Freud was one of the most influential psychologists of his time. He was responsible for the furthering studies on psycho analysis through this psycho analytic theory. The paper shall look at how this theory can be applied to a case study which in this case is a child exhibiting delinquent behavior.

Freud’s psycho analytic theory and its distinguishing concepts

This theory was very important in placing abnormal behavior in context. In other words, Freud brought a new dimension that demonstrated a paradigm shift from his peers’ ideas. At that time, most studies focused on the physiological explanation of abnormal behavior. Freud was able to bring meaning into neurotic behavior. He asserted that such behavior was goal oriented. He mostly focused on looking at the reason behind certain forms of behavior. This was because there was a need to look into the information which these patterns of behavior depicted without ignoring the physiological aspects as well. (Flax, 2001)

The first aspect in the psychoanalytic theory is the pre-oedipal stage. This stage is characterized by the pre-determined feelings that all human beings have known as instincts. Everyone has this natural tendency to satisfy their needs. Some of these needs may be of necessity while others are actually derived from the need to feel pleasure. According to Freud, the erotogenic zone is related to sexuality and can be linked to the nice sensation that children get out of suckling. This interaction creates a sexual drive which then continues into later life.

In early childhood, people also go through the oral stage as an erotogenic zone where one tends to place things into their mouth while the anal stage is characterized by eliminating things from the body through defecation. Freud claimed that the latter phase causes people to find satisfaction out of destroying or expelling things. At this stage, children also have the tendency to retain or control things as is the same behavior when choosing to defecate or to hold it.

The phallic stage is characterized by the genitalia in which the male organ becomes highly significant. Here, there may be instances of realizing the aspect of one’s libido. In other words, children realize that they can get pleasure from their own body but they do not treat those bodies as things that are completely full.

The next stage after the pre-oedipal stage is known as the Oedipus stage. At this point, children began identifying with their gender. Freud believes that boys tend to develop incestuous affection towards their mothers while girls develop similar attractions to their father. However, according to this author, girls are castrated. The fear to become like them causes boys not to compete for their mother’s affection by their father. However, Freud explains that in girls, things tend to turn out differently. Here, the latter group gets feelings of inferiority after the realization that they are castrated i.e. they have no penis. Consequently, girls eventually return to their mothers. However, there is always the secret longing to have a baby from their father. (Skinner, 2002)

Another stage is referred to as the unconscious. Here, most of the thoughts that are labeled as so painful are actually eliminated from the brain. In other words, one looks for a way in which extremely painful can repress these thoughts. It should be noted that this phase is not just made up of repressed thoughts; there are also those sentiments that are unacceptable. Freud describes sublimation as the process by which individuals repress such sentiments. The law that governs this stage is known as the transformation law.

Freud also distinguishes certain elements that are crucial to human behavior and they are the id, ego and superego. According to him, the inherited and biological dimension of behavior is called the id. This then creates the ego after the former has interacted with its environment. Additionally, the super ego is determined by the need to restrict one’s pleasures. The ego is the one that provides a link between the id and the sper ego in order to depict healthy mental behavior.

Freud then asserts that in order to conduct psycho analytic therapy, one ought to look for ways in which they can address their repressed sentiments. For instance, through the use of transference (projecting feelings and attitudes held against parents to the counselor or psychiatrist) by allowing patients to do this, then treatment can be deemed as effective. Additionally, care should be taken to analyze certain outlets from these repressed desires and they include dreams. Dream contents can emerge from archaic material, linguistic symbols, lost memories and repressed experiences. Freud explains that dreams allow one to continue sleeping while fulfilling certain inner tensions or even conflicts. Consequently, one can ascertain that dream interpretation is the process of decoding those symbols. (Wolf, 2003)

Biases and limitations

Freud makes so many assertions and assumptions in his theory. A large chunk of these assumptions cannot be verified or even nullified. Consequently, one then finds it difficult to determine which portions are sufficient enough to be used as evidence in understanding certain kinds of issues.

One of the major limitations in Freud’ theory is based on the fact that the explanation suits men’s sexuality alone. His description of female sexuality as a dark continent causes some doubt on the effectiveness of this theory. When explaining why boys never pursue the fantasy of having relations with their mother, Freud asserts that this is because they fear castration. However, the same argument does not hold for women because they are already castrated. Consequently, Freud did not provide sufficient explanations for explaining why women tend to give up the yearning to have their father’s child.

In relation to the latter fact, Freud places a lot of emphasis on the issue of sexuality. In fact, some people claim that he overdoes it. Freud believes that almost everything human beings do revolve around the issue of sex. However, other development experts assert that the psychological aspect of individuals is determined and affected by so many other factors other than the sexual elements asserted by Freud.

Here, it should be noted that the aspect in his theory that has brought about a lot of controversy is the oedipal complex. In this phase, Freud asserted that children are driven by the fear of castration and the envy of the penis thus curbing their attraction to those parents of the opposite sex. However, the major problem with such an approach is the fact that not all children fear that their penises will be cut off or that they had a penis. These assumptions are the exception rather than the rules. In fact, Freud places so much emphasis on exceptions rather than universal truths. Most dysfunctional families are those ones that threaten to cut their children’s penises off if they disobey adults. Additionally, such families do not disseminate true information to their children. Abnormal families are also the ones that make girls feel less about themselves because they do not have penises and this makes them long for them. Consequently, one cannot claim that all children are described by the penis envy castration model. Freud meant for these descriptions and phases to be taken literary yet they actually make more sense if they are applied metaphorically. In fact, certain theorists have used Freud’s phases and explanations in a metaphoric nature. By modifying the theories, then these experts are showing just how limited Freud’s assumptions are. (Wolf, 2003)

Additionally, it should e noted that Freud also came up with the death instinct in his theory, he asserted that people are subconsciously motivated by their need to die. However, many people oppose this assertion because it is goes against the same principle of seeking pleasure.

Application of Freud’s psycho analytic theory to a juvenile delinquent as a client system

During Freud’s time there was this assumption that the same issues that case delinquency in children and adolescents are the same ones that are used to explain adult criminality. However, Freud through his psycho analytic theory brought out another dimension to it. In other words, the latter theorist was able to provide a link between juvenile delinquency as a form of behavior and the personality which was inherent in these individuals. (Rush, 2000)

Freud believes that in order for an individual to be psychologically healthy, there is a need for one to develop all three phases of life i.e.

  • The superego
  • Ego
  • Id

Additionally, Freud stresses the importance of childhood experiences in determining one’s psychological dimensions when they get older. According to the latter theorist, juvenile delinquents come about when there are poor developments of the super ego or the egos. In other words, when one has no moral super ego, then this person will not find it difficult to act out on their respective urges. This is possible because their id is not restricted in any kind of manner by the former mentioned dimensions. Additionally, such people may label their deviant behavior as something that is acceptable.

Individuals with no super egos are usually labeled as such when they choose to act out on their urges without feeling any sense of remorse. Society has created a situation in which most socially unacceptable behavior is labeled as criminal behavior. Consequently, when adolescents or children without superegos choose to act on their urges, then chances are that they may be labeled as criminals that must be dealt with accordingly. (Chapple & Calhoun, 2003)

When children or adolescents lack the ability to keep their urges in check, then chances are that they will act in line with these urges. Such persons only look out for their respective interests thus being incapable of caring about what other persons think. Many juvenile delinquents are in fact socio paths or psycho paths. This means that they lack the ability to put themselves in the shoes of others or they lack the ability to sympathize with the needs and feelings of others. Consequently, such people only act in their own best interests.

Freud also argues that all people must go through certain phases in childhood in order to develop fully functioning mental frames. Consequently, when one of the childhood phases is skipped or when there is an eventuality that occurred during that particular phase so as to bring about greater levels of fixation on that particular phase, then a child is likely to become a juvenile delinquent.  (Sheldon, 2001)

Freud also asserted that when psychological imbalances or abnormalities occur at those childhood phases, then chances are that one may become a juvenile delinquent either during later stages of childhood or during adolescence.  Taking the example of an adolescent who decides to rape another adolescent; it is highly likely that this person missed out on the phallic phase of growth and development. Consequently, one can trace the causes of problems to an individual by simply looking at the stage that corresponds to that outward behavior.

It is essential to note the fact that Freud places a lot of emphasis on regression and fixation. If juvenile delinquents become fixated on a particular phase of their childhood or when they repress that phase, then they are likely to depict socially unacceptable behavior which may sometimes end up as criminal behavior.


Freud’s theory is based on the linkage of personality with one’s psychological aspects. This theorist bases his work on the interaction of the id, super ego and ego. Juvenile delinquency is normally caused by failure to develop a super ego or fixation on a certain aspect of growth such as the phallic phase.


Flax, J. (2001): A psycho analytic perspective on epistemology; Discovering Reality; p252

Chapple, C. & Calhoun, T. (2003): readings in juvenile delinquency; Prentice hall, p 236

Sheldon, G. (2001): Controlling the dangerous class; Allyn and bacon, p 453

Rush, G. (2000): Dictionary of criminal justice; McGraw Hill Publishers

Skinner, E. (2002): Science and human behavior; McMillan

Wolf, P. (2003): The psychoanalytic theory in light of current research in childhood development; American Psychoanalytic Association, 19, 578