Psychology Abnormality Part 3: The Psychodynamic Approach

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Psychological Models

  • Methods are generally used by clinicial psycholigsts working alongside psychiatrists in psychiatric hospitals and institutions
  • each method is based on one of the approaches to psychology
  • psychologists attempt to explain human behaviour with one or more of these methods
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Psychodynamic model of abnormality

Approach originally proposed by Sigmund Freud in late 19th century and is the first attempt to explain the complexities of human behaviour

Other psychologists have based their theories around Freud's original


  • Abnormal behaviour is often the result between different aspects of our unconscious mind such as the id and the superego or Eros and Thanatos
  • Childhood is a crucial time in the development of personality
  • Treatment requires that unconscious conflict is assessed and confronted using techniques such as free association, dream therapy and hypnosis 


Explanations tend to be based around:
- the 3 aspects of personality
- the psychosexual stages of development
- ego defence mechanisms such as repression 

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The Id, Ego and Superego

Freud believed there are 3 components to personality:

  • Id: the selfish, uncaring aspect that seeks satisfaction and pleasure at whatever cost. The Id operates on the pleasure principle
  • Superego: the caring, socially aware aspect that acts as our moral conscience
  • Ego: the "piggy in the middle" that operates using the reality principle to keep the other 2 aspects happy
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Defence mechanisms

The anxiety caused by unconscious conflict can be damaging to our psychological health. In order to protect us from harm the Ego deploys a variety of defences:

Denial: completely reject the thought or feeling

Projection: you attribute your own socially unacceptable thought or feeling to someone else 

Suppression/Repression: where unpleasant or traumatic thoughts and experiences are hidden in the unconscious mind

Displacement: you redirect your feelings to another target

Regression: where the adult may durung stressful times return to an earlier psychosexual stage of development such as the oral stage

Sublimation: redirect the feeling into a socially productive activity

Rationalisation: you try to justify uncomfortable thoughts or feelings with socially acceptable motives 

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The 5 Psychosexual stages of development

Old Age Pensioners Love Guinness (Acronym to remember)

Oral stage (0-18 months): pleasure gained, for example, from eating and sucking. Weaning is the most important developmental achievement. The child is pleasure seeking and selfish.

Anal stage (18-36 months): Child is potty trained and for the first time its actions may bring it into conflict with parents if it fails to behave appropriately. The Id is demanding instant gratification. The Ego develops to resolve this conflict. 

Phallic stage (3-6 years): the child becomes aware of its gender and the focus is on the genitals. The Oedipus complex occurs for boys and Electra for girls, when an unconscious rivalry develops between the child and its same-sex parent for the affection of its opposite sex parent. At this time, boys experience castration anxiety and girls experience penis envy. 

Latency stage (6 years to puberty): Focus is on social rather than psychosexual development. Sometimes seen as the calm before the storm of adolesence 

Genital stage (puberty to maturity): If the conflicts experienced during earlier stages have been satisfactorily resolved, greatest pleasure comes from mature heterosexual relationships

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Case study of a phobia(Freud 1909): Little Hans

Little Hans: 5 year old boy whose father who wrote to Freud for help because his son developed a phobia: a fear of horses

Freud's analysis on Little Hans based on info reported in letters written by boy's father. When 3 years old, Hans shown "peculiarly lively interest in the part of the body he used to describe as his widdler"

Invited mother to touch his penis was told that would be "piggish" and warned his penis would be cut off if he continued touching it

According to Freud, Hans showed sexual urges towards mother and these were repressed due to fear of castration by his father

6 months later: Hans frightened he saw horse-drawn van tip over and said he was afraid to go out in case he got bitten by horse

Freud believed intial source of boy's fear was his father but fear transposed to a horse(a symbol of his father)

Boy's fear of horses represented fear of castration

Freud advised Hans' father to continue loving his son and talking through his fears

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Causes of psychological ill-health

A weak ego: according to Freud if the ego is weak then either the Id or Superego can become dominant and cause abnormal behaviour. Dominant Id will result in a disobedient child or psychopathic adult whereas dominant superego will result in neurotic behaviours such as over anxiety

Childhood repression: the young mind has a weak ego so a lot of potentially harmful material has to be repressed. IN later life other events may trigger repressed matieral and it is re-experiened. For example early loss of a loved one may be relived following a later loss and cause depression

The unconscious mind: although material in the unconscious is hidden it can create distress in the conscious mind with the person not understanding the cause of this distress

Evaluation/Limitations: Freud's theory was first to consider psychological illness as having psychological causes. Prior to Freud mental illness considered to be result of possession. 

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Limitations of Freud's theory

1) Model is subjuective and lacks scientific rigour. Freud's theory was developed from his own interpretations of his patients' thoughts and cannot be verified using objective or scientific methods

2) The methods used by the psychodynamic are especially questionable. Most ideas are based on case studies which provides lots of detailed information but are hard to generalise

3) Impossible to prove or disprove. In interpreting dreams, if the patient agreed with Freud's interpretation this would be seen as supporting evidence. if patient didn't agree then Freud saw this as patient's denial or inability to come to terms with nature of their repressed thoghts. If patient behaves as expected this would be seen as support, if behaved differently it would be seen as proof of existence of defensive mechanisms

4) Freud places too great an emphasis on childhood experiences whilst ignoring more recent adult events

5) Components of personality, the stages, libido Eros and Thanatos etc are all hypothetical contrusts, impossible to define or study objectively

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Ethical implications of the psychodynamic approach

  • Model is deterministic, sees abnormal behaviour as being out of control of the individual who Freud sees as a prisoner of their past and unconscious forces
  • As a result, people should not be blamed for their psychological illness
  • however, since childhood experience is crucial in determining psychological well being later in life then surely parents are partly to blame for disorders
  • this can cause problems for the patient undergoing therapy
  • also issue of false memory syndrome
  • repressed material has been uncovered using the psychoanalytic techniques and led to accustations of child abuse etc that cannot be independently verified
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Treatments based on psychodynamic model

Basis of all treatments is giving the patient an insight into their unconscious mind. Once a person had gained access they would be able to integrate or come to terms with whatever was at the root of their problem and cope with life better

Hypnosis and dream therapy: Initially Freud used hypnosis as a way of tapping into the patient's unconscious mind but later went on to use dream therapy

Free association: the patient is encouraged to talk openly and at length without interruption. Freud believed that this showed associations between thoughts that are caused by unconscious forces. Job of the analyst is to unravel and interpret these connections and bring unconscious thoughts into the conscious mind. Freud believed that pauses and embarrassed laughs gave clues to areas that were causing problems

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Bertha Pappenhelm - The case of Anna O

Freud calloborate with Josef Breuer, another physician and physiologist. Breuer had a patient known as Anna O who was suffering from paralysis of the extremities of her right hand side, hallucinations and disturbances of speech and vision. Freud convinced she was suffering from hysteria caused by the death of her father. During treatment, it was discovered that recalling traumatic experiences with the help of free association cured her paralysis. The case of Anna O is widely considered as the beginning of psychoanalysis. Breuer initailly attempted treatment via hypnosis but Anna herself simply found talking to be more effective and Free Association was born.

Evaluation of psychodynamic treatments:

Evidence that treatment is effective. bergin (1971) in study of 10,000 patients found that 80% of patients found treatment beneficial. 

However: others most notably Hans Eysenck have argued that Freudian therapy is not more effective than placebo effect in the treatment of psychological disorders 

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False memory syndrome

There have been many cases in recent years in which patients undergoing therapy have supposedly recalled long lost traumatic memories from childhood. Many of these have involed abuse by a parent, relative or friend. Psychoanalysis assumed that childhood memories can be recalled in this way and actively encourages this in order to access the unconscious mind. In fact there is little evidence to suggest that childhood memories can be accessed in this way leading some to suggest that memories have been falsely implanted by the therapy

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:) PurpleJaguar (: - Team GR


These notes are so good!

Very detailed too

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