Freud’s Model of the Human Mind

Understanding the human mind is at the core of psychoanalytic theory. Since the introduction of the theory of Sigmund Freud in the early 1900’s and despite the many advancements in the study of psychoanalytic theory Freud’s basic thoughts retain a strong hold on the shaping of views regarding the theory of the human mind.

At the center of Freud’s theory are psychopathologies that result in a mental illness within a subject. It is Freud’s premise that within the human mind is contained in three levels of awareness or consciousness. It is the introduction of these psychopathologies that affect people, thus requiring more than simply talking about them. The effective treatment of these deep seated psychopathologies is psychoanalysis.

In the illustration below is Freud’s division of these three levels and the estimated usage of each level. They are the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious. Working together they create our reality.

mind structure

Although acceptance of Freud’s psychoanalytical theory has ebbed and flowed over time few professionals would suggest dismissing it. Within it is a model or concept that has withstood the many tests of time.


The origin of the meaning of the mind offers a long and rich history. Unlike many other words and phrases there is no clear evolution given for its use. Its meaning was more dependent on the context of its usage rather than any single meaning.

If spoken of by a philosopher the mind may well mean one’s personality, identity, and their memories. For the religious the mind houses the spirit, an awareness of God, or to the scientist the mind is the generator of ideas and thoughts. The mind has carried with it many diverse labels. In its infancy references to the mind truly were metaphoric.

It was not until the 14th and 15th centuries that the generalization of mind to include all mental faculties, thought, volition, feeling, and memory gradually developed.

In the late 19th and early 20th century brought psychology to the forefront as a respected science. Due in no small part to the work of Freud and others, the popular focus on the human mind, its role in the behavioral sciences, and the mind/body question solidified. Today, the concept of the mind and its functions is almost always discussed from a scientific point of view.

Freud’s Conscious Mind

Since consciousness is best understood as having an awareness of something, being able to call it to mind, it would seem simple enough to qualify only those events we can recall as the activities of the human mind.

There are two challenges to this view. First, there is the estimate that only about 10% of the minds work is made up of conscious thought and secondly, this view does not explain those random events created within the mind.

The two functions that the capabilities of the conscious mind can address are:

  1. Its ability to direct your focus.
  2. Its ability to imagine that which is not real

While an important partner in the triad of the human mind, the conscious mind serves as a scanner for us. It will perceive an event, trigger a need to react, and then depending on the importance of the event, store it either in the unconscious or the subconscious area of the human mind where it remains available to us.

Freud’s Subconscious Mind

Your subconscious is the storage point for any recent memories needed for quick recall, such as what your telephone number is or the name of a person you just met. It also holds current information that you use every day, such as your current recurring thoughts, behavior patterns, habits, and feelings.

The workhorse of the mind/body experience Freud’s subconscious mind serves as the minds random access memory (RAM). “Thus the unconscious mind can be seen as the source of dreams and automatic thoughts (those that appear without any apparent cause), the repository of forgotten memories (that may still be accessible to consciousness at some later time), and the locus of implicit knowledge (the things that we have learned so well that we do them without thinking).”

Freud’s Unconscious Mind

The unconscious mind is where all of our memories and past experiences reside. These are those memories that have been repressed through trauma and those that have simply been consciously forgotten and no longer important to us (automatic thoughts). It’s from these memories and experiences that our beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed.

A review of the earlier illustration shows the unconscious, sitting a layer deeper in the mind under the subconscious. Although the subconscious and unconscious has direct links to each other and deal with similar things, the unconscious mind is really the cellar, the underground library if you like, of all your memories, habits, and behaviors. It is the storehouse of all your deep seated emotions that have been programmed since birth.

Freud’s psychoanalytic theory teaches that it is here, in the unconscious mind that necessary change can occur through the use of psychoanalysis.


As has been mentioned Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and related interventions with those showing symptoms of a mental illness is not static. The use of today’s modern psychology in the areas of theory and practice has opened Freudian theory to many new ideas.

In the midst of the widespread support and criticism of psychoanalysis there has been significant progress in its use as a valid approach to treatment. If for no other reason than to gain an important historical perspective on mental health treatment Freud’s psychoanalytical theory is worthy of study.