Freudian Psychology is based on the work of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). He is the founder of Psychoanalysis and is credited with establishing the field of verbal psychotherapy. Freud is known for his theories of the unconscious mind, dreams, infantile sexuality, libido, repression, and transference, ego, and the superego.

However, despite his acclaimed influence on psychology and psychotherapy, it seems that Freudian Psychology is criticized by many (Horgan, 2017) and is even considered to be pseudoscience.

Is Freudian Psychology considered to be a scientifically valid approach?

Sigmund Freud. source: Wikipedia

What are the different branches of Psychoanalysis?
Is there anything in Freudian psychoanalytic theory that is scientifically sound?
Which schools of psychotherapy are most credible to a hard scientist?


2 Answers 2


Short answer
Freudian Psychology is considered by many to be pseudoscience, but as pointed out in another answer, there have recently been increasing numbers of comparisons between psychoanalysis and other depth psychology schools (e.g. a long-term study of CBT vs psychoanalysis for depression, where CBT is not much effective) with results which show that

  • psychoanalysis is just as effective as CBT for many disorders,
  • it is more effective for certain disorders, and
  • it is less effective for others.

In other words, psychoanalysis and CBT are both appropriate for certain patients and disorders and that the decision between them has to be made case by case.

Freudian psychology is still applied, and Freudian psychoanalysis is still actively used today and according to the Science Council, Science is...

...the pursuit and application of knowledge and understanding of the natural and social world following a systematic methodology based on evidence.

It is in the scientific evidence where the support of the Freudian approach is limited. However, Freud's ideas have never been extensively assessed scientifically. For instance, there is no unambiguous evidence that psychoanalysis works (Horgan, 1996) and supporters of Freud’s theories are believed to be influenced mainly on the confirming evidence, while they largely ignore the disconfirming cases (Shermer, 2011). Indeed, Sulloway (Dufresne, 2007) argues that...

The greatest failing of psychoanalysis is its blatant rejection of the scientific method. Without such methods for critical thinking, a discipline inevitably drifts from one pseudoscientific system of belief to another.

It should be stressed, however, that the human psyche is extremely complex and largely not understood. Other theories that are generally regarded as valid science, such as the string theory in astrophysics have never been proven either, and the relativity theory of Einstein took about hundred years to be proven right.

Indeed, distinguishing between science and pseudoscience is problematic (Shermer, 2011). As covered in this answer to Does suppressing a desire make it more powerful?, Freud's work is derived from empirical evidence and backed up with high profile journal articles. Nonetheless, in the gray area between science and pseudoscience, according to eminent critics such as Karl Popper, Frank Cioffi, and Adolf Grünbaum, the theories of Freud are generally placed in the area of pseudoscience as they are seen as non-falisifiable.

Many authors assume that to be pseudoscientific, an activity or a teaching has to satisfy the following two criteria (Hansson 1996):

  • it is not scientific, and
  • its major proponents try to create the impression that it is scientific." (Hansson, 2008)

With regard to Hansson's first point, a PsychologyToday article (2016) points out that

psychology was defined by the application of scientific method(s) and psychologists conduct valuable research and have developed some key insights into animal behavior, cognition, consciousness, and the human condition.

Hansson, has since updated his definition of pseudoscience to an "improved version" (Hansson, 2013)


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The community is invited to improve this answer. This question-and-answer is discussed here in meta.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Good answer +1. A couple of notes worth addressing however: Testability (which also requires falsifiability) is the main criteria of a scientific theory that Freud fails to meet. While some aspects of Freud's ideas have been tested; other aspects are not actually testable. And "Proof" is not applicable in science (it's a term used in math and logic which are primarily deductive, while science is largely inductive). You probably meant that string theory has never been tested, and that Einstein's theories continue to be put to the test. $\endgroup$
    – Arnon Weinberg
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 4:57
  • $\begingroup$ @ArnonWeinberg thanks! Please see here in meta. I am turning this answer into a community answer. I would like to invite people to edit the answer such that it represents the community opinion. The topic interests me a lot, but admittedly it is outside of my comfort zone. Please edit the answer (and the question) if you think it needs editing. $\endgroup$
    – AliceD
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 6:24
  • $\begingroup$ Kihlstrom's deconstruction of Freud's legacy probably deserves a mention socrates.berkeley.edu/~kihlstrm/freuddead.htm $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 8:24
  • $\begingroup$ Grunbaum's book had received extensive commentary in its day, in particular in BBS, Volume 9 - Issue 2 - June 1986. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 4, 2017 at 13:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I think the bit of "the relativity theory of Einstein took about hundred years to be proven right" is not correct. It gives many predictions, most of them had been confirmed in a couple decades after its publication. The gravitational wave is one of them, but because of limited technology that it couldn't be confirmed sooner. But in general it had been accepted to mainstream physics longs ago. $\endgroup$
    – Ooker
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 4:49

Some thoughts:

  1. You have to differentiate between psychoanalysis (PA) as a method and procedure for psythotherapy and PA as a theory of the human psyche. Criticism is mostly aimed at PA as a theory.

  2. The only therapeutic school that has been extensively evaluated is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). In these evaluations, CBT is shown to "work". The absence of positive proof for PA (and other schools, such as systemic, gestalt, or humanist psychotherapy) is often interpreted by critics of PA to imply that only CBT is a valid method for psychotherapy and that PA does not "work". Recently, there have been increasing numbers of comparisons between CBT and other cognitive-behavioral schools and PA and other depth psychology schools (e.g. a long-term study of CBT vs PA for depression, where CBT is not much effective). The results show that PA is just as effective as CBT for many disorders, that it is more effective for certain disorders, and that it is less effective for others. Or in other words, that PA and CBT are both appropriate for certain patients and disorders and that the decision between them has to be made by case. One remaining disadvantage of PA, though, is that it is more time- and cost-intensive: PA therapies take years at three to four sessions per week, while CBT takes months at one session per week or less. Where they are equally effective, CBT is to be preferred, therefore.

  3. Certain PA therapeutic concepts such as transference and countertransference have been absorbed by non-depth-psychology therapies, because their therapeutic concepts has been lacking in this aspect. That is, PA survives in certain concepts that have become common therapeutic lore.

  4. The most intense criticism is aimed by experimental psychologists at PA as a theory of the psyche. "Scientific" psychologists believe (sic) that the Oedipus Complex is pseudoscientific nonsense. But there has been some experimental research into PA concepts, e.g. the defense mechanisms. Roy Baumeister has reviewed experimental evidence for a number of these mechanisms and has found experimental evidence for the existence of some of them. Plainly said: Freud was right in at least some of these mechanisms. Another concept that is generally accepted to be accurate is the unconsious. Few non-PA psychologists today would dare to claim that the unconscious does not exist.

  5. PA has survived as a therapy because of institutional power (they have been a part of the health system in Western countries for a hundred years and are difficult to displace) and because it was an extremely popular ancillary science in cultural theory (e.g. to analyze literature, cf. Lacan and poststructuralism).


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