The shoulders of a giant: Freud’s followers, critics, and the future of psychoanalysis

Plan Author

  • Nicholas Collura, 2012

Fields of Concentration

  • Psychology

Sample Courses

Project Description

An exploration of the history of psychoanalysis, narcissism, and the critiques of Freud.

Faculty Sponsors

  • Tom Toleno

Outside Evaluator

  • David Johnson, Greenfield Community College, emeritus


Although Sigmund Freud is widely recognized as the founding father of psychoanalysis, the field does not end with his work. Before and after his death in 1939, Freud’s students actively critiqued his theories, eventually developing his ideas into a new academic discipline. This Plan examines the work of several of Freud’s students and successors, and also includes some of the author’s ideas for how contemporary psychoanalysis can evolve to meet the challenges of its critics.

Heinz Hartmann, a student Freud’s, was one of the first to expand on his theories, developing a sub-discipline which came to be known as ego-psychology. Karen Horney, an early neo-Freudian, criticized Freud’s concept of penis envy, arguing that males were also subject to womb envy—the unfulfilled desire to carry and nurse children. Later psychoanalysts, from Erich Fromm to Jacques Lacan, added their own innovations to psychoanalytic theory.

Some thinkers, however, criticized not just Freud’s work but the entire concept of psychoanalysis. The academic Thomas Szasz, for example, believed that psychoanalysis was a tool for defining normality and exerting social control. To this day, the field of psychoanalysis continues to struggle with this and other critiques of its purpose.


“One of the last ideas coming from Hartmann’s important work is that of the undifferentiated matrix. He believed that the child is born, unlike Freud, with neither ego nor id and that both evolve together as products of differentiation.”

“The dominant method of responding to Freud is compensatory: filling-in the holes he left. Freud’s absolute shortcoming in psychoanalytic theory was his failure to mention the mother, the first and most important love object for the child.”