Psychoanalysis is probably one of the best known paradigms and currents of thought in the field of psychology by the general population.

Types of psychoanalysis, and their differences

Focusing on the presence of unconscious conflicts and the repression of instinct , this is one of the most controversial theories that try to explain, among other things, why we are who we are, think as we think and act as we act.

When talking about psychoanalysis we generally think of its founder Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic theory, but there is a great variety of theories that were derived from it and ended up constituting different types of psychoanalysis.

1. Freudian Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is not only a set of psychological theories, but also a method of research and a mode and technique of psychotherapeutic treatment.

The psychoanalytic theory has its origin in the figure of Sigmund Freud, a Viennese doctor specialized in neurology who lived during the Victorian era and who throughout his career developed various theories and explanatory models regarding the structure of personality, human development and psychopathology.


Freudian psychoanalysis and later all types of psychoanalysis or psychodynamic theories have been characterized by dividing the psyche into three fundamental aspects, conscious, preconscious and unconscious, of which the study of the latter has been the main focus. The unconscious is the most determining part of the psyche, as it collects the most primitive and impulsive desires, impulses and sensations that we develop since childhood and is governed by the principle of pleasure.

It, me and superyó

Furthermore, in this theory the psychic apparatus is configured by three main elements, called it, me and superego. While the it is the instinctive and impulsive part that dictates what we want and that usually acts on an unconscious level, the overself is the part of our psyche that observes the morality of behavior and seeks to seat it in a responsible manner. Finally, the self would be responsible for making the desires of the self enter into what the Overself finds acceptable, using various defense mechanisms to mediate between desires and reality.


For Freud, the main motor of behavior and psychic life is the libidinal or sexual drive . These instincts are repressed by the consciousness on the basis of the censure provoked by the Overself about it, which causes the self to seek mechanisms to repress or sublimate desires. Such defense mechanisms may not be sufficiently efficient in resolving internal conflicts, and may generate various disorders.

In addition to all the above, Freud establishes a developmental model based on the libidinal impulse, his genetic model of psychosexual development. In this model, the individual will go through the oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital phases, overcoming different complexes and anguishes until achieving complete psychosexual development and maturation. It is possible that regressions will be suffered that would translate into different behaviors and pathologies.


Psychic problems are a symptom of the existence of unconscious conflicts , which are generally due to repressed traumas or unresolved problems, appearing because the defense mechanisms have not been able to reduce the tension generated by such conflicts.


With regard to psychotherapeutic treatment, the Freudian approach places special emphasis on the relationship between the professional and the therapist , known as the therapeutic relationship. Given the importance given to sexual needs when explaining behaviour, Freud considered that their repression and non-satisfaction could cause part of the libido to be directed towards the therapist, transferring the blocked emotions to the figure of the professional as a way of reliving the repressed events. The projection mechanism is used for this purpose.

According to this theory, analysing these transfers will allow the patient to discover the repressed elements and blockages that exist, thus improving the patient’s condition. It also takes into account the reactions of the therapist to the patient’s revelations or countertransferences, which may allow the interpretation of what was unconsciously expressed by the treated individual. This last aspect has to be very controlled so that the therapeutic relationship is not contaminated.

2. Continuing with Freudian theory: the psychoanalytic tradition of the self

A large number of Freud’s disciples considered that his theories were correct and true, maintaining a certain continuity with the founder of the discipline in the development of psychoanalysis. However, the fact that they accepted the theories of the father of psychoanalysis does not imply that they did not develop new perspectives and types of psychoanalysis , deepening them and expanding into new fields.

In this sense, the psychoanalytic tradition of the self is characterized by expanding its scope of action, applying it to children and other severe disorders. More emphasis would be placed on the self, and the focus would be on interpersonal relationships. There would also be some differences with Freudian psychoanalysis, such as greater directivity and activity on the part of the professional and a closer focus on the real, and social. The aim was to increase the individual’s ability to adapt and to value the individual’s decision-making capacity.

Even though multiple authors can be inscribed within this tradition, such as Anna Freud, who greatly deepened the different defense mechanisms that we employ, in general the components of the psychoanalytic tradition of the self would accept most of the Freudian concepts and theories. Some of the authors who made the most significant contributions are the following.


Winnicott’s contributions focused on the role of transitional objects and phenomena and the role of the mother and the mother-child bond in human development. This author considered that mental problems are due to failures in the provision of stimulation during childhood.

As the child develops, he or she establishes relationships with the environment and the different beings around him or her. Initially, they establish a series of behaviors or links with objects (transitional) that make anxiety more tolerable, also allowing them to begin to differentiate between the self and the not self.

The mother’s role in development is fundamental, being the mother’s concern captured by the child and giving him/her security and acting as an auxiliary self until the child manages to elaborate his/her own self. The child will go through several phases of dependency until it can be autonomous .

In cases where therapy is necessary, the therapist has to act as a transitional object that allows for the encouragement and completion of development through transference and countertransference.

3. Melanie Klein’s theory of object relations

Melanie Klein’s work in child psychoanalysis is widely known . Focusing mainly on the practical rather than the theoretical aspect, this author is considered the founder of the theory of object relations, according to which the individual relates to the environment according to the type of links established between subject and object.

Unconscious Fantasy

One of the most important types of psychoanalysis focused on the development of children, a very important concept for the author is the unconscious fantasy, understood as that expression of desires and instincts that exist since the beginning of life . These fantasies are the ones that direct the child’s behaviour and allow him/her to understand his/her attitude and way of acting.

When evaluating and treating children it is especially important to use symbolic play as an element to extract information from the children. since free association cannot be applied as it does not have sufficient resources and maturity to do so. However, in the game the unconscious fantasies that direct the behaviour are projected, in a similar way to what would be done by free association. Furthermore, the interpretation of the sense of the game can serve to modify the infant’s distress.

In terms of how to link to objects, it establishes two positions: The first is the schizoparanoid position in which the individual is not able to distinguish between the self and the not-self and in which therefore he is not able to integrate that the same object can sometimes be gratifying and sometimes be absent or painful, so that each object is split in two (one good and one bad). One has a concrete and partial thought.

The second is the depressive position, in which objects begin to be seen as a whole, sometimes good and sometimes bad, and with which comes the fear of losing the loved one.

In object relations the drive for life would be seen through gratitude , while the drive for death would be seen through envy and jealousy. This is especially important for the resolution of the Oedipus conflict.

It also indicates that the Self has four basic functions, experiencing and fighting anxiety caused by the death drive, the establishment of object relations, the integration and synthesis of the self, and the acquisition and emission through introjection and projection of external or internal attitudes and characteristics.

4. Neofreudian tradition: divergences with Freudian psychoanalysis

Freud’s theories initially attracted numerous scholars who would be trained in the complexities of the human mind under the school of psychoanalysis.

In many cases, however, important differences would emerge in the way various aspects of the psyche are conceived. For example, many authors opposed the concept of death drive . Others were also more interested in the conscious aspects of the person. The identification of sexuality as the main motor of behaviour and development would also be widely discussed, being considered something secondary in the determination of behaviour. Furthermore, in Freudian psychoanalysis, social and cultural aspects are not deepened nor is excessive value given to the current situation of the patient, which is mostly derived from childhood trauma.

For this reason many authors ended up abandoning classical psychoanalysis and establishing their own lines of thought, and new types of psychoanalysis emerged. Some of the most outstanding authors are the following.

5. Jungian Analytical Psychology

Carl Gustav Jung was one of Freud’s disciples who, although he began his journey with the father of psychoanalysis, would end up disagreeing with him in many ways, separating himself from his school and developing what would be called analytical or profound psychology. For Jung, although the libido was present in the human being, it was only a secondary part of his being and not his main motor.

It is one of the most well known types of psychoanalysis, where energy is the main engine of human action. This energy is expressed in thinking, feeling, intuition and perception .

Two types of unconscious

Another of the main differences is that analytical psychology considers the existence of two types of unconscious : an individual one in which the repressed experiences can be found and another collective one from which the knowledge and understanding of the ancestors is partly inherited. In the first one, complexes derived from childhood traumas can be generated, always existing in the individual a part of which we are conscious and show to the world, the person, and a part called shadow in which our instinctive and unconscious side is censored and hidden from the world.

Collective unconscious

With regard to the collective unconscious, based on it we can see the existence of diverse archetypes or universal and shared psychic expressions that act autonomously in the face of external events and that are expressed in different ways in our lives, allowing us to relate our ego with the environment until the end of the process of individuation.


Personality is forged from basic processes, mainly in the development of relations between subject and object at the time in what will determine our level of introversion or extraversion, in the rational capacity in what refers to the capacity to reflect or feel and in the irrational processes at the time of establishing if we are more sensorial or intuitive.

Deep psychology gives great importance to the symbolic and spiritual l, working largely through the artistic and spontaneous expressions of the unconscious. That is why the analysis of dreams is of great importance, which have a compensatory and clarifying function of the consciousness.

The final objective of the treatment in this type of psychoanalysis is to achieve the correct development of the self or individuality, from a relationship of collaboration between patient and therapist.

6. Adler’s Individual Psychology

As with Jung, Adler would consider Freud’s theory to place too much emphasis on the sexual realm . Moreover, unlike Freud, he considers that although the unconscious and the past are important, the human being is by itself an active being with the capacity to create and decide in the present, not being determined by his past.

Here and Now

This type of psychoanalysis is more centred on the here and now, with the conscious self having great importance in Adler’s thinking and the individual being aware of his possibilities and limitations. This is why would end up separating himself from traditional psychoanalysis and establishing individual psychology .

Sense of inferiority

For this author, the problems arise from the understanding that one’s own desires are beyond the reach of the individual, giving rise to a feeling of inferiority. Thus, individual psychology is based on the desire for power as a way of trying to compensate for feelings of inferiority. The human being tends to seek the feeling of belonging to the community.

For this author it is necessary to treat the individual in a holistic way , having great importance his beliefs and concepts of himself and the world. We work from the change in lifestyle trying to make conscious a vital guideline that, changing the orientation towards the events of life, the individual wants to follow and strengthen it through self-confidence.

7. Sullivan’s Interpersonal Psychoanalysis

This is one of the types of psychoanalysis most focused on the relationship between people , with the focus on the ability to establish interpersonal relationships and communication. The interpersonal comes to assume and provoke the intrapsychic, understanding these relationships as the main motor and modifier of behavior.

Under interpersonal psychoanalysis personality is and is due to the stable pattern of interpersonal situations that characterize the human being. This pattern is composed of dynamics, personifications and a system of the self elaborated from experience.

Dynamics and needs

Dynamisms are ways perpetuated through time in which the individual transforms his energy by directing it to the attempt of satisfaction of a need , either of self-satisfaction or of security (understood as relief of anxiety). These dynamics reduce the tension produced by the presence of a need, but in case they are not effective they will generate anxiety that will derive in destructive behaviors.

Embodiments are the way we interpret the interpersonal, the reactions and attitudes of others. They are schemes elaborated from repeated experience with others that will be fixed to our internal structure, forming part of our personality.

As for the ego system, it is a personality system developed through life experiences and aimed at protecting our self-esteem by satisfying the people we love.

  • Related article: “Harry Stack Sullivan’s Interpersonal Theory”


With all this, it is possible to observe that the main emphasis of this type of psychoanalysis is found in the use of the symbol as a communicative element and in the expression of mental and physical contents .

For Sullivan, the events we experience are processed internally in different ways as we grow. The first of these would be the prototaxic, typical of newborns, in which the environment is felt as something undifferentiated over which we have no control. Later we would see the world in a parataxic way, being able to make associations between elements of the environment and predictions as we acquire experience and symbolic capacity. Finally, as adults and in the case of achieving a correct development we would get to experience the world in a syntactic way, being able to share symbols in a correct and active way and basing the action on logic and adaptation to the context.


For this type of psychoanalysis, psychological problems such as mental disorders are the product of unadaptive relational patterns or of maladjusted dynamics , and must be treated taking into account therapy as a type of interpersonal relationship that must provide security while facilitating changes that make personal relationships more adaptive and in which the patient expresses himself adaptively and free of inhibitions.

8. Fromm’s humanistic psychoanalysis

Traditional psychoanalysis is mainly based on the power of the unconscious over the individual’s behavior, addressing and focusing on the existence of conflicts and pathological thought processes.Erich Fromm, however, believed that to understand the human mind it is necessary to know how we find meaning in our lives, exploring the positive and motivational side of the psyche.

This is one of the types of psychoanalysis with the most humanistic approach and linked to positive elements without rejecting the importance of human pain.

However, another characteristic of Erich Fromm’s psychoanalytic perspective is that it incorporates an important social component into its ideas, and it does not focus so much on individuals.

Affection and love

For this author, the human being is capable of facing pain by giving a sense or meaning to it as well as to his own life. Fromm considered that interpersonal problems are the main source of discomfort, in a struggle between our personal desires and goals and the desire to bond with others. For humanistic psychoanalysis, to overcome discomfort it is necessary to develop affection, acceptance of the other and love .

The main objective of Fromm’s humanistic psychoanalysis is based not on the treatment and avoidance of suffering, but on the search for happiness and the empowerment of one’s own strengths and weaknesses through the establishment of vital objectives.

9.Returning to the origin: Lacan’s psychoanalysis

Regardless of whether they followed Freud or ended up having fun with him, most of the post-Classical Psychoanalysis theories represented significant advances in different areas of knowledge.

However, one of the types of post-Freudian psychoanalysis is in favour of returning to a classical approach and closer to the initial one, the rest having moved too far away from the fundamental pillars of the paradigm. This is Jacques Lacan’s approach.

Pleasure, suffering and tension

The contributions of this author include the distinction between the concepts of pleasure as an activity aimed at avoiding suffering or reducing tension and enjoyment as a pleasant element linked to increasing this tension, unconsciously enjoying what would generate discomfort. He recovers the concept of death drive (introducing it in the idea of jouissance) .

It reinterprets the psychic structure in real, imaginary and symbolic. The real would be that which we do not know and which we are not capable of expressing with language, the imaginary would be that which is represented in dreams and fantasies, and the symbolic would be all that is born of consciousness and in which we use codes such as the word, forming the Overself and structuring the ‘I’.

Thus, language is of great importance, allowing to join the discourse of the unconscious with the conscious . He also proposes that the truth, as something real, is not bearable for the “I” being only possible to know a part of it being restricted by the symbolic.

Bibliographic references:

  • Almond tree, M.T. (2012). Psychotherapies. Manual CEDE de Preparación PIR, 06. CEDE: Madrid