Psychodynamic Approach

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Psychodynamic Assumption

Behaviour is influenced by the three parts of the mind (id, ego and superego)

  • the adult personality is split
  • id is impulsive and is present from birth, acting on the pleasure principle, gaining gratification at any cost
  • ego is the concious rational though that works out realistic demands and appears around the age of two, this is the reality principle
  • superego develops at around four and it embodies morals, it is learnt through identification with others

Behaviour is influenced by different levels of consciousness and ego defences

  • iceberg model
  • concious on the surface, preconcious and unconscious under neath the water
  • related to ego defence mechanisms such as regression and displacement 
  • this can lead to problems 
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Personality Development

core of the personality 

  • id, ego, superego elements 
  • conflict between them leads to a normal personality 

psychosexual stages

1. oral stage - pleasure is gained through the mouth (0 to 1 and a half)

2. anal stage - pleasure is gained through witholding and expelling faeces (1 and a half to 3)

3. phallic stage - focus is on the genitals of the opposite sex paren. Oedipus or electra complex can form (3 to 6) 

4. latency stage - no development (7-11)

5. genital stage - focus is on pleasure from the genitals and this leads to the development of independence (puberty)

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Personality Development

adult personality 

  • oral - healthy, ability to enjoy affection and food, frustration, oral aggressive (pessimistic, aggressive and suspicious), overindulgence, oral receptive (optimistic, gullible and dependent)
  • anal - healthy, ability to deal with authority and be reasonably organised, frustration, anal retentive (orderly, stingy, obstinate) overindulgence, anal expulsive (messy, definant and generous)
  • phallic - healthy, development of morality, frustration or overindulgence, phallic character (reckless, overconfident, problems with identity)
  • genital - healthy, development of weel adjusted mature adult 

ego defence mechanisms 

  • conflicts lead to defence mechanisms
  • normal defences have no long lasting effects e.g. supression 
  • abormal defences can lead to problems e.g. denial, repression
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Free Association

link to assumptions

mental disordered behaviour is caused by the unconscious part of the mind, these repressed thoughts have continual affect on conscious behaviour, the aim therefore is to reveal conflict areas of reppresion


  • the patient expresses their thoughts exactly as they happen, even if irrelevant, this is the stream of consciousness 
  • these thoughts are uncensored
  • the therapist offers interpretations for the patient to accept or reject or add to further 
  • the therapist than focuses their own thoughts to avoid unconcious intrusion
  • patients may resist the interpretation or transfer feelings onto their therapist 
  • the therapist and patient work through the same issues over and over in attempt to gain clarity 
  • this could take years, conducted at least once a week 
  • can be spoken or written (devised by Farrow in 1942)as self anaylis 
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Free Association

Anna O

  • severe right side paralysis, nausea and difficulty drinking 
  • fear stems from dog drinking from glass and caring for her father with inability to help
  • once this was uncovered, she was able to move again

Research Evidence 

  • Pol and Hones (1998) recored 200 sessions with a single patient and said that the symptoms were reduced during periods of rich free association 
  • Bergin (1971) 80% benefitted from FA compared to only 65% from eclectic therapies  (therapies based on many different approaches)
  • Tschuschke et al (2007) longer treatments yeild the best results, supporting the need for prolonged therapy 
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nature and nurture 

  • takes into account both side of the biological and environmental debate 
  • we have innate personality structures which conflict with one another, in our experiences, ego defence machanisms interact with personality structures to give our final adult personality 
  • we know that both of these contribute to behaviour so it provides a useful framework for the nature nurture debate 

reflects the complexity of human behaviour 

  • rich account of life experiences woven into one theory 
  • psychoanalysis allows us to uncover deep meanings behind our behaviour, acknowledging that this is a lengthy process 
  • many other approaches greatly oversimplify behaviour, this however, looks for root cause 
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  • childhood behaviour is from innate drives, and adult behaviour a esult of childhood experience 
  • overindulgence or frustration in stages of development can lead to problems 
  • implies we have no free will about who or what we become, this leads to a misinterpretations of behaviour and may lead to excuses within the justice system #

Claims can't be proven wrong

  • hard to falsify 
  • Popper (1935) and the black swans 
  • homosexual example 
  • makes it hard to test and therefore to show causal relationships and be valid 
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Methodology: Case Studies

link to assumptions 

individual case histories lead to understanding human behaviour, idiographic approach 

Examples little hans, anna O 


  • gain true insight, true to life and values uniqueness 
  • descriptive qualitative data is obtained, allows a rich picture 


  • it is hard to generalise due to idiographic approach
  • the data is highly subjective 
  • Frueds subjects were mainly m/c vienesse woman suffering neuroticism, gender, historial and culture bias 
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Methodology: Clinical Interviews

link to assumptions

assumes anxiety related disorders are repressed in our unconcious mind, all forms of therapy are a clinical interview 

example Anna O


  • facilitates communication allowing a honest viw of behaviour to be found
  • rich qualitative data can be obtained 


  • data is subjective and means many interpretations can be made from it 
  • it is difficult to find trends in data, making generalisations hard 
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