase in which children around the age of three to six years old begin their stage of psychosexual development. The main goal of Freud’s psychoanalysis is to cure neuroses of improper ​​or lacking guidance in these various phases, and to help those who struggle to better adjust to the difficulties of reality. This is typically done through talk therapy. From these early teachings of Freud, many other types of psychotherapy have developed outside of Existential-Humanistic Therapy, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, Systemic Therapy, and Psychodynamic Therapy. Still, many others are developing in our current time of modern technology. No one can deny that Sigmund Freud led the way into the amazing study of human existentialism and how we think, recently many have subscribed to the popularized notion that all of his teachings were incorrect. This is in part due to some of his more radical hypotheses, like the connection of individual experience to the development of erogenous zones like the genitalia. Considering the fact that Freud lived in a completely different time from our postmodern world, the concept of him being entirely wrong is somewhat incorrect. Regardless, modern attachment theories of psychology stem from what we learned as a society from Freud’s early work. For example, psychologists now think that early experiences in your relationships with your caregiver can influence how you develop relationships later in life. This concept can be easily proven, despite some of Freud’s wildest speculations. In addition, Freudian theory is still utilized as a basic foundation in the education of those in the field of Behavior Sciences because of the success rates of clinical work with patients – especially in the practice of psychotherapy. In fact, a 2012 meta-analysis of 11 studies found that psychoanalytic therapy was found to be most effective for a variety of disorders in comparison to treatment that did not involve talk therapy. Currently, the field of psychology is actively working to debunk the popular teachings of Freud that have been found to be incorrect while simultaneously raising his most effective studies for continued improvements in behavioral health. Aside from psychology, Freud’s work has traversed a variety of other academics such as Humanities, Business Ethics, and the Arts. For psychotherapy in particular, Sigmund Freud is an important historical context for both the provider and the patient.


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