Psychoanalytical Structuralism Compared to Jamesian Functionalism

The great insight of psychological analysis, including Freud’s psychoanalysis, Adler’s individual psychology, Jung’s analytical psychology, and James’s “stream of thought” analogy; is that consciousness can be explained. However, there exists a gulf between the Jamesian understanding of consciousness and the traditional psychoanalytical approach, epitomized by the contrast between functionalism and structuralism, respectively. Whereas structuralism has sought to explain the mind as a reducible set of basic elements (i.e. Freud, Adler, Jung), functionalism seeks to understand the human mind as a deliberate agent of change, able to affect the environment, evolutionary adaptation, and, especially in reference to James, itself.

When it comes to psychology some believe Sigmund Freud is the father of the science, like Darwin, is the father of evolution. In a general psychology class, one of the first lessons is that of Freud’s which involves the id, the home that stores our sexual and aggressive energy; the ego, the place of morality and reality; and the superego, which is our conscious (Kowalski & Westen, 2005). Freud began his journey with psychoanalysis when he and Joseph Breuer examined the intriguing case of Annie O. in the Studies of Hysteria. From this experience, he went on to form other types of therapy developed from his observations and his own life. Such therapies include free association, allowing the patient to speak freely in the belief that whatever is avoided or hidden (Freud referred to this as resistance) is the true culprit of the person’s issues, and dream analysis, a way to explore the unconscious. Freud strongly believed that human behavior was directly linked to sexual motivation due to his observations with various cases using his therapy techniques. In 1902 Freud attracted other physicians and began a group starting with four members which grew to twenty in 1908. They soon then referred to themselves as Vienna Psychoanalytical Society. Freud’s belief of sexual motivation became a huge controversy with his successors but he still never budged on what he was convinced to be true and discounted other opinions. This led to a member from the original group, Alfred Adler, being the first to leave the group and begin his own spin-off to psychoanalysis. Carl Jung would be the next successor to turn into a bitter rival (Goodwin, 2008).

Carl Jung was not one of the original members of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society, such as Alfred Adler, but rather met Freud as the result of several exchanged correspondences (Goodwin, 2005). Freud was interested in Jung’s development of a technique for divulging unconscious associations, called word association. Word association consists of presenting a patient with a word and asking them to say the first word that comes to mind. During this exercise reaction time and breathing is measured in order to understand unconscious elements, much the same as a modern-day polygraph. At any rate, Jung was quickly admitted into Freud’s inner circle subsequently joining Freud on his 1909 trip to America during the Clark conference. Jung was also named the first president of the International Psychoanalytic Society in 1911, in no small part because of Freud. By 1913 though, Jung had started to part ways with Freud just as Adler had done earlier. As with Adler, Jung did not believe that early sexual development was paramount to the understanding of human behavior. Jung proposed analytical psychology as an alternative. In many ways, Jung’s theory went beyond Freudian psychoanalysis. For instance, Jung took the idea of a personal unconscious to the next level and put forth a theory of collective unconsciousness, exemplified in mythology as a culmination of the collective experiences of our ancestors. However, Jung’s theory of analytic psychology put him at odds with both Adler and Freud, as to the underlying cause of unconscious thought, and James, as to the idea of consciousness altogether.

Alfred Adler worked with Sigmund Freud from the year 1902 until 1911. He “…wrote his first psychologically-based paper in 1904 after working with Freud for two years.” (Ansbacher & Huber, n.d.). While Freud tended to believe much more in physiological reasoning for mental disorders, Adler believed much more in the social aspect of psychology. This marked the main difference between the two men. It was believed by many for years that Adler was a “…student or disciple of Freud.” (Ansbacher & Huber, n.d.). This belief irritated Adler to no end, as there was an obvious difference in their beliefs. However, what Adler did like about Freud was that he was “…courageous enough to actually go another way and explore the importance of psychological reasons for physical disturbances and neurosis.” (Ansbacher & Huber, n.d.). Thus, the two worked together for a period of 9 years. It was not until Freud insisted on his theory of the libido and decreased emphasis on the ego that the two separated. And while Adler profusely claimed to have learned nothing from Freud surely he was influenced in some way after working with the man for so many years.
William James’s could be rightly described as a willing pacifist on the subject of psychoanalysis. On the one hand, he claimed that Freud’s ideas, “…can’t fail to throw light on human nature” and then on the other hand said that, “…’symbolism’ is a most dangerous method” (Goodwin, 2005, p. 368). So in James’s mind psychoanalysis can do nothing but further our understanding of human nature, but not through the major avenues of dream analysis, free association, and psychosexual repression; which rely heavily on the interpretation of symbolism. James was also very uncomfortable with any approach to consciousness that sought to reduce the mind to its subordinate parts. He viewed consciousness as a stream of thought, rather than a static, reducible mechanism. James believed that we cannot consider consciousness outside the realm of self-consciousness, that consciousness is constantly changing, and that consciousness is a selective, active agent in and of itself. To James, the functionalist understanding of consciousness as an active agent of mental action was more consistent with reality than what he called the meaningless, artificial exercise of identifying the elements of consciousness, which conforms more to the structuralist perspective (Goodwin, 2005).

In conclusion when it comes to Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Alders, and James they are different in some ways and have their own ways in believing things when it comes to the human mind. The four have their way of explaining of the conscience of a person and their own opinion how to explain personality. The reader had the chance to learn of the similarities and the differences between each well-known psychologist. They all started out together and then when they found the true understanding, they all when their separate ways and started studying their own belief, and make the since of them.


Adler, A. (2008). Brittanica Biographies. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from MasterFILE Premier database.

Ansbacher, H., & Huber, R. (n.d). Adler—Psychotherapy and Freud. Journal of Psychology, 60(4), 333-337. Retrieved January 30, 2009, from SocINDEX.

Goodwin, C. J. (2005). A history of modern psychology (2nd ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Kowalski, R., & Westen, D. (2005). Psychology (4th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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