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Section 2: Overview of psychoanalysis


Community art counselling is informed by theories from psychoanalysis. This is a broad and interesting field that can keep you busy for a lifetime and we are touching on the key concepts. As community art counsellors we are specifically interested in how these theories inform our practice in group work and how it helps us understand the behaviour of our participants. Some of the theorists that we will be looking at are Freud, Bowlby, Bion, Winnicott and Klein.




Video: Sigmund Freud

Watch this video for a brief introduction on Sigmund Freud and the underpinnings of his theories.


More about Freud

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist best known for developing the theories and techniques of psychoanalysis.

Sigmund Freud was born in Freiberg, which is now known as the Czech Republic, on May 6, 1856. Freud developed psychoanalysis, a method through which an analyst unpacks unconscious conflicts based on the free associations, dreams and fantasies of the patient. His theories on child sexuality, libido and the ego, among other topics, were some of the most influential academic concepts of the 20th century.

He received his medical degree in 1881 and became engaged to marry the following year. His marriage produced six children—the youngest of whom, Anna, was to become a distinguished psychoanalyst herself. After graduation, Freud promptly set up a private practice and began treating various psychological disorders. Considering himself first and foremost a scientist, rather than a doctor, he endeavoured to understand the journey of human knowledge and experience.

Early in his career, Freud became greatly influenced by the work of his friend and Viennese colleague, Josef Breuer, who had discovered that when he encouraged a hysterical patient to talk uninhibitedly about the earliest occurrences of the symptoms, the symptoms sometimes gradually abated. Inspired by Breuer, Freud posited that neuroses had their origins in deeply traumatic experiences that had occurred in the patient's past. He believed that the original occurrences had been forgotten and hidden from consciousness. His treatment was to empower his patients to recall the experience and bring it to consciousness, and in doing so, confront it both intellectually and emotionally. He believed one could then discharge it and rid oneself of the neurotic symptoms. Freud and Breuer published their theories and findings in Studies in Hysteria (1895).

After much work together, Breuer ended the relationship, feeling that Freud placed too much emphasis on the sexual origins of a patient's neuroses and was completely unwilling to consider other viewpoints. Freud continued to refine his own argument and in 1900, after a serious period of self-analysis, published The Interpretation of Dreams. He followed it in 1901 with The Psychopathology of Everyday Life and in 1905 with Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. The great reverence that was later given to Freud's theories was not in evidence for some years. Most of his contemporaries felt, like Breuer, that his emphasis on sexuality was either scandalous or overplayed. In 1909, he was invited to give a series of lectures in the United States. It was after these visits and the publication of his 1916 book, Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis, that his fame grew exponentially.

Freud's work has been both rapturously praised and hotly critiqued, but no one has influenced the science of psychology as intensely as Sigmund Freud.

Freud fled Austria to escape the Nazis in 1938. He died in England on September 23, 1939 at age 83 by suicide, after requesting a lethal dose of morphine from his doctor, following a long and painful battle with oral cancer.
Taken from Biography.com (2017)


2.1 What is psychoanalysis?


  1. a systematic structure of theories concerning the relation of conscious and unconscious psychological processes.
  2. a technical procedure for investigating unconscious mental processes and for treating psychoneuroses. (Collins English Dictionary, 2012)

A method of treating mental illness, originating with Sigmund Freud, in which a psychiatrist (analyst) helps a patient discover and confront the causes of the illness. Many psychiatrists believe that these causes are buried deep in the unconscious of the patient and can be brought to the surface through such techniques as hypnosis and the analysis of dreams. Psychoanalysis emphasizes that mental illness usually originates in repressed sexual desires or traumas in childhood. (The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, 2005)

Psychoanalysis is a specialty in psychology that is distinguished from other specialties by its body of knowledge and its intensive treatment approaches. It aims at structural changes and modifications of a person's personality. Psychoanalysis promotes awareness of unconscious, maladaptive and habitually recurrent patterns of emotion and behaviour, allowing previously unconscious aspects of the self to become integrated and promoting optimal functioning, healing and creative expression (American Psychological Association).


The unconscious

  • that which is not known and unknowable
  • developed individually, from repressed, hidden meaning and desires that do not have the power to reach conscious thought 
  • exert a significant influence on our behaviour
  • dreams, art works, doodles, free association, active imagination
  • collective unconscious is inherited or born within and preexists our psychological makeup


Symbols as products of the unconscious

  • a language that is expressed in images/dreams/ child’s play
  • a symbol can be something that represents or stands in for something else (transitional objects)
  • a metaphor that has multiple meanings depending on who is making and who is interpreting it as a symbol. 
  • as long as an association can be formed between two things, there can be symbolism
  • by their very nature they are contradictory and their meanings are highly subjective


2.2 Psychoanalysis: Context and theory 

Essentially, the roots of community art counselling are in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic thinking. We have adopted this paradigm as an approach to working with our clients as community art counsellors rather than the technique. The model originated with Freud’s couch which has the analysand/client lying on the couch and the analyst behind them encouraging a free associative space. We work in a group and encourage the expression of unconscious hidden material through image-making and group processes. Some key concepts (see 1.3) that we draw on are free association, the unconscious, internal and external worlds, defences, transference and countertransference.

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