Is Freud’s Personality Theory Still Relevant?

is Freud still relevant?

Very few things survive the test of time by remaining unable or unwilling to change. It was 1895 when Sigmund Freud introduced his work in the area of human personality with the publishing of his book entitled “Studies on Hysteria.” Almost 120 years later, it remains one of the few works continuing to impact the entirety of mental health treatment. This raises a legitimate question: Is Freud’s Personality Theory Relevant Today?

It has undergone many iterations by several equally talented theorists. Each one adding to the Freudian paradigm. In addition, the work done by Freud in the field of experimental psychology gave approval for others to offer their findings. A goal of this article is to examine whether Freud’s personality theory and psychodynamic theory as its extension are still relevant.

We already discussed core concepts of Freud’s personality theory in the previous post, so here is just a brief summary. In a nutshell, Freud identified five stages of growth occurring from infancy through adulthood:

Oral: 0 – 1.5 years of age

Anal: 1.5 to 3 years of age

Phallic: 3 – 5 year of age

Latency: 5 – 12 years of age

Genital: 12 – adulthood

The experiences and information from those stages is sorted by three levels of the human mind:

Conscious  – associated with super ego

Unconscious   associated with ego

Subconscious associated with id

Imbedded in the Freudian theory is his own terminology with its dependence on human sexuality as the genesis of our behavior. As indicated in his five stages of development each stage is associated with a healthy management of the impulses, needs, and desires of each stage. Failure to do this may result in personality flaws and mental disorders.

The Issue

The relevancy of the Freudian personality theory has ebbed and flowed over the past 100 plus years. For many practitioners and theorists, it remains a significant contributor to understanding human personality. The examination of most psychological interventions will show the imprint of Freud’s work.

Freud’s psychodynamic theory states that human personality is the result of largely unconscious, internal conflicts among the structures of the human mind. The dynamics of this conflict through early stages of development can determine an individual’s personality in adulthood.

  1. Freud was the father of this particular psychoanalytic theory of personality. Many of his assumptions and methods have been brought into question since the advent of his work.
  2. Freud’s contentious theories and methods include his assumed universality, his focus on human sexuality, his treatment practices, his emphasis on adults, and his lack of empirical evidence.
  3. Feminists have been highly critical of many of Freud’s concepts, arguing that the assumptions and approaches of psychoanalytic theory are profoundly patriarchal, anti-feminist, and misogynistic.”
  4. The introduction of other less divisive and clearer explanations has grown.

Freud’s Arrogance

High on the list of criticisms are bullets 2 and 3. Feud’s own forceful personality kept many who might disagree with him at bay. Conversely, when introduced the state of psychology was at a low point. Freud’s insights were so advanced that they were viewed by many as a gospel-like truth. In the early years, it mattered little that his work lacked even basic scientific inquiry.

As the decades of the early to mid-20th century moved on several other theories emerged. These fell into two broad classifications: social and individual. Around the world new theories rose up, trying to explain the psychological mysteries of life.[iv] Names like Jung, Maslow, Erickson Piaget Skinner, Rogers, and others emerged with their own theories and models.

Today psychology, both theory and practice is eclectic. In the post-modern era of psychology new approaches and accompanied criticism abound. The average patient seeking treatment of a mild to moderate non-psychotic condition probably is not a good candidate for a Freudian approach. As mentioned, this is based on the time and cost constraints of psychoanalysis. In its place any one of the cognitive based approaches would seem to be in order.


The second big question regarding relevancy is found in bullet point #3. Whether Freud was “sexist” or not we may never know for sure. It is interesting that the idea of sexism flows between genders. Men are sexist, just as women are. Ism’s are not the sole property of any one group. But, given the ways of his day, his culture of origin, and his nationality, it is easy to think of him in this way.

At the heart of any sexism charges leveled against Freud is his development of the Oedipus Complex. Here again, there are several opinions on this view. This issue along with the previous one lend themselves to outright rejection of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory by many.


With the development of several theories of the human personality Freud’s is no longer the only one with validity or relevance. This does not mean that it should be rejected out of hand solely based on how its interpretations impact you. While no professional is required to blindly accept the key points of any theoretical paradigm, the rejection should be based on solid scientific grounds.

Whether process oriented, developmental, biological, chemical, structured, philosophical, or. . . Any discussion leading to clarity regarding the human personality needs to be inclusive. Arguably, any theory of human personality may well include any of the attributes listed above.