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Outline and evaluate the psychodynamic approach to psychopathology (12 marks)
The psychodynamic approach was developed by Freud, based on the idea that psychological
problems arise when three relationships between three components of the psyche are out of
balance. Freud argued that abnormal behaviour is usually the result of incidents or unresolved
conflicts from early childhood, which have been repressed into the unconscious parts of the mind.
Freud believed that the origins of mental disorder lie in unresolved conflicts of childhood which are
unconscious. Medical illnesses are not the outcome of physical disorder but of these psychological
conflicts. Conflicts between the id, ego and superego create anxiety. The ego protects itself with
various defence mechanisms. These defences can be the cause of disturbed behaviour if they are
overused. An example of this can be seen in a boy, who cannot deal with what he perceives as
maternal rejection when a new baby brother is born may regress to an earlier developmental stage,
soling his clothes and becoming more helpless.
Although the psychodynamic conflict may seem as an adequate explanation to mental disorder one
key limitation of such a theory is the abstract concepts of the id, ego and superego. These are in fact
difficult to define and research because actions motivated by them operate primarily at unconscious
level, there is no way to know for certain that they are occurring. Also as a result psychodynamic
explanations have received limited empirical support, and psychodynamic theorists have had to rely
on evidence from individual case studies.
Unconscious motives, is yet another explanation to what may cause a mental disorder. Ego defences,
such as regression, exert pressure through consciously motivated behaviour. Freud proposed that
the unconscious consists of memories and other information that are either very hard or almost
impossible to bring into the conscious awareness. Despite this, the unconscious mind exerts a
powerful effect on behaviour. This frequently leads to distress, as the person does not understand
why they are acting in that particular way, the underlying problem cannot be controlled until brought
into conscious awareness.
Even though a number of researchers have attempted to test Freud's predictions experimentally,
the theory is difficult to prove or disprove in this way. If an individual behaves in the manner
predicted by Feud, this is considered to be supportive of the theory. However, if they do not, the
theory is not rejected as it could indicate that the person is behaving in this way as a consequence of
their defence mechanisms. For example, reaction formation is a defence mechanism that drives a
person to hide their real fear by acting the opposite way, such as talking loudly when they are
Abnormality can be treated by a therapy named psychoanalysis. This goal in this is to try to bring
repressed thoughts from the unconscious into the conscious mind. The purpose of this is for the client
to be able to deal with them. Through gaining insight they are able to work through problems and
resolve any conflicts. The aim of the therapy is to bring about transference, where the client
transfers attitudes from the past, repressed feelings, towards the therapist and the client responds
to the therapist as if they were one of the important people from the past. Once the client's feelings
are out and open the therapist helps them to work through those difficult feelings and accept them.
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Strengths of this treatment method is that psychoanalysis has been found to be effective with
neurotic patients e.g. suffers of anxiety disorders. Bergin (1971) studied the effectiveness of
psychoanalysis and estimated that 80% benefitted from it.
However, a weakness for this type of treatment is that it is not effective with psychotic patients, e.g.
those suffering from schizophrenia. Freud argues that schizophrenic patients ignore their therapists'
insights and are resistant to treatment.…read more