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Sigmund Freud - This model believes that all behaviour is determined by underlying psychological conflicts of which an individual is largely unaware.

Focus on past experiences, particularly parent-child relationships. There is a big influence of your childhood on your adult life.


  • Mental disorder results from psychological rather than physical causes:
    • Freud believed that the origins of mental disorder lie in the unresolved conflicts of childhood, which are unconscious. Suggests that abnormality occurs as a result of a psychological and not physical problem (in contrast to the biological approach).
  • Unresolved conflics cause mental disorder:
    • Freud stated that there were three components to the personality or psyche, the id, ego and super-ego.
    • Id: Motivates you to seek pleasure whilst avoiding pain. Entirely selfish, drives you to seek instant gratification and is happy for us to destroy anything in our way (unconscious) - impulsive and irrational.
    • Ego: Operating on the reality principle, the ego is measured and logical and seeks to maintain balance in a real world. Lays down boundaries, representss what the conscious mind percieves to be 'the real us'.
    • Superego: Based on morality - behaves in a socially responsible and acceptable manner, ego ideal tells us how to behave, conscious nags us when we don't. 
  • When balance is not achieved between the id, ego and superego, abnormal behaviour may be the result.
  • The ego mediates between the id and superego, coping with conflicting demands. Throughout life, the id, ego and superego are inevitably in conflict because each has different motives - pleasure, reality and ideal behaviour. Conflicts cause anxiety. In order to reduce this anxiety, the ego uses 'defence mechanisms'. These ego-defences are unconscious and a key dynamic of the personality.
    • Repression: Thoughts or desires that are likely to be disturbing or cause psychological harm are locked away in the unconscious mind. However, though hidden from conscious thought, they can still cause psychological disturbance and influence your actions.
    • Displacement: Re-directing an emotion or action towards a substitute eg. an explanation of self-abuse such as alcohol, drugs etc.
    • Denial: Denying the existence of the problem eg, denying a drink problem. 
  • In terms of abnormality, repression is the most significant defence mechanism according to the psychodynamic approach. 


Freud argued that childhood experience plays a crucial part in adult development. Early experiences can cause mental disorder. In childhood, the ego is not fully developed and unable to deal with traumas so they are…


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