What is psychoanalysis?
Psychoanalysis can be best described as a dialectical tool developed out of a process of interpretation in relation to the unconscious mind. As a tool, it has various applications. Beyond the clinical and/or medical context concerning mental health, it has a potentially more important application with regard to the study and analysis of society, generally, as well as the human subject, in cultural, historical, ideological, etc., aspects.
The nature of psychoanalysis as a tool has led not only to the ability to contribute to the academic realm of educating and learning about social institutions, social relations and ideological constructs, as well as benefits in the same with regard to mental health and patients, it has also provided a foundation for both propaganda and marketing in relation to government and business entities alike.
That makes the study of psychoanalysis not only important in relation to its foundation as a psychological science in relation to psychiatry, psychology and mental health, it makes it important in terms of both studying and understanding general, social human behavior, as well as subtle manipulation that can take place to intentionally or inadvertently manipulate behavior, ways of thinking and ways of thinking about and/or interpreting events.
It aids in the understanding of ideological constructs that are pervasive in and/or influence society, as well as an understanding about the process of establishing those ideological constructs.
Psychoanalysis started out with Sigmund Freud and others developing techniques to help patients with neurotic disorders. In earlier times in the development, hypnosis was used as a tool to get patients to relax enough to overcome defense mechanisms and to free repressed, unconscious thoughts. With the inherent limitations of hypnosis, it was eventually replaced with techniques of general relaxation, talking, free-association, suggestion, interpretation, etc.
Different methods of interpretation, based on dreams, jokes and slips of the tongue, were developed to gain an understanding of the unconscious mind, repressed thoughts and symptoms of neurotic illness. This led at different stages to the development of ideas related to the role of sexual drive and desire, generally, along with the fulfillment of desire, as a proposed role of dreams, as well as concepts of condensation, displacement, repression, over-determination, denial and the like.
As the study progressed, eventual connections started being made between findings in research and clinical practice with various myths and cultural practices, such as the connection made in development of the Oedipus complex and in relation to neurotic patients and ideological structures such as in religion, religious practices, and particular social restrictions and taboos.
In addition to that, and with contributions by others, in addition to Freud himself, other developments were made, such as there were developments in the understanding of early childhood development by individuals such as Melanie Klein.
Freud maintained the growth and expansion of ideas adding in new considerations, evidence and concepts such as the ego, super-ego and the id, studying group psychology in analysis of the ego, providing explanations related to identification, fetishism, disavow, narcissism, transference and defense mechanisms, among other concepts. This progression eventual led to Freud re-visiting concepts around drives, the pleasure principle and interpretation of dreams and introducing concepts like death drive and repetition, especially related to anxiety and traumatic experience.
Keeping with the development of a tool also applicable to social structures Freud’s final works death with issues surrounding religion and civilization: Future of an Illusion, Civilization and Its Discontents and Moses and Monotheism. After Freud, interest from philosophers, psychiatry and other social theorists, led to individuals like Lacan to add new concepts in a “return to Freud”. For Lacan, specifically, this involved concepts such as the mirror stage, the other/big other, object small a, and the symbolic, the imaginary and the real. Along with the works of Karl Marx and Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, we see Freudian and Lacanian analysis remain relevant, specifically today, with Slavoj Zizek.
What is the unconscious?
The unconscious is the part of the psyche which is separated from that which is conscious or mental processes that take place outside of consciousness.
Before potentially moving on to Lacan and others, start with the Complete works of Freud.
For the best works see: The Interpretation of Dreams, The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, Totem and Taboo, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Group Psychology and Analysis of the Ego, The Ego and the Id, Future of an Illusion, Civilization and Its Discontents, Moses and Monotheism.