The psychodynamic approach assumes that adults behaviour reflects complex dynamic interactions between conscious and unconscious processes, many of which have their origins in development from birth onwards. There are a number of different psychodynamic approaches, but all have their origins in the pioneering work of Sigmund Freud.
Freud was born in 1856 and spent virtually all of his working life in Vienna. He left Vienna after the Nazi take-over in 1938 and died a year later in London. Freud originally trained in medicine focusing on clinical neurology, but he was then heavily influenced by the work of Joseph Breuer, who was using hypnosis to treat 'hysterical reactions' in female patients. Struck by the emergence of apparently repressed material during hypnosis, Freud then devoted his career to the investigation of the human mind and its development. In particular he was interested in the interaction between conscious and unconscious processes.
Freud referred to his approach as psychoanalytic, and it has formed the basis of most subsequent psychodynamic approaches to understanding behaviour The two key elements in Freud's work on abnormality were his model of human personality and his detailed theory of psychosexual development in childhood.
The structure of personality
Freud proposed that personality is made up of three interacting elements:
- The id: this is the reservoir of unconscious and instinctual psychic energy that we are born with. The most important aspect of this psychic energy is the libido or life instincts, but the energy may also be directed into aggression. The id operates on the pleasure principle and constantly tries to gratify these instincts through sex and other forms of pleasurable activity, but may also lead to aggression and violence.
- The ego: this represents our conscious self. It develops during early childhood and regulated interactions with our immediate environment. It also tries to balance the demands of the id for self-gratification with the moral rules imposed by the superego or conscience. The ego operated on the reality principle, in that it constantly balances the demands of the real world against the instinctive drives of the id.
- The superego: this is our personal moral authority, or conscience. It develops later in childhood through identification with one or other parent, at which point the child internalises the moral rules and social norms of society.
If the ego fails to balance the demands of the id and superego, conflicts may arise and psychological disorders may result. Dominance of id impulses may lead to destructive tendencies, pleasurable acts and uninhabited…