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Iceberg Theory
Sigmund Freud (1856 -1939)
Freud was born in Freiberg, Moravia (now the Czech Republic), died in
London, belonged to Vienna, Austria where he lived for nearly 80 years. His life spanned
one of the most creative periods in the history of science. In 1874, the concept of "
psychodynamics” proposed by Brucke and Helmholtz was adopted by Sigmund Freud.
This was the starting point for Freud's dynamic psychology of the mind and its relation to
the unconscious. In 1879, Freud interrupted his studies to complete his one year of
obligatory military service, and in 1881 he received his Dr. med. (M.D.) with the thesis
Über das Rückenmark niederer Fischarten ("on the spinal cord of lower fish species"). In
1885 Freud went to Paris on a traveling fellowship to study with Jean Martin Charcot. He
was later to remember the experience of this as catalyst in turning him toward the practice
of medical psychopathology. Charcot specialized in the study of hysteria and its
susceptibility to hypnosis. After experimenting with hypnosis on his neurotic patients,
Freud abandoned this form of treatment as it proved ineffective for many, in favor of a
treatment where the patient talked through his or her problems. This came to be known as
the "talking cure", as the ultimate goal of this talking was to locate and release powerful
emotional energy that had initially been rejected, and imprisoned in the unconscious mind.
Freud called this denial of emotions "repression", and he believed that it was often
damaging to the normal functioning of the psyche, and could also retard physical
functioning as well, which he described as "psychosomatic" symptoms The "talking cure"
is widely seen as the basis of psychoanalysis. In 1930, Freud received the Goethe Prize
in appreciation of his contribution to psychology and to German literary culture (Hall,
DISCRIPTION OF THE THEORY: Freud founded psychoanalysis which stated that
behavior is destined by the unconscious mind which holds the repressed impulses and
desires of which the waking mind is completely unaware but determines the ways we
think, feel and act.
Freud classified mental activity to exist at 3 levels: the Id, the Ego and the Superego.
The Id is the center of the primitive instincts, it is strictly for gratifying desires and
pleasures; it is totally unconscious, has no contact with reality. A newborn is often the
example given for this level. The Ego is the next level, it is not so self seeking and does
acknowledge that there does exist a world beyond one’s self; it uses reasoning to make
decisions. The Ego acts as a censor to the Id; the Id and Ego conflict can result in a
person having neuroses. The last level is the Superego an overseer, a conscience that
takes into account whether something is right or wrong. Although we are not aware,
according to Freud’s theory, there is continuous struggle between the Id and the Superego
that the Ego tries to separated (Hall, 1954).
So Freud constructed his theory in the shape of an iceberg. The conscious level is the
small part of the mind that holds what you’re aware of; you can think and talk about your
conscious experience in a logical fashion (see diagram). The preconscious level is
medium part of the mind, the ordinary memory; the information stored here can be readily
brought into mind (see diagram). The unconscious level is the enormous part of the mind
(see diagram). He described it as a mixture of urges, feelings and ideas that are tied to
anxiety, conflict and pain. Freud believed that most of the important personality processes
occurred below the level of conscious awareness (
Freud’s iceberg metaphor for the mind is that only 10% of the iceberg is visible
(conscious) and the other 90% is beneath the water (preconscious and unconscious). Of
which only 10-15% is allotted to the preconscious and the 75-80% is allotted to the
unconscious. (
Freud hoped that his research would provide a solid scientific basis for his therapeutic
technique. The goal of Freudian therapy, or psychoanalysis, was to bring subconsciously
repressed thoughts and feelings into consciousness in order to free the patient from the
suffering caused by the repetitive return of distorted forms of these thoughts and feelings.
(Jacobs, 2003).
PREPARED BY: Jean Thompson
Hall, C. (1954). A primer of Freudian psychology. New York: The New American
Library, Inc.
Freudian psychology and psychoanalysis. Retrieved September 18, 2009 from
Jacobs, M. (2003). Sigmund Freud (2nd ed). London: SAGE
Topography of mind: Freud’s iceberg model for unconscious, pre-conscious &
Retrieved Septemer 18, 2009 from