Psychodynamic approach

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The Importance of The Unconscious Mind

9/10ths of our mind is unconscious.

We cannot access it's contents.

Although we cannot access unconscious wishes and desires they are nevertheless important in motivating our behaviour.

We use up energy by repressing unconscious wishes and desires.

Unaccessible partly because they are unacceptable.

Our conscience (Superego) will not accept the desires from the (Id).

We repress the contents of our unconscious by means of defence mechanisms.

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The Importance of Early Experiences

Personality is made up of the Id, Ego and Superego.

Formed in early years (0-5).

Experiences in these years can produce problems in the future, depending on how we pass through each of the 1st. 3 stages.

Oral, Anal & Phallic.

Problems at any of these stages means we can become fixated at that stage and this uses energy.

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Case Studies - Description


Case studies are in-depth studies, often of one person.

Case studies involve using different methods to find out as much about the mental processes of a person as possible and what enviromental influences might have affected their thoughts, wishes and desires.

Thoughts, wishes and desires motivate a person to behave and think in certain ways, and if they are inappropriate for that person in some way, a case study can highlight problems and lead to solutions.

Case studies are used for research, and also help individuals move on from any early problems that might be holding them back.

Various methods used in case studies are free association, dream analysis, analysis of slips of the tongue, analysis of symbols and clinical interviews.

Anna O and Little Hans are both Freud's Case Studies.

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Case Studies - Evaluation


+ Real people are studied, so the conclusions drawn have some validity.

+ In depth data can be gathered and are required for a complete analysis of early childhood experiences and to discover what is hidden in the unconsious by means of other methods and interpretations. Experiements would not be suitable as quantitative data is produced.

+ Although we are all supposed to follow the same developmental paths in principle (Id, Ego, Superego through Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latent & Genital Stages), in practice we all have different experiences, so each individual needs to be analysed as such. Case studies do this.

- Case studies are valuable when looking at helping individuals but findings cannot be generalised from one individual's experiences and applied to everyone.

~ Experiments can be used to test some assumptions such as whether tidiness goes with meanness and may therefore make findings more generalisable.

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- Case studies are not reliable or at least reliability cannot be tested, as they would be almost impossible to replicate. The same questions and answers are not likely to be used, and the individual would have worked through some problems the first time, and might not be in the same condition again.

- Case studies rely on the interpretation of the researcher; another researcher may not interpret the information in the same way. There is an element of subjectivity, which can lead to bias.

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Dream Analysis

Symbols might have different meanings to different people as the contents of each unconscious will be different.

Freud thought that there are some universal symbols. Many symbols are sexual in nature as they are likely to represent sexual wishes and desires that are repressed in the unconscious.

The manifest content of a dream is what we know we dream about - the content we reveal when we outline our dreams. The latent content of a dream is the underlying content - what dream analysis can reveal and what symbols in the manifest content are hiding.

Dream analysis involves listening to the manifest content of dreams and analysing symbols to discover the latent content.

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Literature Analysis

Symbols in literature can represent concepts of the Oedipus Complex.

In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Hamlet delays a long time before avenging his father's death. Freud suggests that young boys (5) desire their mother and are jealous of and want to kill their father. Hamlet's uncle has murdered his father and married his mother. Hamlet would have wanted to do this himself. So Hamlet's dilemma centres upon his reluctance to kill his uncle and avenge his father's death.

The plot of books or plays are examined like above to see how unconscious wishes and desires are repressed, and this analysis can help to investigate psychodynamic concepts and to illustrate them. Fairy tales too can be analysed and such concepts found. It could therefore be argued that this lends weight to the 'truth' of the concepts.

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Analysis Evaluation -Positives-

+ We have dreams that recur frequently, this goes against some other explanations of dreaming. E.g. dreaming is due to raindom firing of neurones.

+ It is possible to interpret dreams and for the dreamer to accept those explanations. If he interpretation were not plausible, it seems unlikely that an individual would accept the explanation of what the dream symbolises.

+ Symbols appear to be repeated in areas such as literature, this adds weight to the idea that these symbols represent some underlying unconscious material.

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Analysis Evaluation -Negatives-

- There are other explanations for why we dream. These suggest we dream to organise our thoughts. Or dreams are just the result of random firing of neurones and have no symbolic content. These explanations undermine the psychodynamic claim that dream analysis is useful.

- When analysing symbols in dreams and elsewhere, there is an element of subjectivity. Symbols need interpretation, which is a subjective activity. Subjectivity is seen as a problemin aresearch methodas it means that data could be biased rather than true.

- Writers since Freud will have known about his ideas and may well incorporated them into their writing, so it is not surprising that literature reveals such concepts.

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Conscious, Preconscious and Unconscious

Conscious thoughts are those we are aware of. Our everyday behaviour as far as we are aware if governed by these conscious thoughts.

Preconscious thoughts are those we can become aware of, although at the time we are not aware of them.

~E.g. Memories that appear to be forgotten but can be recalled if we focus on them, were in the preconscious.

Unconscious wishes and desires are those we cannot access directly. They influence our decision-making and motivations but we are not aware of them.

These unconscious 'thoughts' make up a great deal of our mind [9/10ths] and have a powerful but unknown influence on what we do.

We repress these unconscious thoughts by means of defence mechanisms which use up energy. The theory is therefore 'dynamic' as it is active. We are actively trying to protect ourselves from potentially destructive thoughts.

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Model of Personality - Id, Ego & Superego

Personality is made up of three 'areas'. These are not seperate parts, they're more so different ways of looking at what we are like.

Id - 'It' of our personality. Represents ours wishes and desires. Pleasure principle. Biological urges guide us, and we are usually warm, fed and not thirsty. Psychodynamic focuses on sexual urges, as they are the ones most likely to be repressed.

Ego - 'I' of our personality. Represents the reality principle. This is the part of our personality that makes decisions based on the demands of the Id and the restrictions of the superego.

Superego - 'Above I' of our personality. Represents the moral principle and ideas of what we ought to be like. We learn these principles from our parents and upbringing and they tend to go directly against our Id's desires. This can be problematic when it comes to decision making.

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Dream Theory


Dreams are a way into the unconscious. It is very hard to access the unconscious while awake but when we are asleep dream work takes place, and the contents of the unconscious can be interpreted from the content of our dreams. If the contents of our unconscious becomes conscious, however, we wake up, so to protect our sleep it is thought that the content of our unconscious is revealed by means of symbols.


+ Has been used as a basis for psychanalysis which isused as a therapy, so it has practical applications.

+ Has been used to develop other areas of psychtherapy, such as modern counselling techniques.

+ It was derived from methods that obtain in-depth qualitative data and allow individuals to talk about themselves = something that is likely to be useful in iteself.

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+ It has helped to make taboo sujects such as sex more acceptable in society. This means people are happier, or more balanced in some way because of it.

+Testing has been done, with some sucess. Fisher and Greenberg (1977) found that neatness, stuborness and meanness go together, which lends some support to the idea of anal personality.

- Very hard to replicate many of the studies, as they are case studies and the individuals' thought patterns would be changed by the study itself.

- There needs to be interpretation by the analyst, which leads to subjectivity and likely bias.

- Hard to test empirically, so it is difficult to gather information to say whether the theory is right or wrong. However, being hard to test does not mean it is wrong.

- Other studies have no supported Freud's claims. Zigler and Child (1972) found no evidence that the way an infant is fed affects later personality and character.

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Erikson developed Freud's ideas with some differences. He focused on psychsocial rather than psychosexual stages. He proposed that stages of development continue throughout life rather than stopping after puberty.

He agreed that early childhood is an important time for development, and also thought that unconscious wishes and desires are of great importance. He agreed that the function of the 'Ego' is to balance the conflicting demands of the 'Id' and the 'Superego'.

The main aim when developing is to establish an identity, and to have a balanced picture of oneself as an individual in a social framwork. Erikson emphasised cultural aspects of development. He thought that we develop according to our genetic structuce, but also using a social and cultural conext - epigenetic pathway.

There are eight stages and each must be worked through successfully, although problems had to be resolved completely at each stage.

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+ Stage theory covers the whole lifespan, which seems to be more appropriate than to suggest that development stops at adulthood.

+ Useful precisely because it looks at how adults also go through stages. By looking at the crises that need to be worked through, people can be helped. E.g. In adulthood it can be seen that there is a need to feel that one is contributing in some way to the next generation. If that is not the case, it might be the reason for feelings of depression.

+ Erikson thought that the eight stages were like a cycle rather than a list. Those at the beginning of their lives are influenced by others at other stages. E.g. Babies must have the chance to trust and to develop autonomy, and adults provide that opportunity.

- Erikson's theory is a stage theory and can therefore be undermined if we say that development is continous.

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Key Application - Description


Freud's whole approach focuses on how problems experienced in early childhood can lead to fixation, which then leads to repressed wishes and desires that prevents us leading a problem-free life in adulthood.

Erikson's approach, too, focuses on the crises that we need to negotiate successfully in order to move through life steadily without mental health problems, and to arrive in old age in a state of integrity, not despair.

Disorders treated by psychoanalysis include eating disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, sexual dysfunction and depression. The decision as to what treatment would be useful tends to be based on the belief about what is causing the problem.

Therefore, if a psychodynamic explanation of the causes of mental illness or difficulty seems useful, psychoanalysis might be seen as a useful treatment for that difficulty.

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Defence Mechanisms

Repression- Prevent unacceptable desire, motivations or emotions form becoming conscious. Repression does not mean that you consciously cover up guilty secrets; it means that you can make them unconscious so that you are not even aware fo them. Example: A person who is normally placid suddenly acts violently.

Projection- When people's own unacceptable faults or wishes are attributed to someones else. In this extreme, this defence mechanism can become paranoia. Example: Accusing someone else for being angry even though your the one who is feeling angry.

Regression- Sometimes people responds to anxiety by acting childish ways, such as stamping or kicking, which they found effective during childhood. Example: A 9 year old whose parent are getting divorce suddenly starts sucking their thumb.

Displacement-Diverting emotion to someone else because the emotion can't be express. Example It's the teacher fault why I failed.

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Systematic Desensitisation (Behavioural approach)

Systematic Desensitisation (SD) enables individual to overcome their anxiety by learning to relax in the presence fo stimuli that had once made them unbearably nervouse.

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