Monday, February 28, 2011

Theoretical Positions of Freud, Jung, Adler, and James

Theoretical Positions of Freud, Jung, Adler, and James
In collaboration with A. Eldridge, K. Flowers, T. Pierce, B. Ruck, & K. Schulz

Pioneers of psychology, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and William James were influential thinkers, early founders, and significant contributors to the modern science of psychology (Goodwin, 2008). Although their theories were at least as distinct as the four men were, they were passionate about their endeavors, and never settled with conclusion - their entire lives were spent in earnest search for better understanding of the human psychological frailties and their betterment (Goodwin, 2008). Although continued debate ensues, no one doubts their contributions remain at the forefront of psychological thought (Goodwin, 2008). During a time when the young science of psychology sought to address and understand people's internal changes and struggles, the pioneering spirit of these men took form in their perspectives and approaches. They have since become a long-standing institution that continues to seek answers and applications with which to ease the struggles of the human condition.

Varied Positions on Human Psychological Functioning

Carl Jung

Carl Jung separated from Sigmund Freud to develop his own human personality theory based on his belief that the human psyche has an undeniable religious nature (Malamud, 1923). He thought dreams contained significant insight into people's psyche and theorized that for people to become whole, they must be taught to integrate the unconscious with the conscious mind in a process he called individuation (Malamud, 1923). This process was at the center of his analytical psychology (Malamud, 1923). Jung considered people's social aspect when he said, “The human psyche cannot function without a culture, and no individual is possible without society" (Richards, 2008, p.7).

Alfred Adler

Adler thought that the basic psychological element of neurosis was a sense of inferiority and that individuals suffering with symptoms of this phenomenon spent their lives trying to overcome the feelings without ever being in touch with reality (White, 1917). He also believed that if neurotic symptoms began in childhood, some of the adult behavior would continue to reflect the age at which the individual stopped developing (White, 1917). Adler directed many of his studies toward application in educational models (Palencik, 2011).

William James

William James recognized that mental processes and personality traits are subject to the evolutionary process as are our physical bodies and this evolutionary process must be considered in the study of the human psyche (Nielson & Day, 1999). James thought consciousness existed as a function not as a separate and distinct entity, and it was self-contained, continually changing, and constantly flowing or moving (as in stream of consciousness) (Nielson & Day, 1999). He theorized that human consciousness underwent change in the natural selection process of evolution and changed because of the emergence of the cerebrum in the brain (Nielson & Day, 1999). James' theory on emotion is frequently criticized for trivializing the value of emotions by attributing inappropriate and excessive value to physiological sensations while neglecting emotion's cognitive role (Ratcliffe, 2005).

Sigmund Freud

Sigmund Freud viewed the entire human psyche from a sexual perspective (Freud, 1911). He theorized that the human mind had three basic components: the id, the ego, and the superego, and these individual parts often conflict, shaping personality and if not treated, causing neurosis (Putnam, 1917). He also believed there were two basic conflicting drives in a person, the life drive and the death drive (Putnam, 1917). The life drive supports survival by avoiding uncomfortable and life-threatening situations while the death drive exists simultaneously with a penchant toward extreme pleasure that Freud thought lead to death (Putnam, 1917).

Comparison and Contrast of Theories

Freud as a Pivotal Force to Jung and Adler

W.H. Auden once wrote of Freud, "to us he is no more a person now but a whole climate of opinion" (Reppen, 2006, p. 2). Freud's often-controversial psychoanalysis was an attempt to explain the human personality, and he theorized that the human psyche was a composite of the id, ego, and superego and the conflict between these components shaped personality (Goodwin, 2008). Although Freud's psychoanalysis sought to address underlying issues in a person's life and Adler theorized that all of one's activities center on a basic plan for life, they agreed that personal characteristics originate during childhood (Fisher, 2001). Among many psychoanalysts after Freud, two of the most prominent are Carl Jung and Alfred Adler (Burrow, 1917). Jung theorized that individuation was a necessary process for an individual to become whole by the integration of the conscious with the unconscious (Putnam, 1917). Credit is given to Jung for his fundamental role in shaping the early years of psychoanalysis, as he was intimately associated with Freud (Casement, 2008). The Distinct Religious Perspective of James

William James' view on religion was different from Jung's, Adler's, and Freud's as he believed to understand religion, one must have religious experience (Hart, 2008). Whereas Freud believed that each person interprets religion differently, Jung believed that religious understanding was not available to all people (Burrow, 1917). Adler theorized people make sense of the world with their religious view (Hart, 2008), and that people can only realize religion through belief in God (Wood, 2003). The religious beliefs of Jung and James contributed to the genesis of Alcoholics Anonymous, which has produced similar organizations that deal with substance abuse (Finlay, 2000).

Major Disagreements between the Perspectives

Disagreement with Freud's Theories of the Conscious and Unconscious

Regarding Freudian psychology, W. Vaughan (1927) has written "the authoritative, dogmatic manner of its presentation…favored the rise of spirited opposition it its train" (p. 1). The most significant difference in perspectives is between Freud and James. Whereas Freud believed that behaviors are controlled by the unconscious mind, which could be understood through dreams and free association, James believed that self-reflection and introspection was the way to understand mental life (Goodwin, 2008). Freud thought a professional should do the analysis of dreams (Freud, 1911); whereas James believed that anyone could self reflect (Hart, 2008).

Disagreement with Freud's Sexual Motivation

Jung and Adler, previously associated with Freud, disagreed with his theories of sexual motivation and psychosexual development (Putnam, 1917). They thought he placed excessive emphasis on sexual motivation which reduced human behavior to one fundamental motivation (Putnam, 1917). Adler believed that his own notion of the inferiority complex should replace Freud’s emphasis on sexual motivation and he used self-reflection as a primary motivation and basis for his psychological theories (Adler &Fleisher, 1988). Adler focused on social factors for his theories, whereas Freud focused on internally held forces, including conflicts, biological dispositions, and sexual motivation (Goodwin, 2008).

Of the four men, Jung and Freud had the most similar views (Goodwin, 2008). Jung, like Adler questioned Freud on his theories of sexual motivation and developed the theory of analytical psychology (Goodwin, 2008). His theories were similar to Freud’s but he extended them to include a more evolutionary perspective (Goodwin, 2008).


Freud, Jung, Adler, and James proposed significant theories in the early years of psychology (Goodwin, 2008). Although perspectives and theories varied widely between these men, their contributions remain the fundamental underpinnings of the modern science (Goodwin, 2008). In closer examination of the various ideas, it is clear that although there was substantial disagreement between the theorists, there were intersections of commonality and bridges on which modern day theorists find passageway to new perspectives. The science of psychology has its roots in the theoretical positions of these four men, and as the science moves forward with new psychological discoveries, the importance of these early theories remain at the forefront of the field (Goodwin, 2008). Although debate continues, these early thoughts propelled further scientific investigation and served to form the basic parameters that provided definition to psychological study. Thankfully, their theories varied widely enough to encompass and promote the vast amount of knowledge now contained within the science of psychology.


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