The Psychodynamic Approach

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Key Assumptions

1.The importance of the first 5 years

Freud thought that the first 5 years of life were the most important time for forming a personality. Unsolved problens that arose in those years would affect development.

2.Development occurs through stages that all children pass through.

According to freud, in the first 5 years, there are 3 important psychosexual stages.

3.The importance of the unconscious.

For Freud, the unconscious part of the mind is the largest and the most powerful - and almost inaccessible.

4.Is that everyone has an amount of energy that does not decrease or increase and that some of the enrgy is Libido, which is sexual energy.

This assumption is what leads to freud's theory being called 'psychosexual'. It is a theory of mind and a theory of instinctive energy and innate drives. He focused on the sexual drive.

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Research Methods used by Freud in case studies

Free Association

When the patient talks freely and the analyst listens to find connections with the aim of uncovering unconscious wishes.

 Dream + Symbol analysis

  • When the patient describes a dream and the analyst looks for the meaning of the dream.
  • The Manifest content is the what the dream seems to be about - what you remember.
  •  The Latent content is the underlying unconscious thoughts that are revealed through dream/symbol analysis of the manifest content.

Slip of the tongue

When the patient uses the wrong word for something, it shows the true unconscious desires e.g. saying 'erection' instead of 'rejection' or ‘******’ instead of ‘organism’. These are often called Freudian slips. Repressed thoughts are revealed by the mistake or slip that is made. The examples here are clearly sexual, but other errors can include calling someone by someone else’s name. Freud, however, was often looking for underlying sexual meaning.

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Correlation Design

  • Freud didn't use this method but it is useful for testing his ideas. Self report data is a data that the participant provides about themselves e.g. a questionnaire. Rating scales are usually included in self report data, rating scales produce ordinal data.
  • There are 3 main levels of measurement; nominal, ordinal and interval/ratio.


  •  Nominal: This is where categories are recorded, such as yes/no.
  • Ordinal: This is ranked data, such as when a rating scale is used.
  •  Interval/ratio: This is when the data in a real measurement, such as height or time.


  •  Correlational designs are not the same as any of the other participant designs. They involve the same participant providing the same data for 2 measures. 
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The role of the unconscious

Freud suggested we have 3 parts to our mind...

The conscious

What we are thinking about that we are aware of.

The pre-conscious -  

Material that will become conscious to us once we are aware of it.

Thoughts that we can access e.g. memories, feeling etc..

The unconscious (or subconscious)

Stuff that you shouldn't be able to access (uneasy memories).

Not accessible to us.

Contains inner drives.

All conflicts take place here and must be released.

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The Inner Drives

Freud suggested that we have inner-drives - things that motivate us to act.

  •  Thanatos - drive to self-destruct.
  •   Eros - drive to survive
  •  Libido - drive to reproduce (sex drive)
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The Psyche (personality)

ID -

  • The part of the mind that acts like the child in us
  • Driven by instincts
  • Seeks satisfaction with no care as to whether it is appropriate 
  • Freud called in the 'pleasure principle'

 Ego -

  • The part of the mind that acts like the caring parent figure.
  • Tries to satisfy the needs of the Id within the limitations of what is possible.
  • Defends the Id by using defence mechanisms.
  •  Freud called it the 'reality principle'.


  • The part of the mind that acts like the authoritarian adult in us.
  • Pressures the ego to control the Id in line with morals and rules.
  • Consists of the ego-ideal - what we wish we were like.
  •   Part of the mind where we set standards.
  •   But also gives us pride and guilt.
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Defence Mechanisms

Conflict between the Id, ego and Superego lead to anxiety.

Coping mechanisms allow Id impulses to be expressed in ways acceptable to the ego and reduce anxiety.

They are often quite effective, especially on short term.

 Repression - 

 Something too depressing is consciously 'forgotten' such as abuse or a death.


Something that is too painful to deal with, such as the knowledge that your going to die, is not consciously acknowledged.

 Displacement -

Feelings cannot be expressed towards their real targets so they use substitutes on which they can take out their feelings.

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Defence Mechanisms Continued

Regression -

A symbolic return to an earlier stage of development. 




 Projection -

Projects thoughts and emotions onto someone else

Projection involves imagining or projecting the belief that others have those feelings.


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Freud's five stages of psychosexual development

1. The Oral stage 

 Birth to around 1

The source pleasure is the mouth.

Two sub-stages:

§  Oral receptive- sucking, swallowing.

§  Oral aggressive- biting, chewing.

2. The Anal stage

From around 1 to 3 years.

Focus is on excretion and urination.

 Two sub-stages:

§  The Anal-expulsion- pleasure is gained from 'doing a poo'

§  The Anal-retention- pleasure is gained from 'holding it in'

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Five stages continued

3. The Phallic stage

From around 3-5 years.

Boys- Oedipus conflict

Girls- Electra conflict.

4. The latency Period

No sexual drive in this period - resting period.

There is repression of desires.

Children from same sex friendships and focus on school and sport.

5. The genital stage

Starts puberty. Libido focuses on genitals. Formation of hetrosexual friendships and relationships. If a person is fixated at this stage then they will have difficulties with relationships because of repression and defence mechanisms.

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The Oedipus Complex

The oedipus complex comes from the boy's natural love for his mother. The libido focuses on the genital area and so this natural love becomes sexual. Freud held that the father then stands in the way of the boy's feelings, because of the father's relationship with the mother, so the boy feels aggression towards the father and love for the mother. All this is at an unconscious level.

Castaration Fear- a boy fears his ftaher will castarate him. Castaration fear is stronger than the desire to possess the mother, so the desire is repressed.

Freud believed the boy wishes to kill his father and marry his mother.

The boy learns to be male by identifying with his father and 'becoming' him.

Once the Oedipus complex is resolved the latency period begins.

-----> Evidence for the Oedipus complex comes from Little Hans

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The Electra Complex

Girls learn their gender behaviour by identifying with their mothers but Freud was more vague about their conflict for girls, wich is called the Electra Comple.

Freud thought that, at around the same age girls find out that women hav no penis.

This is Penis Envy, which is similar to castaration fear which boys experience.

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Evaluation of Little Hans


 The gathered information was gained directly from Hans, even through his father, so it was valid. The data was comprehensive, It covered dreams, events and feelings.

Research developed psychoanalysis and psychotherapies. His techniques are still used today.


As it was a written case study it can lead to subjective interpretation - people may interpretate it different which would make it unreliable.

Boulby (1973) said children need their mother as an attachment figure and maybe Hans clung to his mother because she threatened to leave.

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Evaluation of Dibs


It was a case study so it gathers rich qualitative data that was thorough and valid because it's his own behaviour in a natural environment (high ecological and environmental validity) (no demand characteristics).

Axline gathered data from a number of different sources and so could check that the story was real and true, so validity is found.


 This only studied Dibs and cannot be generalised to other people therefore it cannot be generalised. So the reliability cannot be checked as Dibs is unique, therefore it also has a low population validity.

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Evaluation of Freuds Gender Development Theory



Children at this age become very attracted to same sex parent + copy their behaviour, suggesting a basis for Freud’s theory, as he states that for the stage to be solved, identification with same sex parent must occur.


-Not scientific

Oedipus complex cannot be measured or touched. E.g. Castration fear cannot be tested as it occurs in unconscious mind.

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Weaknesses Continued

 Not generalisable

Freud’s theory was based on a unique case study (little Hans) so it’s difficult to generalise his findings on one children + find a universal law of behaviour.


Case studies used to gather info for the theory produce qualitative data, which needs interpretation. As Freud used own case studies to prove own Oedipus complex, results may have been biased as he found what he wanted.

Alternative theory

Another theory to explain gender development is Biological theory, which states genes + hormones determine gender since foetus stage + uses scientific measures such as PET scanning or animal experiments.

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Weaknesses continued


Cannot explain how normal development occurs in mono-parental families.

E.g. Boy with no father at home has no castration fear and no one to identify with.

Alpha bias

Electra complex, unlike Oedipus, is vague and not well-argued through.

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Key Issue: Do dreams have meaning?


§  Do dreams have meaning or not?

§  Freud believed that dreams have meaning as they show repressed wishes/urges from the unconscious.

§  However, Biological theory states dreams are an overview of day events.

§  The popular idea is to analyse ideas in dreams + there are many different sources: internet, books, and magazines.

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Key Issue

Arguments for dreams having meaning


§  Importance of the unconscious mind + how it controls our thinking + actions. Also, it contains the id which is the demanding part of personality.

§  The ego balances the demands of id + superego through the use of defence mechanisms, which might repress thoughts + desires. These repressed urges might come out as dreams.

§  The latent content (underlying meaning) is found by trying to find symbols + giving meaning to the manifest content (what dreamer can remember)

§  Once the meaning is understood, the energy locked will be released + the patient would be freed from the problems he may have.

§  Each dream is individual in its meaning because each person has different thoughts in the unconscious.

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Key Issue

Arguments against dreams having meaning

§  Reliable, other theories contradict it, like the Biological theory which states dreams have no meaning + that dreams are a review of the day.

§  Dreams could simply be biological because they are connected to neurotransmitters from the day + interpreted by a still active brain.

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Key Issue Evaluation


ü  If a dream has meaning + people can understand their own dreams, they would be able to understand their own urges.

ü  Also, if a person has a problem due to repressed memories in the UC mind, if they could understand dreams, problems would be resolved (principles of psychotherapy)


û  Physiological explanations have stronger evidence as they can be measured because brains can be scanned whilst someone is sleeping, while Freud’s explanations are immeasurable (in the UC mind)

û  Interpretation of dream is subjective + dreams may symbolise diff. things depending on the interpreter.

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This is great revision material for the psychodynamic approach. Thank you. 

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