Psychodynamic explanations for mood disorders

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The Oral Psychodynamic Stage

  • Freud believed that a vulnerability to depression began in the Oral stage (0-18 months)
  • Over gratification or under gratification at this time from the parents, leads to fixation in the Oral stage--> overly dependant personality
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  • Freud believed that the way in which someone dealt with loss in childhood will set the scene for how he/she responds to similar experiences in adulthood


The child believes they have been deserted/abandoned e.g. the mother leaving their child at nursery for the day.


The child loses a significant person in their life either by death or that person leaves them forever.

  • Grief as a result of loss in early childhood may then be followed by feelings of desertion and rejection
  • The child can irrationally interpret the loss as being their fault, believing that it was their actions that caused them to leave, this makes them feel alone, abandoned and unlovable 
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  • Following loss, the child experiences a period of anger, rage and guilt towards the lost loved ones and others for the loss
  • Freud stated that these feelings cannot be expressed outwardly so are turned inwards towards the self, resulting in self-blame and self-punishment, this is INTROJECTION

A period of morning follows introjection when the child remebers the loved one and separation is made


  • If the child is orally fixated, their overdependant personality means that the emotional bonds are not broken and so separation cannot be made
  • The anger and self blame continue to be turned inwards, leading to symptoms of depression
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Other Theories

Feelings of inadequacy

  • As a result of failing to meet the expectations of authoritarian parents which results in the individual setting unachievable goals and standards that they can't maintain in their adult life
  • Similar to conditions of worth- humanism
  • Compare to Seligman- theory of learned helplessness--> negative events (which could be due to failing to meet goals) leads to feeling helpless and not in control, resultin in depression 
  • Research has found tat parents of depressed individuals are more likely to be moralistic and demanding of total perfection and devotion
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John Bowlby

  • Developed the attachment theory- depression is more likely if the child was deproved of love and warmth from a mother figure in the early years
  • Found that if a child was seperated from its mother before the age of 6, it would experience anaclytic depression (anxiety and unwillingness to explore one's environment)
  • Supports the evidence of early years in influencing depression in adulthood

Nietzel and Harris

  • Found evidence that some depressed people are high in dependancy
  • Supports psychodynamic theory but also suggests that there are other factors also

Klein et al

  • Identified a number of personality traits commonly found in depressed people: high dependancy on others, perfectionism, low self-esteem, inability to openly express anger
  • Similar to what is described in the theory e.g. inability to openly express anger supports introjection
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  • Cognitive explanations- recent cognitive explanations argue that people have negative and irrational thought process e.g. attribution theory which supports the process of loss and introjection as described by Freud
  • Loss- the explanation highlights the importance of loss in causing depression


  • Introjection- depressed individuals often openly express anger rather than turning it inwards towards the self
  • Emipircal support- the theory relies on self-report of children which can be subjective rather than strong empirical support
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