New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis

New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis Summary and Analysis of "Explanations, Applications, and Orientations"


Freud begins this lecture somewhat indirectly, by discouraging his audience from discussing psychoanalysis with skeptics. Though he had, early in his career, responded publicly to such skepticism, he now simply changes such conversations to another subject. He similarly criticizes those “half or quarter-adherents” of psychoanalysis, who selectively support elements of the science, while entirely ignoring others (171). He argues that while the “structure of psycho-analysis is unfinished,” it is nevertheless a unified theory and its particular pieces are thus all essential (172).

Next, Freud discusses some recent psychoanalytic theories constructed by his former pupils, hoping to discredit their deviations from his central theory.

First, he addresses the “Individual Psychology” school of thought, developed by Alfred Adler, which had grown popular in America as an equal to Freud's own work. Freud dismisses the comparison, insisting that Adler's theories have little connection with proper psychoanalysis. To illustrate his point, he tells of his childhood doctor in his home village, who diagnosed every illness as a symptom of being "bewitched" (175). Similarly, Adler reduces every mental illness or symptom to a single cause: a patient's inferiority complex. Naturally, Freud finds such an approach over-simplistic.

Next, Freud indirectly alludes to his most famous pupil, Carl Jung, who Freud claims downplays the importance of a patient’s personal past. Freud argues that Jung decisively split from psychoanalysis by attributing neuroses to “present-day motives” and “future expectations” (177). In other word, Freud believes Jung searches for answers in the wrong places.

Likewise, Freud alludes to Otto Rank’s theory of birth trauma as an example of a departure from psychoanalysis and its core premises. In the cases of both Jung and Rank, as with all “secessionist movements,” an individual latches onto a single element or aspect of psychoanalytic theory and uses it to ground a new approach (177-178). Freud believes these thinkers have merely ignored the elements of psychoanalysis which they find distasteful or burdensome, and as a result have a much simpler understanding of the psyche.

Freud himself, on the other hand, does not shy away from difficult discoveries and objective clinical insights. Instead, he changes his opinions and theories when necessary, while remaining always true to the essential, grounding insights of psychoanalysis.

Next, Freud points to some other areas of knowledge for which psychoanalysis may prove fruitful: mythology, history of civilization, religion, ethnology, and others. He suggests that great insights and discoveries might follow the application of psychoanalytic theories in these other realms.

Additionally, he believes that psychoanalytic theories can be applied to the mental sciences at large, and notes that he himself has done some of this work. He provides a particular area in which he has applied his theories: education, or the “upbringing of the next generation” (181). As he discovered how many neurotics battle psychic remnants of their childhoods, Freud realized how crucial those first five years of life are in developing the psyche. Children face the difficult task of assimilating their instincts to the demands of a highly evolved cultural world within a very short span of time, and so it is understandable that neuroses are often formed during this period. Freud mentions that he undertook the analysis of children with great success, though the techniques of analysis differed due to their rudimentary level of psychic development.

Freud then provides his opinion on the primary task of education - to teach children how to control their instincts so they can conform to social expecations. Hence, education must inevitably “inhibit, forbid and suppress” the instinctual life of the child, as it has done throughout history (184). The problem is that the repression of instincts can often produce later neuroses, which means that education must strike a balance between the “Scylla of non-interference and Charybdis of frustration” (184). Freud believes that this balance would be more easily reached if educators and parents underwent and were trained in psychoanalysis, so that they could use those insights to rear children. He does qualify these remarks, however, by warning that psychoanalysis should not upset the established social order, but rather work to make patients healthy and productive within that order.

The lecture's final section addresses psychoanalysis as a “form of therapy” (187). He acknowledges that the treatment of mental illness is the science's "home-ground," though its practitioners must both open themselves to new challenges and accept its limitations (188). He chastises some adherents who refuse to acknowledge its “very appreciable limits” by trying to: compress the appropriate length of treatment; intensify the degrees of transference; or combine it with other measures in search of a quick, complete cure (188). Freud finds this latter goal especially impossible, since neuroses are “constitutionally fixed” and their effects can only be somewhat assuaged by sustained psychoanalytic treatment. Further, the process must acknowledge the barriers that make it difficult, including the relationship to parents in the case of children, and the “amount of psychical rigidity present” or the "form of the illness" in the case of adults (190).

The factor of psychical rigidity is often overlooked, Freud claims. Psychic processes sometimes produce permanent scars that cannot be changed, especially in the case of psychoses, which may be recognized even when they cannot be transformed. The second limitation - "the form of the illness” - refers to illnesses which a therapist might have to admit is beyond his power to treat. To illustrate his point, Freud uses the anecdote of a King who identifies witches by boiling them in a cauldron and then tasting the broth. In the case of psychoanalysis, a therapist cannot judge whether a patient is treatable until he has used therapy to diagnose the patient. This is particularly important to realize since analysis sometimes takes years to be effective.

Freud concludes the lecture by reminding us that he wishes to admit the limitations of psychoanalysis's therapeutic power. At the same time, it has proven its value through discovering several causes of mental illnesses, and its developing effectiveness in treating them.


Freud devotes the first section of this lecture to direct and indirect criticisms of several of his former pupils, including Alfred Adler, Otto Rank, and Carl Jung. His point concerning each of these individuals is that they have abandoned certain key elements of psychoanalysis in favor of simpler, more reductive approaches to human psychology. This point is crucial not only for recognizing Freud’s complicated and often embittered relations with many of his students, but also because it connects deeply with Freud’s own understanding of psychoanalysis as an ongoing scientific investigation and practice. As he indicates time and time again in this collection, the willingness to revise earlier formulations in the face of new discoveries is in many way the bedrock of the science itself. To run from challenging or even distasteful discoveries is to compromise the scientific nature of analysis.

This point helps to explain why Freud includes both criticisms of former students and a discussion of education in the same lecture. The implication is that Freud believes his students abandoned their education at moments when difficult conclusions offended their sensibilities. From Freud’s perspective, they lack the control and self-discipline necessary to tackle the results of psychoanalytic investigation, which can often reveal the brutal squalor of the human condition. In describing education, Freud suggests that it must always involve a distasteful and challenging aspect - after all, it is never easy to combat one's instincts for the sake of society. However, Freud does not believe this a reason to abandon education.

The situation of Freud’s former pupils is thus analogous to his image of misguided rebellion against social conventions. Psychoanalysis should not aim to create rebels; it itself “contains enough revolutionary factors” that its proponents will never become agents of "suppression" (187). Freud makes an allusion to Homer's The Odyssey to suggest the delicate balance that education must manage. There is a Scylla involved in doing nothing with a young person, at which point he or she will never become a healthy member of society. On the other hand, there is the Charybdis of overly harsh, punitive measures, which exacerbate neuroses. With this allusion, Freud implicitly aligns himself with the hero Odysseus, navigating the perils of the psychoanalytic school that he founded. His stinging statement that “revolutionary children are not desirable from any point of view” serves to dismiss his former students as misguided and no longer relevant to the investigations of psychoanalysis (187).

As he often is in this collection, Freud is forthright here about the limitations of psychoanalysis. This is central towards his depiction of analysis as a legitimate science. He corrects the common misconception that psychoanalytic treatment can cure all mental illnesses, or even completely “cure” any mental illness at all. His point here is that while psychoanalysis helps to alleviate suffering, neurosis itself is often permanent. An effective analyst must willingly confront this special challenge, however, since it is only through taking risks that the science is improved in terms of both its theoretical premises and its medical effectiveness.

Freud indicates towards the lecture's end, though, that this conundrum can be difficult for both patient and doctor. Entering therapy is a prerequisite to diagnosis, even though certain diagnoses might indicate an incurable condition. The anecdote of the Scottish King implies that even if psychoanalysis is a modern science, it must nonetheless risk the brutal possibility of being useless in the face of certain entrenched mental illness. In the end, Freud’s lecture chastises his former pupils for abandoning their education prematurely, acknowledges the difficulties that encouraged such defection, and finally stresses why psychoanalysis must nevertheless navigate these difficulties for the good of itself and of mankind in general.