Founding Mothers and Fathers: Psychoanalytic Theory and the Social Work Exam

Sigmund and his daughter, Anna Freud.
Sigmund and his daughter, Anna Freud. Source: Wikimedia Commons, released under United States Library of Congress’s Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c17972. License: Public Domain due to its age; PO_OUD.

Sigmund Freud and psychoanalytic theory, both because of their distance in time and development of other psychotherapy theories, are often encased in the glass panels we hold historical old documents and artifacts.

However, much of psychoanalytic theory permeates our popular culture (Case in point: how often have we fashioned ourselves as armchair shrinks with our friends and significant others with only a rudimentary knowledge of defenses: “You’re projecting!  You’re in denial!”) and social work practice theory.

It isn’t until social work school that we learn the adaptive and maladaptive functions these defenses can serve within our clients and ourselves.  Also, despite our “theoretical orientation,” psychoanalytic concepts from “the talking cure” to theories about the client/worker relationship live on in our work.

School is also where we learn (trivia time!) that much of the pioneering work on defenses was actually done by Sigmund’s daughter, Anna Freud.

[Sidenote:  I actually remember this from undergraduate degree in psychology, and only because I had a professor who disclosed that he thought that she was “hot.”  The awkward experience of my professor’s over-disclosure was quickly buried into my 20 year-old unconscious mind for several years (major repression).]

While many of the questions on the ASWB social work exam about psychoanalytic theory may fall into the category of recall/memorization questions, there may be a few that may ask you apply or think about analytic concepts, such as what defense a client may be exhibiting, or theories about client-worker relationship, such as transference/counter-transference.

In coming posts, we will explore psychoanalytic concepts relevant to the social work exam: including defenses, the client/worker relationship, and clinical vignettes illustrating psychoanalytic theory.


2 thoughts on “Founding Mothers and Fathers: Psychoanalytic Theory and the Social Work Exam

  1. I like this post. I have always felt that Freudian thought is very interesting although I still have to read some of his major books. I recently read an illustrated biography on him, which I thought did a good job of showing the relevancy of his thought, although the style of the book is also comical. I can post the link if interested.

  2. Thanks for your comment! A good place to start with Freud includes some of his essays and lectures. Civilization and its Discontents is another good starting point. Also, I’d be interested to hear about that biography.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s