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The method of therapy for psychological disorders pioneered by Freud. The method relies on an interpretation of what a patient says while ‘freely associating’ or reporting what comes to mind in connection with topics suggested by the therapist. The interpretation proceeds according to the scheme favoured by the analyst, and reveals ideas dominating the unconscious, but previously inadmissible to the conscious mind of the subject. When these are confronted, improvement can be expected. The widespread practice of psychoanalysis is not matched by established data on such rates of improvement.

Philosophically, the unconscious mind postulated by psychoanalysis is controversial, since it requires thinking in terms of a partitioned mind and applying a mental vocabulary (intentions, desires, repression) to a part to which we have no conscious access. The problem is whether this merely uses a harmless spatial metaphor of the mind, or whether it involves a philosophical misunderstanding of mental ascription. Other philosophical reservations about psychoanalysis concern the apparently arbitrary and unfalsifiable nature of the interpretative schemes employed.

Works such as Adolf Grünbaum's Foundations of Psychoanalysis (1984) effectively challenge the scientific basis of psychoanalytic interpretations, while there is accumulating evidence that therapists, including Freud himself, are responsible for many of the reports of repressed memories or fantasies that patients are induced to make, or described as having made. However, such schemes have been used to explain otherwise puzzling aspects of all parts of human life, but especially dreams, rituals, myths, and literature, and some philosophers, especially in France, have seen psychoanalysis as a key to all the theory of human nature. See also Jung.

Subjects: Literature.

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