Freudian Theory

The name Sigmund Freud dominates early history personality theories. Freud proposed the first major personality theory and psychotherapy procedure. He painted a picture of human personality so forceful (some would say bizarre) that he inspired strong devotion or strong opposition. Sometimes scholars analyze how frequently famous names are mentioned in the reference sections of journal articles. A citation analysis like this will often show Freud near the top of the list. So he is one of the most-frequently cited names in psychology, even though Freud was not a psychologist but a psychiatrist.

What is evidence that Freud remains influential in modern psychology? What does a citation analysis fail to show? Why do modern psychologists teach his theory?

What such a citation analysis fails to show is that many present-day citations of Freud are critical or negative in tone. Psychologists commonly refer to Freudian theory as a historical fact, then they discuss why they disagree with it or how newer ideas are better. Most of the personality theories generated in the first half of the 20th Century were presented as alternatives to Freud's theory.

So, while it is true that Freud's name comes up a lot in psychology classes, it is not true that most psychologists embrace Freud. To the contrary, most psychologists (with some exceptions) believe Freud's work is unscientific, poorly supported by research, and primarily of historical interest. However, Freud's theory was very influential. In order to understand how ideas about psychology developed in the 20th Century, one must be familiar with Freud and his theories. Therefore Freud is discussed in many psychology classes.


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