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Metapsychology (Greek: meta 'beyond, transcending', and ψυχολογία 'psychology')[1] is a speculative psychology which seeks to understand the structure of the mind in terms which may not be empirically verifiable.[2] Sigmund Freud was the first psychologist to introduce metapsychology. Later on, Frank A. Gerbode started the modern movement of metapsychology which proved to be an effective form of treatment for people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Metapsychology has also been used in different practices and sciences such as biology and mechanics. However, today metapsychology is rarely used but emphasizes a person-centered therapy approach which is closely related to psychoanalysis.


Metapsychology is a theoretically explicit psychology,[3] which has the main purpose to connect the mind and body while maintaining a client-centered setting. It serves as a solid base in a client-centered psychology system because it involves what is common in experience, leading to an agreement and understanding[4] Metapsychological theory was developed by Sigmund Freud to demonstrate that inner information cannot be known by looking at the outside of a person.[5][6] It considers different aspects and views from the client to explain how the psychological issue is functioning in whole.[7] This psychology is meant to emphasize the experiences as viewed by the client and not by the views of a psychologist trying to find out what the experience means to that person.[8] The organization and consistent concepts associated with this theory help explain the experience of psychoanalysis in clinical settings.[9] Metapsychology allows people to recognize that they are in control of their own experiences. Once they can recognize these experiences, then they become aware of ways in which they can improve themselves and the environment around them.[8]

The term has also been used interchangeably with "general psychology theory."[10] Metapsychology also has a strong influence in terms of biology, neurophysiology, and mechanics which is opposed to the typical attitudes of clinical psychoanalysis.[11] An explanation for this could be because it is hard to find a link between human biology and consciousness, especially in Freud's time, with there being little knowledge about the anatomy or physiology of the brain. Freud could not find the biological connection during his time of work which caused him to focus on other topics and almost abandon his research for metapsychology.[12] However, he did not completely abandon the idea of metapsychology since it is a basis of psychoanalysis.

Frank A. Gerbode started the modern movement of metapsychology to emphasize the use of the client-centered approach while at the same time, giving instructions and being organized and using their inner strength to better cope with past negative experiences.[4][13] Using metapsychology as the basis, Gerbode uses traumatic incident reduction (TRI) to treat people experiencing psychological effects from traumatic incidents or clients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.[13]


Psychoanalytic metapsychology is concerned with the fundamental assumptions of the Freudian theory.[1] Sigmund Freud first used the term in his letters to Wilhelm Fliess on February 13, 1896,[14] to refer to his addition of unconscious processes to the conscious ones of traditional psychology: "I would ask you seriously whether I may use the term metapsychology for my psychology which takes one beyond consciousness".[15] Freud theorized metapsychology as a "simultaneously closed system, fundamentally unrelated and impervious to the external world and as an open system inherently connected and responsive to environmental influence.[16]

Subsequently he came to use it to cover a comprehensive description of any mental process[17] – one comprising dynamic forces, quantitative relations and structural elements in the human mind.[18] His overall goal was to be able to "psychologize" any object scientifically.[10] However, some criticism of Freud's approach has stemmed from the methods in which he performed his research and analysis; he used an analogical method but his critics claim his use of the term "quantities" is misleading in that "quantities are not measured, but only compared, as quantities of libido become quantities of aggressive urges" and "such transformations of quantities take as an assumption the convertibility of instinctual energy."[19] This idea is essential to metapsychology.[19]

In the 1910s, he began writing a series of 12 essays, to be collected as Preliminaries to a Metapsychology. While five were published independently under the titles: "Instincts and Their Vicissitudes," "Repression," "The Unconscious," "A Metapsychological Supplement to the Theory of Dreams," and "Mourning and Melancholia." The remaining seven remained unpublished, Freud replying to Lou Andreas-Salome in 1919 as follows: “Where is my Metapsychology? In the first place it remains unwritten”.[20] In 1920 he published Beyond the Pleasure Principle that wrote more on his theories for metapsychology. Many times he referred to his theory as if it were the "epiphany of his work," applying names such as "my ideal and woebegone child," "the Witch," and "the consummation of psycho-analytic research."[14] Despite this inference of importance, he hardly ever used the actual terminology in his papers even though the concepts and ways of thinking behind it eventually became the underlying mechanism beneath his theoretical work throughout the rest of his career.[14] For example, in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, he never mentioned the term metapsychology itself but the hypotheses used to describe physical body functionings and to explain "beyond consciousness" were essential in following the theories of metapsychology.[21]

Despite criticism, a few people did begin following his theory on metapsychology, including David Rapaport, who became a believer in its importance to the field of psychology.[22] He defined the term distinctly from clinical theory: "Books on psychoanalysis usually deal with its clinical theory... there exists, however, a fragmentary--yet consistent--general theory of psychoanalysis, which comprises the premises of the special (clinical) theory, the concepts built on it, and the generalizations derived from it... named metapsychology."[22] Another one of his followers, Benjamin B. Rubinstein, helped create an even more concrete definition that addresses some of the criticisms towards Freud's theory. He called it "extraclinical theory" and said that it is "impossible for psychology to be strictly clinical and scientific and that metapsychology can help explain certain theories that might not be able to be scientifically studied such as the ego-superego-id model."[22]

Some of Freud's followers, like George S. Klein, came to privilege his clinical thinking over his metapsychology.[18]:768


The modern metapsychology movement was founded by psychiatrist Frank A. Gerbode, and stresses therapy as a way of developing the spirit for personal growth, rather than as an answer to mental disorders.[23][self-published source] He helps illustrates Freud's overall goal of developing metapsychology by making the analogy that, "While parapsychology and metaphysics concern themselves with uncommon experiences, metapsychology deals with what is common in experience."[4]

Gerbode had a main focus in traumatic incident reduction (TIR) which is a very structured and self-centered process that is used to lessen the negative effects of past traumas and encourage the person to become more aware of their inner strengths and embrace them.[4] In 1985, Dr. Gerbode founded the Applied Metapsychology International (AMI). The main objective of this group was to develop metapsychological "techniques, methods, and training material" for psychologists seeking to practice TIR.[13] Gerbode strongly believed in TIR as a way to treat patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).[13] TIR is based on Freud's metapsychology, which is the basis of psychoanalysis. Metapsychology promotes a person-centered process, based on direct experiences, to eliminate psychological symptoms experienced by people who experiences traumatic incidents.[4]


Metapsychology is used today to treat a number of conditions such as resolution and relief from traumatic experiences, better relationships, personal growth, more success, or increased awareness. Metapsychology uses a person-centered approach when treating patients with these types of issues.[24] However, it is unclear as to whether Freud's ideas of metapsychology are true for individuals today or if his ideas will need to be changed to adapt.[9]

Freud's daughter, Anna Freud, gave a definition of metapsychology which has served to guide its current use in the clinical setting. She said that "any phenomenon can and should be described from multiple points of view to understand it... the human personality is so complex that no one perspective can adequately encompass it."[7] Researchers have examined this holistic approach and have been able to apply it to many aspects of the field. For example, "we can reclaim those who are now treated only by speech therapists for relational, social, and empathetic disorders; or by pediatricians... for anxiety, sadness, attention difficulties... or by psychologists by cognitive and behavioral problems."[7] This illustrates metapsychology as an aspect of psychoanalysis that takes all perspectives into consideration when examining a certain phenomenon.[7] Although the entirety of the theory of metapsychology is almost obsolete in its usage in clinical settings, parts of it are still used by certain theorists today, by emphasizing these multidimensional models.[7]

However, because the theory is so widely disputed within the field, it is possible that the entire way of thinking about metapsychology may change. For example, it is predicted that Metapsychology may transform into a "non-psychological critique of ideology... that may use classical, modern or postmodern philosophy as well as psychoanalysis, Marxism or anarchism along with other theoretical frameworks."[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Metapsychology Online Medical Dictionary
  2. ^ Definition of metapsychology at Merriam-Webster
  3. ^ Meltzer, Donald (2009). Studies in extended metapsychology: clinical applications of Bion's ideas. London: Harris Meltzer Trust. ISBN 9781849407076. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Gerbode, Frank (May 2006). "Traumatic incident reduction: a person-centered, client-titrated exposure technique". Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma. Taylor and Francis. 12 (1–2): 151–167. doi:10.1300/J146v12n01_08. 
  5. ^ Reitinger, Claudia (July 2013). "Book review: Apprehending the inaccessible: Freudian psychoanalysis and existential phenomenology". Existential Analysis. 24 (2): 369–371. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  6. ^ "Applied metapsychology". Traumatic Incident Reduction Association (TIRA). 
  7. ^ a b c d e Novick, Kerry Kelly; Novick, Jack (2002). "Reclaiming the land". Psychoanalytic Psychology. American Psychological Association via PsycNET. 19 (2): 348–377. doi:10.1037/0736-9735.19.2.348. 
  8. ^ a b Gerbode, Frank A. (2011). Beyond psychology: an introduction to metapsychology (4th ed.). Ann Arbor, Michigan: Applied Metapsychology International Press/ Loving Healing Press. ISBN 9781615991235. 
  9. ^ a b Boczar, Ana; Salles, Ana Cristinia Teixeira da Costa; Pimenta, Arlindo Carlos; Drawin, Carlos Roberto; Mendes, Eliana Rodrigues Pereira; Morais, Marilia Brandao Lemos; Drummond, Suzanne Beaudette; Gerais, Minas (January 2001). "Psychoanalysis and epistemology: the interrelation between clinical work, culture and metapsychology". International Forum of Psychoanalysis. Taylor and Francis. 10 (2): 145–150. doi:10.1080/08037060121425. 
  10. ^ a b Freud, Sigmund (author); Rieff, Philip (editor) (1997), "Formulations regarding the two principles in mental functioning (1911)", in Freud, Sigmund (author); Rieff, Philip (editor), General psychological theory: papers on metapsychology (1st ed.), New York, New York: Touchstone, p. 7, ISBN 9780684842929. 
  11. ^ Eriksson, Johan (January 2012). "Freud's metapsychology—the formal a priori of psychoanalytic experience". The Scandinavian Psychoanalytic Review. Taylor and Francis. 35 (1): 23. doi:10.1080/01062301.2012.10592377. 
  12. ^ Tresan, David I. (July 1996). "Jungian metapsychology and neurobiological theory". Journal of Analytical Psychology. Wiley. 41 (3): 399–436. doi:10.1111/j.1465-5922.1996.00399.x. 
  13. ^ a b c d Day, Nancy L. "A Soldier's Trauma- Everyone's Trauma" (PDF). Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c Erwin, Edward (2001), "Metapsychology", in Erwin, Edward, The Freud encyclopedia: theory, therapy, and culture, New York: Routledge, p. 337, ISBN 9780415936774.  Preview.
  15. ^ Jones, Ernest (1964), "The Fliess period (1887-1902)", in Jones, Ernest, The life and work of Sigmund Freud, New York: Routledge, p. 301, ISBN 9780140206616. 
  16. ^ Dunn, Jonathan (2009). "The foundational wisdom in Freud's and Loewald's metapsychologies". Modern Psychoanalysis. Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies. 34 (1): 2–25. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  17. ^ Jones, Ernest (1964), "The beginning of international recognition (1906-1909)", in Jones, Ernest, The life and work of Sigmund Freud, New York: Routledge, pp. 434–435, ISBN 9780140206616. 
  18. ^ a b Gay, Peter, "Revisions: 1915-1939: Aggressions: comprehensive and momentous things", in Gay, Peter, Freud: a life for our time, New York: Anchor Books, p. 362, ISBN 9780385262569. 
  19. ^ a b Rieff, Sigmund Freud ; with an introduction by the editor Philip (1997). General psychological theory : papers on metapsychology (1st Touchstone ed.). New York, New York: Touchstone. p. 9. ISBN 978-0684842929. 
  20. ^ Freud, Sigmund (1991), On metapsychology: the theory of psychoanalysis, 11, London: The Penguin Freud Library, p. 102, ISBN 9780140138016. 
  21. ^ Ekstein, Rudolf (1984), "Structure, function, meaning", in Royce, Joseph R.; Mos, Leendert, Annals of theoretical psychology: volume 2, London: Plenum Press, p. 198, ISBN 9780306416927.  Preview.
  22. ^ a b c Erwin, Edward, ed. (2001), "Metapsychology", The Freud encyclopedia: theory, therapy, and culture, New York: Routledge, p. 339, ISBN 9780415936774.  Preview.
  23. ^ Long, Ariel. "What is applied metapsychology?". Divine Connections. Archived from the original on 18 May 2015. Retrieved 6 November 2015. 
  24. ^ Volkman, Marian K. (2005), "How to get the most from this book", in Volkman, Marian K., Life skills: improve the quality of your life with metapsychology (1st ed.), Ann Arbor, MI: Loving Healing Press, pp. 1–2, ISBN 9781932690057. 
  25. ^ Orozco-Guzman, Mario; Pavon-Cuellar, David (2014), "Metapsychology", in Teo, Thomas, Encyclopedia of critical psychology, New York, New York: Springer, ISBN 9781461455820. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Gill, M.M.; Holzman, P.S. (1976). Psychology versus metapsychology. 
  • Gerbode, F.A. (1995). Beyond psychology: an introduction to metapsychology.