Psychology - PY1 Psychodynamic Approach

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Jade Elton
Psychodynamic approach
1a) Outline two assumptions of the Psychodynamic approach (4 marks)
One assumption is that unconscious conflicts and traumas can lead to abnormal behaviour. There is
unconscious conflict between the id and superego that the ego tried to balance. If this balance is not
achieved, then abnormal behaviour may occur. For example, anxiety disorders may be the result of the
superego being overdeveloped.
A second assumption if that the mind is structured like an iceberg: most of what occurs in the mind lies
beneath the surface (the pre-conscious and the unconscious). The unconscious cannot be directly accessed,
but expresses itself indirectly through, for instance, dreams. Hence, in dream analysis, the goal is to make the
unconscious material conscious, in order to better deal with mental health problems.
1b) Describe Freud's theory of personality development (8 marks)
The psychodynamic approach stresses the importance of early childhood experiences on later personality
development. Freud argues that if a child gets fixated (due to too much or too little pleasure) during one of
the five developmental stages, it will determine their adult personality.
For example, if a child becomes fixated during the oral stage, s/he could develop an oral receptive
personality, which is characterised by being very trusting, gullible and dependent upon others. Likewise, if a
child becomes fixated during the anal stage they may become anally retentive and be obsessively tidy, or
anally expulsive, whereby they will be messy, generous and disorganised. Other examples include the
phallic personality (reckless, self-assured, and vain).
Freud argues that our personality has three structures (i.e. tripartite) which are in unconscious conflict. A
healthy personality is a balance between the id, ego and superego. However, your personality can become
determined by one of these structures becoming dominant. For example, if you are dominated by your id,
your personality will be one which is obsessed with sex and pleasure. On the other hand, if you are
subservient to your ego, your personality will be selfish, increasing the likelihood of involvement in crime (due
to a weaker superego). Finally, if a person has an over-developed, controlling superego, they would be
excessively judgmental about others and/or neurotic and thus be more prone to develop anxiety disorders
(e.g. OCD).
The operation of ego defences may also contribute to certain traits. For example, when an adult is under
stress, their personality may become more and more child-like. This is known as regression. Moreover,
personalities which over-use denial are more vulnerable to mental disorders.
2) Describe how the Psychodynamic approach has been applied to dream analysis (12 marks)
Most of what occurs in the mind lies beneath the surface: the pre-conscious and the unconscious. The
unconscious mind cannot be directly accessed, but expresses itself indirectly in dreams.
The aim of dream analysis, therefore, is to make the unconscious conscious, in order to better deal with
mental health problems. The process of dealing with negative emotion associated with these conflicts is
called catharsis.
Freud suggested that while we are asleep our ego defences are lowered, allowing repressed wishes and
desires to emerge in dreams (usually sexual or aggressive in content). Therefore, dreams allow unconscious
wish fulfilment that cannot be satisfied in the conscious mind. Freud believed that if we did not dream, the
energy invested in these desires would threaten our sanity. Dreams, therefore, protect the sleeper from pent
up negative emotions.
Freud suggested that dreaming has two levels: manifest content (the content we actually remember, not the
real meaning) and latent content (underlying unconscious material, what the dream actually means).

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Jade Elton
The process of transformation of latent to manifest content is called Dreamwork (the mind disguising the
dream). This includes condensation; when we combine one or more objects or people into one. For example,
when you dream that you are in your house, but it looked like somewhere else.
During dream analysis, the patient recalls the manifest content and then is asked to freely associate
whatever comes to their mind when thinking of these dream fragments.…read more

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Jade Elton
A strength of using case studies is that they produce a lot of qualitative data. This detailed method of
research allowed insight into the complex motives underlying Little Hans' phobia, which would have been
impossible with other methods of research.
A second strength is that case studies have high ecological validity, and produce data on real life
experiences. This makes them more realistic than artificial lab experiments. Little Hans' fear of horses was a
genuine phobia that would have affected his everyday life.…read more


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