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Method of treating mental disorders that emphasizes the probing of unconscious mental processes. It is based on the psychoanalytic theory devised by Sigmund Freud in Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th century. It calls for patients to engage in free association of ideas, speaking to therapists about anything that comes to mind. Dreams and slips of the tongue are examined as a key to the workings of the unconscious mind, and the work of therapy is to uncover the tensions existing between the instinctual drive of the id, the perceptions and actions of the ego, and the censorship imposed by the morality of the superego. Careful attention is paid to early childhood experiences (especially those with a sexual dimension), the memory of which may have been repressed because of guilt or trauma; recalling and analyzing these experiences is thought to help free patients from the anxiety and neuroses caused by repression as well as from more serious illnesses known as psychoses (seeneurosis, psychosis). Some of Freud's early associates, notably Carl Gustav Jung and Alfred Adler, rejected his theories on many points and devised alternative methods of analysis. Other important figures in psychoanalysis, including Erik Erikson, Karen Horney, and Erich Fromm, accepted the basic Freudian framework but contributed their own additions or modifications.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on psychoanalysis, visit Britannica.com.