Founding Psychologies

Scientific psychology had three foundings. The first was the psychology of consciousness established by Wilhelm Wundt (1832-1920). The second was the psychology of adaptation, begun by popular writer Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), but given greatest voice by William James (1842-1910). The third was psychoanalysis, launched by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).

Psychology of Consciousness

The guiding ideas of the psychology of consciousness have already been described. It defined psychology in the Cartesian way as the experimental science of consciousness as such. and experimental research on consciousness had been underway since 1860. Wundt’s paramount achievement was institutional, creating at Leipzig in 1879 the first institute able to grant doctoral degrees in psychology.

The psychology of consciousness was, however, short-lived. It was cramped; Wundt’s attempt to broaden it with his Volkerpsychologie went nowhere. It was rent by schisms that seemed more characteristic of philosophy than science. Wundt’s theories were challenged by the Gestalt psychologists, who rejected the idea that consciousness is composed of associated ideas, and by the related act psychology of Franz Brentano (1838-1917), which focused on mental activity rather than conscious content. Its emphasis on pure research could not resist societies’ desires that psychology be useful. It ran into grave questions it seemed unable to answer. At Wiirzburg, Wundt’s former student Oswald Kulpe (1862-1915), tried, against Wundt’s protests, to study thinking with experimental introspection. His findings could not be replicated consistently, leading many psychologists to conclude that introspection was unscientific; they replaced the psychology of consciousness with the more useful psychology of behavior, discarding consciousness as an object of scientific study.

Psychology of Adaptation

The psychology of adaptation began in 1855 when Spencer gave the psychology of consciousness an evolutionary twist in his Principles of Psychology (London). Before evolution, philosophers and psychologists took mind for granted, being concerned with how it works. Evolution, however, posed new questions, the most important being why we have minds (consciousness) at all. “If the doctrine of evolution is true,” Spencer wrote, “the inevitable implication is that Mind can be understood only by observing how mind is evolved.” Not an original thinker, Spencer espoused the standard empiricist view of consciousness as a mirror, simply adding that being able to internally represent the world was adaptive.

James, too, rethought philosophy and psychology in the light of evolution. He was the most influential of the pragmatists, who, inspired by evolution, rejected the traditional philosophical quest for eternal Truth. Just as species change to adapt to new environmental challenges, our beliefs change with experience. There is no fixed Truth, only currently useful—adaptive— truths. James carried pragmatism and evolution into psychology. For him, consciousness is useful not primarily because it represents the world, but because it is a “fighter for ends,” giving its bearer interests and the power to choose adaptive courses of action.

James himself remained a psychologist of consciousness. However, after James, consciousness gradually disappeared from psychology. Functionalism slowly turned into behaviorism, concerned with action rather than thought. The psychology of adaptation has proved itself adaptive, remaining the broad orientation of the vast majority of working psychologists.

Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis

Although people tend to think of psychologists as psychotherapists, and psychoanalysis as the premier form of psychotherapy, psychoanalysis is only one form of psychotherapy, and both arose in psychiatry.

Background: Psychiatry and Neurology

Like psychology, psychiatry was born in the nineteenth century. Johann Christian Reil (1759-1813) coined the term in 1808, although the older term alienist remained widely used. Psychiatry entered the German university a little earlier than psychology, in 1865, through the efforts of Wilhelm Griesinger (1817-1868). In August 1887, two Dutch psychiatrists first used the word “psychotherapy.

Asylums for the insane gave birth to psychiatry. Asylums had been around since the Middle Ages, but only in the late 1790s did they try to cure rather than merely isolate the insane. The administrators of a few asylums began to practice “moral [mental] therapy,” freeing inmates from their chains and instituting regimes of attentive care. In 1801, an influential textbook by Phillipe Pinel (1745-1826) made moral therapy the gold standard for asylum psychiatry. Problems less severe than madness were treated by neurologists. Neurologists supervised rest cures at spas and consulted with patients in private offices. By the end of the century, however, the two fields had become effectively merged under the rubric of psychiatry.

A great problem facing psychiatrists was seeing through bizarre symptoms to underlying illnesses. The first to succeed was Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926). a psychiatrist who became fascinated by psychology and undertook study in Wundt’s laboratory. Thus trained as a scientist, he sifted through case histories looking for patterns of symptoms and outcomes. From his research came the first scientifically informed psychiatric diagnosis, dementia praecox, now known as schizophrenia.

Two theories about the cause of mental illness contested the field of psychiatry. One viewed mental illnesses as physical ailments. Madness was caused by troubles in the brain; lesser syndromes such as hysteria or neurasthenia, by troubles in the nervous system. Whether attempted cures were psychological, as in moral therapy (including talking to patients), or physical (e.g., electrotherapy. passing electrical currents through the body), psychiatrists and neurologists mostly agreed that they were treating biological disorders. The rival view said the causes of mental illness lay in the patient’s psychological history and life circumstances. This “Romantic psychiatry” focused on patients’ religious and moral lives and was the forerunner of psychoanalysis.


After doing scientific research of lasting importance on the structure of neurons, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) turned to consulting-office neurology in order to afford marriage. Although Freud, like the other founders, wanted psychology to be a science, in psychoanalysis he created something of a cult, complete with secrecy (Freud destroyed his early letters and notes), a rite of laying on of hands (training analysis), and a heroic myth of origin (Freud’s self-analysis).

Freud was initially attracted to the idea of making psychology scientific by tying it closely to neuroscience and wrote a manuscript. “Project for a scientific psychology,” which he later tried to suppress. For reasons shrouded in mystery and controversy, he abandoned his “psychology for neurologists” for what became psychoanalysis. He came to believe that his patients were not biologically ill, but suffered from deliberately forgotten (repressed) traumas experienced in early childhood. At first he said the traumas were sexual seductions by older children, nurses, and tutors, but later came to conclude that the traumas were fantasies of sex with the opposite-sex parent (the Oedipus complex). Psychoanalytic therapy involved retrieving these supposed repressed fantasies, often under great pressure from Freud. Freud’s search for repressed fantasies and hidden meanings connects him with the paranoid trend in modern philosophy, according to which every belief is assumed false until proven true. According to psychoanalysis, underneath consciousness is not the self or the brain but a deceptive, seething cauldron of repressed furies, the unconscious.

Freud did not abandon biology completely. He espoused a form of Lamarckian evolution, holding that the Oedipus complex was an individual reenactment of the murder of the first human father by his sons, an event seared into humanity’s collective unconscious. He also held that his stages of psychosexual development recapitulated human evolution. Most famously, Freud traced his patient’s troubles to sexuality, for him the key human motive, and indisputably biological.

Freud gathered disciples about him, but important ones abandoned or were expelled from psychoanalysis. Typically, dissidents rejected what they saw as Freud’s excessive emphasis on sexuality. Alfred Adler (1870-1937), for example, stressed feelings of inferiority and a compensating “will to power.” The most important of Freud’s dissident followers was Carl Gustav Jung (1875-­1961). Before studying with Freud, Jung had established himself as an internationally known psychiatrist. Freud had worried that because most of his followers were Jewish, the influence of psychoanalysis might be ghettoized, and he anointed the Gentile Jung his “crown prince.” However, Jung’s thinking departed markedly from Freud’s, being more sympathetic to, and influenced by, religious and moral concerns. To Jung, Freud was excessively materialistic, seeing only the darker side of human nature and oblivious to spiritual yearnings. Inevitably, Freud and Jung fell out. Jung was forced from the leadership of the psychoanalytic movement, and in their last letters. Freud and Jung traded diagnoses as insults.

Psychoanalysis shared important tensions with experimental psychology. The most important was viewing psychoanalysis as Naturwissenschaft or Geisteswissenschaft. Freud insisted that psychoanalysis be a natural science, but his practice was more like literary interpretation than scientific investigation. For example, in what he regarded as his masterwork. The Interpre­tation of Dreams (New York. 1900) Freud offered a theory of dream production rooted in his “Project.” However, when interpreting dreams. Freud deployed literary methods depending on word play, allegory, and symbolism. Jung’s rival analytic psychology adopted this interpretive approach to the mind, as Jung looked for universal patterns of symbolism across history and cultures. This hermeneutic (though not always Jungian) form of psychoanalysis is now the major force in psychoanalysis, literary criticism, and cultural studies. The same tension arose in Freud’s attempt to build his science on conversations with patients. Psychotherapists know their clients as individuals, with names, life stories, and personal problems, whereas scientific psychologists know their subjects as impersonal specimens of Homo sapiens. Freud thought he could move from particular, unique experiences to scientific generalizations about human nature everywhere and every time. For example, having fabricated an early memory of sexually desiring his mother and fearing his father, Freud concluded it was a universal experience, the Oedipus complex. Instead of concluding that some children sometimes have these feelings, Freud’s dedication to scientific universality led him to formulate a universal law from a single case. Today, many therapists reject Freud’s scientific prepossession, seeing therapy as constructing a narrative of the client’s life that resolves the past and enables the future.

Psychoanalysis powerfully shaped the twentieth century and Freudian ideas became commonplace. The idea of psychiatry as a “talking cure” for psychiatric disorders helped lead to the creation of clinical psychology in the 1940s, although psychologists rarely practiced psychoanalysis, developing their own methods, such as Carl Rogers’s client-centered psychotherapy. To a growing number of critics however, Freudian psychoanalysis should be regarded as a relic of nineteenth-century psychology and psychiatry.