Outline and evaluate the assumptions of the psychodynamic approach (16 marks)


Describe (6 marks)

The psychodynamic approach followed the paradigm shift away from behaviourism and is most commonly associated with Sigmund Freud. Freud proposed the unconscious mind, the tripartite theory of personality, and the psychosexual stages of development and fixations. The unconscious mind is a part of our brain which houses repressed , traumatic experiences which affect our behaviour without our knowledge. The tripartite theory of personality states that behaviour and personality are made up of the id (present at birth and is impulsive, based on the "pleasure principle"), superego (develops by the age of 5 and is our sense of morality, working on the "morality principle", and the ego, which develops from the age of 2 and is defensive - it tries to resolve conflicts between the id and superego and uses the "reality principle". The defence mechanisms used by the ego in these situations are denial, displacement and repression. The psychosexual stages of development are seen as controversial and focus on the area which receives pleasure at a certain age - the erogenous zone. Freud argued that failure to resolve a conflict during this stage causes a fixation to develop which results in behaviours being carried into adulthood. For example, a fixation in the anal stage of development may cause an individual to be extremely messy and impulsive or perfectionist, depending on whether the fixation is "expulsive" or "retentive". 

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Evaluate (1)

A strength of the psychodynamic approach is there are practical applications. This theory has allowed therapies such as dream analysis and psychoanalysis to be developed, which work through accessing the unconscious to change behaviours. Without the psychodynamic approach, these therapies and others which are derived from this approach would not have been developed, and the impact of society without these therapies would be devastating to many individuals who suffer from mental health issues who depend on these therapies. However, psychotherapies are not appropriate for all individuals with mental health issues, especially those with severe conditions such as bipolar or schizophrenia. This is important to note as, whilst the approach is able to help some indiviauls with some milder mental health conditions such as anxiety, it cannot be applied to every individual who suffers from poor mental health. This is important because even though the psychodynamic approach has some drawbacks in terms of therapies for all, it is still beneficial to some individuals which cannot be overlooked. 

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Evaluate (2)

A weakness of the psychodynamic approach is that its concepts are untestable (ie. The Oedipus/Electra complex, id, unconscious mind etc). The id, which is the selfish, impulsive part of personality is wholly unconscious, as are the Electr and Oedipus concepts which develop. Due to the unconscious nature of these concepts, they cannot be physically tested. Furthermore, self report techniques are not appropriate or effective in this case, as the participant is unaware of the concepts. This means that these unconscious concepts lack empirical evidence to support their existence. This is important as it reduces the credibility of the psychodynamic approach due to a lack of objective and empirical evidence. 

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Evaluate (3)

A strength of the psychodynamic approach is that it uses case studies. The case studies of individuals, such as that of Little Hans, provide large quantities of detailed insight into behaviour. It is also more ethical as it used situations which are already created (similar to  in a natural experiment), which reduces the ethical issues of creating a distressing scenario for the purposes of research. However, case studies have some limitations as they use small samples, usually of just a single individual. This makes them hard to generalise across populations, but also may be subject to gender or cultural biases, depending on the sample used. This is important as whilst case studies have some benefits, they can also reduce the credibility of a theory. 

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Evaluate (4)

A weakness of the psychodynamic approach is that it assumes that all behaviours are controlled by the unconscious. Freud believed all behaviours were as a result of repressed traumas and the ego's defence mechanisms displacing these onto other things. He ignored the idea of free will, which allows individuals to make their own conscious choices, and the idea that some people may choose to behave in a certain way rather than being guided by their unconscious. This psychic determinism is reductionist and neglects to consider behaviours which may occur consciously. This is a weakness of the psychodynamic approach as it ignores the role of the conscious mind and free will in behaviour. 

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