When it comes to being healthy and well, our psychological health is just as important as our physical health but is sadly overlooked by many people who don’t realize how vital it is. However, one guy who did understand the importance of mental health was Sigmund Freud, the Father of the psychodynamic approach to therapy, and the ‘talking cure’ in general.
However, while Freud contributed much to the world of psychology, many people overlook his innovations and instead focus on some of his faux pas. Freud had some certainly controversial theories – such as his much-debated ‘Oedipus complex’ and has been accused by many of focussing too much early development to describe conditions and problems that seemingly have no link to either.
But to focus too much on the controversy surrounding Freud would be to ignore the golden nuggets of health that he has contributed and that is used by many therapists today. Without Freud, we wouldn’t have the concept of the unconscious mind, we wouldn’t have repression or the ego defense mechanisms, and we wouldn’t have therapy at all – so it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Repression and Defence Mechanisms
One of Freud’s most valuable contributions to the study of mental health was his proposal that there might be unconscious thoughts bubbling under the surface of our awareness that we know nothing about and that these might contribute to our behaviors and neuroses.
The main reason that these thoughts remain unconscious, according to Freud, is that they are too shocking or distasteful for our delicate egos to handle, and so they are repressed or denied. Despite this, though, they find ways to express themselves in other ways – for instance, developing into phobias, quirks, and character traits, revealing themselves in our actions and language, and even coming out in our dreams.
Unraveling the Unconscious Mind
As such then, the central aim of a psychotherapist is to get to the bottom of these unconscious feelings and to try then to come to terms with them so that we can accept them and move on. To this end, a therapist will use techniques such as the ‘inkblot test,’ which challenges the patient to interpret some indeterminate blobs on a page as they see fit. This is then where the unconscious mind steps in, and the therapist can read into your interpretations.
Likewise, a therapist might use a practice called ‘free association,’ which challenges the patient to say the word that first comes to their head following another word that the therapist reads out. Again when they answer fast enough, they are unable to mobilize their usual barriers in time, and the results can often be illuminating. Dream interpretation can also be a standard method of learning about the unconscious thoughts and feelings.
Using it Yourself
Now, no matter what you think about dream interpretation and the inkblot test, even the most cynical of us would admit to experiencing denial or to sometimes being angry about one thing only to learn that we are, mad about something else. Getting to the bottom of this is an critical way to prevent us bottling up emotion or acting out in damaging ways, so even if you don’t use the therapeutic techniques outlined by Freud, you might simply want to muse on your emotion and to decide whether there’s any chance it could have causes other than the obvious.