Psychodynamic approach

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Psychodynamic assumptions

Behaviour is influenced by tripartite personality:

  • Id: present from birth. Aim is to gain pleasure at ant cost.
  • Ego: develops at 2 years of age. Function is to work out realistic ways of balancing the demands of the id in socially acceptable ways.
  • Superego: formed at 4 years old. Embodies the childs snese of right and wrong. Seeks to perfect behaviour.

Childhood experiences:

  • Ego not developed in childhood so feelings are repressed.
  • E.g. may experience a death of a familiy member and repress associated feelings. Later in life may expereince a death of another familiy member and individuals may re-experience earlier loss.
  • Previsously repressed anger about the loss is directed towards the self, causing depression. 
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Theory of personality development

  • States how children grow and develop through the psychosexual stages.
  • S1: Oral: Present at birth. Pleasure is gained through eating and suckling.
  • S2: Anal: Occurs between 1.5 and 3 years. Pleasure is gained through exprelling or witholding faeces.
  • S3: Phallic: Occurs between 3 and 6. Focus on the genitals and parent of the opposite sex. Oedipus complex - yong boys sexually attracted ot their mothers and young girls have penis envy. Identification elads to development of the superego.
  • S4: Latency: Nothing occurs
  • S5: Genital: Takes place during puberty and pleasure is gained through the genitals.
  • Freud predicted that frustration or overindulgence at any stage could lead to fixation on that stage which causes certain adult personalities.
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Free association

  • Most important and central technique in psychoanalysis.  Makes the unconscious conscious.
  • Based on the idea that individuals may not be aware of many facotrs that cause their behaviour, emotions and general mental health. These operate at unconscious level and the result of repressed memories from childhood.
  • Therapist traces these thoughts to their origins and healps the individual deal with them.
  • Patients express thier thoughts exactly how they occur and should nto sensory them.Therapists listen carefully and draw conclusions which pateint corrects or add mroe information to.
  • Not breif. May continue for many years.
  • Bergin (1971) analysed data from 10000 patient histories and estimated that 80% benifited from psychoanalysis. 
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Strengths and weaknesses

Useful applications:

  • Highlights that childhoopd is a critical period in development as infludenced by childhood experiences.
  • Influenced theories to treat metnal disorders and Freud was the first to recognise psychological facotrs can be used to describe physical symptoms.

Nature and nurture:

  • Takes both sides into account. Childhood experience (nurture) and structures of personality (nature). Psychosexual stages - overindulgence may mean fixation on that stage altering personality.


  • 'Mechanistic reduction' because simplifies complex behaviour to mechanisms of the mind and childhood experience. May ignore other important influences such as genetics.

Cannot falsify:

  • E.g. all men have homosexual tendancies as those who dont agree have repressed the feelings.
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Case studies:

  • Detailed study of single individual or event.
  • Has qualitative data and true insight to peopels behaviour because information taken over a long period.
  • Not generalisable to other people so results only valid when applying to that case. Not qualtitative data so difficult to analyse. Experimenter able to choose what information is collected.

Clinical interview:

  • Semi-structured interview - research starts with prepared questions and develops off clients responses.
  • Good relationship forms between the client and researcher so client more likely to open up to them. Verbal and nonverbal cimmunication can be taken note of.
  • Not generalisable and produces qualitative data. Interviewer bias - researchwer interprets answers to meet hypothesis.
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