The Discovery of the Unconscious

  • Stephen Frosh


If psychoanalysis can be thought of as characterised by any particular ‘project’, it is to produce a certain kind of knowledge, providing explanations of human conduct and experience by revealing the mental forces that underlie them and that are not dealt with by any other intellectual discipline. It is decidedly not to bring about a therapeutic transformation in the lives of individuals: in Freud’s words, ‘We do analysis for two reasons: to understand the unconscious and to make a living’ (Jacoby, 1975, p. 124). Increasing the complexity of psychological understanding by providing explanations for otherwise inexplicable or only partially comprehensible phenomena, especially by revealing meaningful motivations and conflicts at the base of apparently irrational and meaningless material, was at the heart of Freud’s particular enterprise. Despite the increase in ‘therapeutic zeal’ shown by many post-Freudians, and the institutionalisation of psychoanalysis as a form of treatment for psychological distress, the central element in psychoanalysis — its ability to interpret human experience in a way that makes it coherent — remains theory rather than therapy. This is where psychoanalysis poses a major challenge to other forms of psychology: whereas academic psychology specialises in the description of microscopic elements of behaviour — part functions, one might call them — psychoanalysis attempts to supply explanations for the entire gamut of personal and interpersonal activity.


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© Stephen Frosh 1999

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  • Stephen Frosh

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