Psychodynamic approach

  • Created by: Gemma
  • Created on: 04-06-13 16:58

Key Terms

Id, ego,superego

Oral, anal, phallic, latency,genital stages


Oedipus complex

Defence mechanism

Conscious, preconscious, unconscious

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Defining the Psychodynamic Approach

Its about developing in a mentally healthy way and about curing neuroses.

Curing neuroses involves releasing energy by exposing unconscious wishes and desired and making them conscious.

Neuroses- mental problems that can be understood by the individual, as opposed to pschoses, where there is no insight.

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Freud's Theories

He thought that energy could be trapped in various developmental stages over the first 5 years of life. Energy is an instinct and the basic instincts are hunger, thirst, need for warmth and a sex drive.

Psychosexual Stages

Oral stage (0-18months)- Organ of Pleasure- Mouth

Anal Stage (18months-3 years)- Anus

Phallic Stage (3 years-4/5 years)- Genitals

Latency Stage (6years- puberty)

Genital Stage (Adulthood)- Genitals

If a child is fixated at one of these stages (do not get the right amount of pleasure) then the energy is used up dealing with that which could lead to adult mental health problems.

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Case studies- Involve studying one unique induvidual and gathering in depth, detailed data about the individual.

Triangulation is used which means pooling all the detail from the various research methods and looking for common themes and trends.

Freud used methods such as Free Association, Dream Analysis and Slips of the tongue to try and uncover unconsious wishes and desires. Freud used case studies as a research method as well as therapy, as he used pyshcoanalysis to help his patiers (analysands) to undercover their repressed memories.

Free Association- The analysand allows a stream of consciousness out and the analyst listens to find connections with the aim of uncovering unconscious wishes.

Dream and symbol analysis- The analysand describes a dream and the analyst looks for the meaning in the dream. Manifest content is the description of the dream itself, the information the analysand knows about, and the Latent content of the dream is the underlying unconscious thoughts that are revealed through the manifest content by analysis of symbols. The analyst interprets the symbols to find the laten content.

Slips of the tongue- When the analysand uses the wrong word for something, Freud thought that these mistakes revealed unconscious desires.

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Case Studies


  • Useful- often the only way of studying a particular phenomenon so gather data that couldn't be obtained by other means.
  • They produce valid data- data comes fairly directly from the people concerned and usually gathered in their natural surroundings.
  • Produces in depth data


  • Not replicable because situation is unique
  • Another researcher at another time may gather different data, if its not replicable, they cannot be tested for reliability.
  • Cannot be generalised - comes from a unique situation
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Strengths and Weaknesses of Freuds Case Studies


  • Can be used to help the patient as well as gather data.- They are therapeutic.
  • They have practical application
  • They use special means to undercover unconscious thoughts that cannot otherwise be accessed.


  • The analyst has a lot of interpretation so could be subjective, whereas scientific study requires objectivity.
  • The concepts (e.g. unconscious) are not measurable and so are hard to test in  a scientific way. However this means his conclusions are unfalsifiable.
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Freud's Case studies and credibility

Masson (1989) criticised Freuds Psychoanalysis in three ways:

  • The interpretation of the analyst can push the patient towards certain vaules and goals that may not be their own- Issue of the power of the analyst over the analysand.
  • There is gender bias in Freud's work- boys are focused on more than girls.
  • Undue emphasis on sexual matteres, particualarly where transference occurs- where the patient has feelings for the analyst which is ethically very sensityive.

Power, Gender and Sexual Issues are important to consider when the ethical implications and issues of credibility of Freud's work.

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Correlational Designs

Freud's theories are difficult to test but a way of testing them is to use a correlational design and self-report data (data the participant provides about themselves) for example a questionnaire.

Levels of measurement

  • Nominal-categories are recorded and ticking of boxes is used.
  • Ordinal- Ranked data using a scale.
  • Interval- Data where there is a real measurement such as height or time


  • Are not repeated, independant or matched pairs.
  • They involve the same participant providing data for two measures.
  • 2 variables but no IV or DV
  • A relationship between two variables is looked at, not the difference.

Positive Correlation- where one variable rises and the other rises as well.

Negative Correlation- One variable rises and one falls.

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Ways of testing for correlations

Gathering the data and then ranking the scores for the two sets seperately and comparing the ranks. If high ranks for one set of scores go with high ranks for the other set, then there is a positive correlation. If high ranks for one set go with low ranks for the other set, there is a negative correlation.

You could also draw a scatter graph. Draw a line of best fit- if the line goes from bottom left to top right it shows a positive correlation. If the line goes down from top left to bottom right, it shows a negative correlation.

Statistical tests can also be used to check for a correlation. Inferential statistics are used in unit 2. They suggest how strong the difference or relationship is. Spearman's Rank Correlation Coefficient is used in this approach. This test sees if the variables are related closely enough to draw firm conclusions. A perfect positive correlation gives a result of +1 whereas a perfect negative correlation gives a results of -1. No correlation gives 0. The closer to 1 (+ or -) the stronger the correlation.

Some Robins Own Cars

Spearmans Rho, Ordinal, Correlation 

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Correlational Designs


  • Little manipulation of variables. Measures often taken from existing situations with a few controls needed.
  • Could show relationships that might not be expected and so can be used to point towards new areas for research.


  • Does not show a definite cause and effect. Variables may be casually or chance related. There may be another variable that causes them.
  • Tend to lack validity because at least one variable has to be operationalised which tends to make it unnatural
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Longitudinal Studies

Those that follow one set of paricipants over time, using methods such as experiment, survey or observation.

Participants are the same throughout the study and measurements are taken over a long period of time so comparisons can be made.


  • Useful for looking at developmental trends. The main way to see how an individual's development affects certain characteristics.
  • Use the same participants so participant variables do not give bias in the results.


  • Participants can drop out so the sample could become biased if it systematically excludes certain people. (e.g. shy people)
  • Reseachers may change over time which can affect relationships with the participants.
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Cross Sectional Studies

Measurements taken at one moment in time instead of over a period. This method used two different groups of participants rather than the same participants.


  • Gather immediate results- easier to carry out in practice
  • Cheaper because researchers only have to be in the area once
  • More ethical than longitudinal studies because the measures are only taken once, rather than imposing on participants more often.


  • Different participants are used in the experiments so participant variables can effect the results
  • Many different variables in the two or more situations being tested cannot be controlled e.g. the environment of the two groups, their background or their friendship groups.
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Freud's theory of personality

Three aspects of personality- Id, ego and superego.

Personality develops in the first five years of childhood.


  • Develops first
  • Pleasure principle
  • Unconscious


  • Develops second
  • Reality principle
  • Conscious, preconscious and unconsicous


  • Develops last
  • Morality principle
  • Conscious, preconscious and unconsicous

In adults the personality should be balance, with the ego successfully managing the needs of both the id and ego. If the id or ego is more in control, this could result in neuroses and abnormalities.

A way of maintaing the balance between the id, ego and superego is to use defence mechanisms.

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The role of the unconscious

Freud claimed that the unconscious was the largest part of the mind and was inaccessible by normal means.

Conscious- Contains what we know about

Preconscious- What we don't know at the time but can access it if needed to

Unconscious- We can not access at all

Thoughts and wished are kept in the unconscious and cannot be accessed. Defence mechanisms are used to avoid allowing threatening wishes to become conscious.

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Defence mechanisms

Ways of protecting the ego when there is conflict between the demands of the id and the superego.

5 Defence mechanisms

  • Repression- refers to not remembering something because it cannot be accessed, needing to remain in the unconscious to protect the personality.
  • Denial- refers to refusing to acknowledge threatening thoughts altogether.
  • Projection- refers to saying that threatening thoughts or emotions are someone else's thoughts and desires.
  • Regression- refers to going back to a childhood state (foetal position)
  • Displacement- refers to putting unnacceptable thoughts or wishes onto something or someone other than their real focus.
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5 Stages of pyschosexual development

At each stage the sexual pleasure drive (libdo) is focused on this one area. If the stage is not resolved there is a fixation which occurs when there is frustration or overindulgence. The child can not move onto the next stage.

Oral stage-

  • 0-18 months
  • Mouth is focus of pleasure
  • If fixated at this stage, if not nursed or not nursed enough- the adult will envious, pessimistic and sarcastic
  • If too nursed the adult will be optimistic, admiring others and gullible.

Anal stage-

  • 18 months-2 years
  • toilet training brings focus of pleasure on anus and expulsion and retention of faeces.
  • If parents are too lenient + child gets pleasure from making a mess- adult will form an anal expulsive character- messy, reckless, disorganised.
  • If child refused to go and that is not overcome + child gains pleasure from holding back- adult will form an anal retentive character- obstinate, careful and precise, OCD

Phalic stage-

  • 2-5 years
  • Focus of pleasure on genital region.
  • Boys experience Oedipus complex and girls experience the Electra Complex.
  • Throught the Oedipus complex, boys adopt their gender behaviour
  • An adult fixated at this stage- self assured, reckless, vain and proud.
  • May be incapable of loving someone.

Latency Period

  • 6 years- puberty
  • No sexual drive
  • Resting period
  • Children form same sex friendships and focus on sports and school.

Genital stage

  • Puberty- adulthood
  • libido focuses on genitals
  • formation of heterosexual friendships and relationships
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Freud's explanation of gender development

Comes from the boy's natural love for his mother which turns sexual due to the libido focused on the genitals in the phallic stage.

The father stands in the way of the boy's feelings because of his relationship with the mother. The boys therefore feels aggression towards his father and love for his mother. This is all unconsicous.

As parents tell their son off for masterbating, this causes anxiety and fear. A boy will notice that woman do not have penis' and so the fear is focused on castration fear which overrides the desire to possess the mother, so the desire is repressed.

Freud thought that unconsciously the boy wants to kill his father and marry his mother.

This conflict has to be resolved by the ego to satisfy the demands of the id so the boy must identify with his father as if 'becoming' the father. The castration fear is removed and the boy does what his father does, and by absorbing his father's approach to social rules the boy develops the superego.

The boy learns to be a male by identifying with his father. Most of this evidence for this theory come from the case study of Little Hans.

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Electra Complex

Girls learn their gender behaviour by identifying with their mother.

Girls find out that woman do not have a penis (penis envy). This is similar to castration fear. The girl identifies with their mother and learns her gender role in that way because she can then possess her father. She develops her superego in this way, just as boys do.

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Evaluation of Freud's Theory


  • Completely novel approach to explaining mental disorders.
  • Methods were unique and developed specifically for his own purposes.
  • Freud tried to be scientific and rigorous in his work
  • Freud was not as subjective as thought- 'sometimes a cigar is just a cigar'- showing that he thought not all symbols in dreams had hidden meanings.
  • He was unwilling to analyse dreams out of context, only doing so as part of a complete pyschoanalysis.


  • Lack of scientific evidence- methods were subjective interpretation.
  • Freud drew ideas from his own personal experiences- subjective way of building a theory.
  • Freuds concepts are not measurable because the id, ego and superego are not ;real' in the sence that they can be accessed and measured.
  • Freud used case studies- hard to show reliability as it cannot be repeated.
  • Freud drew his conclusions from a small sample of case studies- mainly middle-class viennese women. = Biased in terms of gender and classes.- hard to generalise findings from a biased sample.
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Little Hans Case study (1909)

Aim- To try to understand the 5 year old boy's phobia of horses and to treat it.

Procedure- Case study including dream analysis. He also got information from Han's father. Freud met Hans twice and he got information from Hans's mother and father documenting his development.


  • Little Hans had an interest in his widdler. He dreamt about them and about wiping children's bums. He denied this interest and said it was only in his dreams. When younger, Hans had played with his widdler but was told off by his mother and father.
  • Hans seemed to want his father yo 'go away' and soon wanted his father dead. He was also jealous of his sister who was younger. Freud and Hans's father suggested to Hans that, when watching his mother bath his sister, he wished she would let his sister's head go under the water. Hans agreed with this.
  • Hans was afraid that a white horse would bite him. It appeared that he heard the father of a girl telling her not to 'put her finger on' the white horse that was drawing the cart to take her to the station. Hans also said he was afraid of black on horses' mouths and things in front of their eyes. Once, when walking with his mother he saw a horse fall down when drawing a bus.
  • Han's was playing with dolls and 'having children'. His father commented that a boy cannot have children, and Hans said mummy is the children's mummy, Hans is their daddy and Hans's father is their grandfather.
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Case study analysis

  • When Hans denied interest in widders except in dreams evidence of repression
  • Hans had dreams about wiping bottoms because he had enjoyed haveing his done to him- shows pleasure at anal stage.
  • Hans wanted his father to die + jealousy over sister because he enjoyed being with his mother and having her attention.
  • His fear of white horses represented a fear of his father. Black around mouth and eyes represented adult men with moustaches and glasseson, reinforcing the idea of Hans being afraid of his father.
  • When the girl was told not to put her finger on the horse, this reminded Hans of when he was told of for playing with his widdler, which Freud interpreted as castration fear.
  • When Hans said about the doll that mummy is the mother, Hans is the father and his father is the grandfather, it showed that Hans was now cured, as this was the resolution of the Oedipus complex


  • Freud thought that his study of Little Hans offered evidence for this psychosexual stages and theory of how gender develops.
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Strengths and weaknesses of Little Hans


  • Freud gathered info from Hans's father instead of Hans himself. He tried to work on info gained from Hans himself when he spoke freely about his problems, so the data was valid.
  • Data was comprehensive, covering dreams, events, ideas and feelings.
  • Freud's focus on sexual matters and unconscious processes has led to psychoanalysis and other psychotherapies being developed. 'Talking cure' and the 'listening cure' have been built upon.


  • Writing out a case study involves subjective interpretation. It may be interpreted subjectively so differently by another analyst- not reliable.
  • Parents followed Freud's teachings- biased data
  • Other explanations- Bowlby (1973) a child needs their mother as an attachment figure in their early years or their later development is affected. Hans may have clung to his mother because she has threatended to leave the family.
  • Freud's methods- not scientific because his concepts were not testable. Conclusions not scientifically shown and not easily repeated- unlikely to be reliable.
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Dibs: Axline, 1964

Aim- Aimed to help Dibs (5 year old) to unlock whatever was troubling him.


  • It was clear there was a problem because he would not speak or interact with others and could be aggressive if challenged.
  • She wrote up a case study about Dibs and his play therapy sessions.
  • Case study was a description rather than an explanation.
  • Axline tried not to interpret what Dibs said or did.


  • Dibs showed that he was actually gifted, who could read, spell and understand complex concepts
  • He used dolls and toy soldiers in the play therapy room to act out situations with his family.
  • He showed hatred for his father by burying a toy soldier he called 'papa' in the sand.
  • He said he did not like locked rooms and doors.
  • He was angry at his family.
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Dibs: Case Study analysis

  • Dibs worked out his anger through play and seemed happier because of this.
  • Axline did not analysethe case study using theory but Freud's personality theory helps to explain Dib's behaviour.
  • 1 explanation- Dibs hasan overcontrolling superego and his ego did not manage to balance the demands of his id and superego.
  • His father used to lock him in his room- probably explained his dislike of walls and locked doors.
  • His mother had pushed and tested him a lot when he was younger, and he has more stimulation than emotional support.- may have led to his reaction to testing, which was to maintain silence.


Play therapy allowed Dibs's feelings to be worked thorugh and allowed him to find himself. The overcontrolling superego would mean he had no balance personality; play therapy allowed a balance to be found.

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Key Issue

Do dreams have meaning?

Explaining the issue using the approach

  • Psychological explanations- Behaviour is governed by unconcious wishes and desires. The id is in the unconscious and is the demanding part of the personality.
  • The unconscious mind is powerful and controls much of our thinking and actions.
  • The superego gives the personality a conscience containing the demands of society and parents.
  • Unwanted thoughts and feelings could reveal themselves in dreams.
  • Dreams have a content that is known (manifest) and the underlying unconscious wish (latent)
  • Biological explanation-Thoughts are left over from the day's events, the brain is still active while the person sleeps so the brain makes sense of these thoughts.
  • Pysiological explanation- brains can be scanned whilst the person sleeps- measurable evidence
  • Psychodynamic apprach- offers little evidence for dreams having an underlying meaning other than that when an analysand is presented with an interpretation of their dream they tend to accept it.
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