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'Despite its weaknesses the psychodynamic model is still useful in understanding and
treating psychological disorders.'
Outline the psychodynamic model of abnormality and consider its strengths and
The psychodynamic model, developed by Sigmund Freud is based on the assumption that
psychological abnormality results from unconscious conflict between the elements of personality, the
id, the ego and the superego. Each has different demands; the id's sexual and aggressive urges are
countered by the superego's extreme morality, while the ego's reality principle works out what is
best. The ego may employ defence mechanisms to reduce conflict. The most important of these,
repression, works by pushing urges and negative childhood experiences into the unconscious mind
where they cannot threaten the conscious mind. This can lead to disorders such as neuroses because
the material is not dealt with and frozen in its childish state.
The model prescribes a `talking cure' to express rather than repress material so as to bring it into
conscious awareness where it can be dealt with.
At the time it was very influential, offering alternative explanations to the contemporary views of
demonic possession. It led to greater acceptance of abnormality due to its view that everyone
suffered internal conflicts. Additionally, it offered treatments such as dream analysis and the talking
cure which were far more humane than the very intrusive methods of the biological model such as
drugs, ECT or psychosurgery.
Despite this pioneering approach Fred's model has come under fire for several reasons. First it has
been branded as unscientific. The abstract concepts of the id, superego and ego are unconscious
processes and therefore are difficult to validate using traditional scientific methods. It is therefore
unfalsifiable and lacks research support. It also relies on the abilities of the therapist for
interpretations. Furthermore, the fact that Freud's theory rests on conclusions drawn from a small
sample of one particular social stratum (namely, rich middle aged women) further undermines the
model's validity. Many argue that Freud's views reflect the repressive social climate of his era and
are not reflective of today's more permissive society.
Further still, critics argue that the model concentrates far too much on childhood experiences, and
that recent problems experienced in adulthood could be just as likely to be the cause of the
abnormality. Depression for example may be rooted in a recent misfortune instead of negative
experiences from decades ago. Additionally, the model emphasises sexual factors at the expense of
social factors. For example the psychodynamic explanations of eating disorders propose that they
are caused due to unconscious fears of growing up when in fact there is more research evidence
suggesting that the Western media view that thin is beautiful is responsible. Finally the model is
deterministic individuals have very little conscious involvement in their own development and are
prisoners of their own unconsciousness.
Short Answer Questions:
Outline three clinical characteristics of anorexia nervosa. [2+2+2 marks]
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Weight body weight is less than 85% of the expected weights for height.
Body image distortion the individual's thinking about his or her body weight is distorted, either by
exaggerating its importance or by minimising the dangers of being underweight.
Amenorrhoea the absence of menstruation for three or more consecutive menstrual cycles.
Give two limitations of the definition of abnormality in terms of statistical infrequency [3+3
The definition does not take into account the desirability of the behaviour.…read more
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A clinical interview and standard criteria were used
to diagnose anorexia.
Findings: there was a much higher concordance rate for female MZ twins (56%) compared to the DZ
twins (7%0. Further findings showed that in three cases where the female non-diagnosed twin did
not have anorexia they were diagnosed with other psychological illnesses and two had minor eating
disorders. There was no concordance in the male twins.…read more