While psychologists elsewhere were busy with the study of conscious experience and observable behaviour, Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) in Vienna, Austria emphasized the role of unconscious motives and urges in shaping human behaviour. His school is regarded as psychoanalysis. Freud was a psychiatrist and saw his patients suffering immensely because of mental conflicts. The mental conflicts were manifested in the form of physical problems and abnormal behaviour.

Freud believed that outward behaviour is motivated by inner forces and conflicts over which the person has little awareness and control. Abnormal behaviours can be understood if we explore the contents of the unconscious. The methods used for studying the unconscious are hypnosis, free-association, and dream analysis. He used all these methods with his patients. When the patients were hypnotized and allowed to talk freely, they experienced some sense of relief. Dream-analysis revealed the hidden wishes of the patient that lied in the unconscious.

Freud understood the mind in terms of conscious, sub-conscious, and unconscious processes, and emphasized that the ‘unconscious’ primarily influences the ‘conscious experience’. He proposed concepts of id, ego and super-ego to understand and analyze the personality structures of individuals. Alfred Adler, Carl Jung, and Erik Erikson worked with Freud in the early years, but later, they developed their independent schools of thought. Freud’s thinking was revolutionary. Even those who have never taken a course in psychology are aware of Freud’s contribution.