Historically, psychoanalysis has represented a method of psychological observation, a set of theoretical constructs or ideas, and an approach to psychotherapy. When Freud began psychoanalysis, it was a method of observation intended to broaden the knowledge of human behavior. Believing that the unconscious is the major clue to solving problems of human behavior, Freud used two processes to understand it: free association and dream interpretation. Free association, the reporting of what comes to mind in an unedited fashion, was an important tool used to discover the contents of the unconscious. Freud believed that all thoughts are connected in some fashion and that therefore the spontaneous utterances of the patient are always meaningful clues to what has been repressed or buried in the unconscious. Freud also believed that the unconscious can be clarified by means of dream interpretation. Those thoughts and impulses that are unacceptable to the conscious mind are given symbols in dreams.
An interesting study conducted by Calvin Hall in 1964 illustrates how the interpretation of dreams has been used in research—in this case, to test Freud's observation that the superego is not as strong in females as it appears to be in males. Hall reasoned that a person with a strong internalized superego would be independent of external agents, whereas a person who has a less internalized superego would tend to disown his or her own guilt and blame external authority figures. Hall further made the assumption that dreams in which the dreamer was the victim of aggression were expressions of an externalized superego, whereas dreams in which the dreamer was the victim of misfortune (accident, circumstance) were expressions of an internalized superego. It was hypothesized that females would be more likely to dream of themselves as victims of aggression and males would be more likely to dream of themselves as victims of misfortune. Careful content analysis of more than three thousand dreams ofyoung adults was performed. Results supported the hypotheses, although Hall cautioned that additional hypotheses should be tested and more diverse data collected to support thoroughly Freud's theory of the differences between the male and the female superego.
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