What are the key concepts of psychoanalysis?

The central aim of psychoanalysis therapy is to release repressed emotions and experiences by bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness. Psychoanalysts believe that only by having a cathartic experience can the patient be helped and cured.

Like Carl Jung’s analytical psychology, psychoanalysis spawned a number of concepts that entered into psychotherapeutic practices and remain popular today. Some of the most important include the following: 

Freudian slip

Named after Freud himself, a Freudian slip is centred on the idea that unconscious thoughts and feelings can transfer to the conscious mind in the form of parapraxes. He believed that it was in these slips that people reveal what’s truly on their mind by saying something when they did not intend to.

In psychoanalysis, Freudian slips are seen as providing insight into the unconscious mind, with the belief that there are no accidents. In other words, all behaviour, including saying something without meaning to, is given weight.


Transference is a phenomenon in which an individual redirects unconscious emotions and feelings from one person to another. It typically involves feelings from childhood, as Freud believed that it was during this time that a person’s development and personality as an adult were formed.

In the context of psychoanalysis, a patient is thought to demonstrate transference when expressing feelings toward the therapist that appear to be based on the patient’s past feelings about someone else.

Free association

Free association is a psychoanalytic method in which a patient talks freely about whatever comes into their mind. The way it works is a therapist will usually present a word or idea, and the patient immediately responds with the first thing they think of.

The idea of free association is that fragments of repressed memories will emerge in the course of the session, providing insight into the unconscious mind. The thoughts don’t have to be coherent, but they must be authentic.

Id, ego, and super-ego

Among Freud's most important concepts is the belief that the human psyche is made up of three aspects: id, ego, and super-ego. 

According to psychoanalytic thinking, the id is the primitive, instinctual part of the mind containing sexual and aggressive drives; the super-ego is the moral conscience; and the ego is the realistic part that mediates between the two.

Although the id, ego, and super-ego have their own distinct features, they interact to form a whole, with each part contributing to a person’s behaviour.

Dream analysis

Another one of Freud’s most enduring concepts was his analysis of dreams. For him, the conscious mind acted like a censor during the day: it blocked true feelings and repressed unwanted thoughts. 

During sleep, however, he thought that the mind could behave more freely and expressively in the form of dreams, which acted as a “royal road to the unconscious”. In other words, analysing dreams was a way of tapping into the unconscious mind.

According to psychoanalytic theory, dreams contain both manifest and latent content. Manifest content includes information from the dream as the person remembers it; latent content, on the other hand, represents the repressed, symbolic meaning embedded within the dream.

To find out more about psychoanalysis and how it can be applied to improve your life, book a session with Philippe Jacquet & Associates. We’re based in Harley Street, London, and have decades’ of experience in using key Freudian concepts to approach everything from personality disorders to alcohol addictions.


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