Psychodynamic Approach

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  • Created by: kaysha
  • Created on: 27-04-13 16:39


One assumption fo the Psychodynamic Approach (PA) is that behaviour is influeced by the three parts of the mind - the id, ego and superego. The id is present from birth, emands immediate satisfaction and is governed by the pleasure principle. The ego develops around the age of two. It is the conscious, rational part of the mind and is governed by the reality principle. The ego balances conflict betwen the id and superego. The superego develops from, and gradually takes place of, parental authority - observing, threatening and directing the ego in the same way the parents did. This forms at around 4 years old.

Another assumption of the PA is that behaviour is influenced by different levels of consciousness. There are three levels of consciousness: the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious. Ego defence mechanisms lie in our unconsious and are used to protect the ego from developing too much anxiety caused by the id and superego's conflict. One example of a defence mechanism is known as displacement, which is the act of redirecting our feelings from one target to another (e.g wanting to hit your brother but hitting a wall instead).

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Freud's Theory of Personality Development

Freud suggested that there are five key developmental stages that everyone goest though, called psychosexual stages. These stages are vital in the development of our adult personality. Freud suggested that during each stage, our libido (source of pleasure) is attached to a different part of our body. If a child is either frustrated or overindulged at any stage, fixation would occur, which can influence our adult personality. In the oral stage (0-18 months), pleasure is gained though breastfeeding. Overindulgence at this stage can lead to an oral receptive charachter; they may be cheerful and over-dependent on others. Frustration ad this stage may result in an oral aggressive adult personality, and someone who smokes. In the anal stage (18 months-3 years), pleasure is gained through expelling and withholding faeces. Excessively late toilet training (overindulgence) may result in an anal expulsive character who is messy, careless and generous in their belongings.  Excessivey early/harsh toilet training during the anal stage ma result in neat, stubborn, stingy adult personality traits. In the phallic stage, (3-6 years) the focus of pleasure is shifted to the genitals  and the Oedipus and Electra complex occur. If a chid is unable to negotiate the Oedipus or Electra complex, then as an adult they may have problems with sex and sexual identity.

Freud also believed that our personality develops due to the interaction and conflict between the three elements id, ego and superego. An individual who is dominated by the id is thought to have a lack of moral control over their behaviour (a typical criminal profile).

Freud also suggested that overuse of certain abnormal ego defence mechanisms can shape our personality. For example, if an individual is in denial due to a traumatic experience, and refuses to accept reality, they can often be associated with having a mental disorder.

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Dream Analysis

One of the main assumptions of the PA is that our behaviour is influenced by thoughts, desires and wishes that lie in our unconscious, therefore, the aim of Dream Analysis is to access the unconscious mind and bring these feelings to the conscious mind where they can be dealt with. Dream Analysis is a form of psychoanalysis and it is the process of assigning meanings to our dreams. Freud suggested that when we sleep, our ego defence mechanisms are lowered, and this allows our id to act out its repressed wishes and desires, which is known as 'wish fulfilment'. Freud believed that if we did not dream, there would be a build up of energy which would eventually threaten our sanity.

Freud suggested that our repressed wishes and desires are often unacceptable. It is for this reason wishes and desires are presented in a disguised form, known as the manifest content. Manifest content is the part of the dream that you remember; the true meaning of the dream is known as the latent content. The latent content is transformed into the mainfest content through a process known as dreamwork. 

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Dream Analysis (pt. 2)

The process of Dream Analysis largely consists of reversing the process of dreamwork. The patient will talk freely to the therapist (free association) about the manifest content of their dream, and the therapist will help guide them to the latent content. The patient should be allowed to express any thought that comes to them. Freud argued that it is necssary to consider all dreams in the context of the patient's life. The therapist offers various interpretations of the dream to the patient and it is up to the patient to select which interpretation makes most sense to them.

Evidence that supports Freud's theory that the irrational id is at work whilst we dream comes from Solms et al (2000) who found by using PET scans, that the rational part of the brain is inactive during REM sleep (when we dream), and the part tht deals with motivation is active.

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Dream Analysis (pt. 3)

Dreamwork allows for the expression of built up wishes and desires without causing anxiety in the dreamer. Durning dreamwork, there are several different processes that may occur - one example is displacement. Displacement is when the focus of the individual's emotions are placed onto another object or person. For example, a woman who is scared of her father (latent content) may dream of being scared of horses (manifest content). Another dreamwork process is condensation, where two or more objects, idea or people may be combined into one, for example, a woman who is angry at her father and husband (latent content) may dream of punishing a man (manifest content). Symbolism will futher disguise the meaning of the dream. For example dreaming of falling into waer is thought to represent giving birth; dreaming of anything longer than it is wide (e.g. snake, gun) is thought to represent a penis; dreaming of anything you can enter into (e.g. cave, tunnel) is thought to represent a vagina, and dreaming about authoritative figures (e.g. kings) is thought to represent your parents. Freud finally suggested that the unconscious mind collects all the different images together and links them to form a logical story through a process called secondary elaboration, futher disguising the latent content.

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One strength of the PA is the successful application of its assumptions in therapies which treat meantal disorders. Freud assumed that mentally disordered behaviour is due to unconsious thoughts and wishes; these unconscious thoughts and wishes can be brought to the conscious through psychoanalysis (e.g. Dream Analysis), where they can be dealt with. Successful applications are a strength as they halp improve the lives of sufferers of mentlal illnesses (e.g. depression).

Another strength of the PA is that it takes both nature and nurture into account. Freud suggested that our adult personality is a product of our innate drives and id, which lies in our unconscious mind (nature). Freud also suggested that our childhood experiences during the psychosexual stages affect our adult personality (nurture). This is a strengths because interactionist approaches give a more complete account of human behaviour.

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One weakness of the PA is that it is difficult to falsify. For example, Freud's belief tha we have repressed homosexual tendencies cannot be disproved. Freud would suggest these feelings are unconscious and therefore not apparent. This is a weakness as a theory is only a good one if it can be tested to see if it is wrong.

Another weakness of the PA is that it is a deterministic approach. Freud saw infant behaviour as determined by childhood experiences. For example, overindulgence or frustration in the orl stage may cause typical personality types in later life. This is a weakness as it implies that we have no free will. However, this may misrepresent human behaviour because we do have the choice to behave the way we choose, for example we may choose to become more geverour if you feel you are stingy. The determinist viewpoint my give a plausable excuse for behaving unreasonably.

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Methodology (Case Study)

A method often used in the PA is that of a case study. Case studies are in-depth, detailed studies of an individual (or small group). The PA assumes that individual case histories can tell us a lot about human behaviour. An example of a case study is that of Little Hans. Hans' father wrote to Freud because Hans was suffering from a sever phobia of horses. Freud and Hans' father corresponded by letter whereby the father described Hans' behaviour to Freud and Freud interpreted it. Freud concluded that Hans had an unconscious fear of his father and used this case study to support his ideas about the oedipus complex.

A strength of a case study is that a case study involves spending a lot of time with the person and therefore a true insight into the individual's behaviour can be obtained. Descriptive, qualitative data is obtained, whch allows us to draw valid conclusions, as we have taken the time to study the reasons behind the behaviour. The PA adopts the idiographic approach, which is a strength because it addresses the wholeness and uniqueness of the individual.

However, due to the ideographc nature of a case study, the nformation produced from it is concerned withone individual and therefore it is not possible to generalise the results to the rest of the population. For example, just because Little Hans who had a phobia of horses, was actually afraind of his dad, it does not mean that everybody who has a fear of horses is afraid of their dad. A further weakness of the case study method is that because it produces qualitative data, it relies on qualitative analysis. Qualitative analysis oftn results in the researcher interpreting the data subjectively to support their theory, such as Freud using Little Hans to support his idea of the Oedipus complex.

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Methodology (Clinical Interview)

A further method used by the PA is the clinical interview. This is an interview between patient and therapist, where the therapist begins with pre-determined questions, but then tailors the questons in response to the patient's answers. The patient is free to talk about anythng they wish, although the therapist may guide the interview.  The clinical interview is used  in dream analysis and free association to try and uncover unconscious thoughts, desires and wishes, and make them conscious so any problems can be dealth with.

A strength is that clinical interviews allow a good relationship between the therapist and patient to be built up, and so patients are more likely to open up and be honest in their responses. They also allow verbal and non-verbal behaviour to be examined (e.g. tone of voice and body language). However, the data produced is qualitative and hard to analyse. It is also hard to generalise to the rest of the population as the information gathered only applies to that individual. Also, because the therapist is free to guide the interview, there is a danger of subjectivity and interviewer bias - the patients answers may be interpreted in a way that suports a particular theory.

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