One of Freud's most significant contributions lies in his concepts of the unconscious and the levels of consciousness, which provide crucial insights into understanding behavior and personality issues. While the unconscious cannot be directly studied, it is inferred from observable behavior. Clinical evidence supports the existence of the unconscious through various phenomena, including: (1) dreams as symbolic representations of unconscious needs, wishes, and conflicts; (2) slips of the tongue and forgetting, such as momentarily forgetting a familiar name; (3) posthypnotic suggestions; (4) material obtained through free-association techniques; (5) material derived from projective techniques; and (6) the symbolic content found in psychotic symptoms.
In Freud's view, consciousness represents only a small portion of the overall mind. Analogous to the visible tip of an iceberg, the conscious mind is the surface level, while the greater part of the mind remains below the surface of awareness. The unconscious mind houses all experiences, memories, and repressed material. Additionally, inaccessible needs and motivations, residing outside the realm of awareness, are beyond conscious control. The majority of psychological functioning occurs in the realm of the unconscious. The objective of psychoanalytic therapy, therefore, is to bring unconscious motives into conscious awareness, enabling individuals to exercise choice and agency. Understanding the role of the unconscious is central to comprehending the fundamental principles of the psychoanalytic model of behavior.
Unconscious processes underlie various forms of neurotic symptoms and behaviors. According to this perspective, a "cure" involves uncovering the meaning behind symptoms, understanding the causes of behavior, and addressing the repressed materials that hinder healthy functioning. It is important to note, however, that intellectual insight alone is insufficient to resolve symptoms and promote healing.