Drive-, Structure-, and Conflict Theory

The core element of Freudian theory shared by all psychoanalytic schools, is the crucial importance of the unconscious. Contrary to the common psychiatric opinions of his time, Freud did not locate the causes of neurotic symptoms in the organic but in repressed drives, fantasies, and desires, which are usually rooted in the Oedipus complex, i.e., in the patient’s relationship to their closest attachment figures (parents). These drives are experienced as unacceptable; they clash with conscious ideas and are therefore repressed. However, they continue to affect the unconscious and influence how we think, feel, and act. They appear in dreams, in slips of the tongue, or symptoms. Freud’s approach is to make the patient cognizant of this repressed content and to revive and work on the conflict in the psychoanalytic situation—the relationship to the analyst, the so-called transference relationship.

Freud’s central assumptions are radical: the conception of a subject that is also determined by unconscious libidinous and destructive drives; the assumption of an infantile sexuality that knows of multiple pleasure possibilities; the notion that gender identity and adult sexuality are not biologically determined but formed through identifications and conflicts in the Oedipus complex. Since Freud, drive theory has branched off into a pluralistic field through various shifts of emphasis. While some proponents took up approaches from object relations theories, others focused on conflict, on the structure of the psyche that was described by Freud as consisting of the ego, id, and super-ego, and on defense mechanisms. Other proponents added intersubjective approaches to the inner psychological dynamics.


Jean Laplanche (1924, Paris - 2012, Beaune)

One of the most important and original advancements of the psychoanalytic drive theory in the Freudian tradition comes from Jean Laplanche. After studying philosophy, Laplanche began a training analysis with Jacques Lacan in the 1940s and finally started studying medicine. In the 1960s Laplanche turned away from Lacan’s theories and treatment methods and began his own unorthodox approach to Freud’s work. While Freud considers the drive as a stimulus that originates in the body and as a “demand made upon the mind for work,” Laplanche locates the drive in a social situation from the outset. Drive-based sexuality emerges in the child through the implantation of enigmatic messages from the adults’ unconscious. In psychoanalysis, Laplanche is not concerned with uncovering an originally given and then repressed content but with new translations, deconstructions, and constructions of contents—which must always remain enigmatic and inaccessible, since they come from the other.

Picture: Jean Laplanche

Ilka Quindeau: Freudian and Contemporary Psychoanalytic Drive-, Structure-, and Conflict Theory

Ilka Quindeau, Prof. Dr., is psychologist, sociologist and psychoanalyst. She is a training analyst (DPV/IPA) and professor of psychoanalysis and was the president of the International Psychoanalytic University in Berlin from 2018 to 2020. Today, she is working as a professor for clinical psychology in Frankfurt. Quindeau has published extensively on gender and sexuality issues, biographical studies and trauma research, i. a. Seduction and Desire: The Psychoanalytic Theory of Sexuality Since Freud (2013). Der Wunsch nach Nähe Liebe und Begehren in der Psychotherapie (with Wolfgang Schmidbauer, 2017).

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