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The psychodynamic approach -A-Level Psychology

The psychodynamic approach.

-a perspective that describes how behaviour is affected by unconscious forces that operate on the mind.

The role of the unconscious:

Freud suggested that most of the mind is made up of the unconscious:a vast store of biological drives and instincts that has a large influence on behaviour and personality.The unconscious contains threatening and disturbing memories that have been repressed.The preconscious contains thoughts and memories which are not currently in conscious awareness but we can access if desired.

The structure of personality:

The id -is the primitive part of personality and operates on the pleasure principle.Throughout life the id is selfish and demands instant gratification of its needs.

The ego -works on the reality principle and mediates between the other two parts.Develops around 2 years.Reduces conflict between the demands of the id and the superego through defense mechanisms.

The superego -formed at the end of the phallic stage around 5.It is the sense of right and wrong and is based on the morality principle.It punishes the ego for wrongdoings through guilt.

Psychosexual stages:

Freud claimed that child development occurred in five stages ,each of which is marked with a different conflict that the child must resolve in order to progress successfully to the next stage.Any psychosexual conflict that is unresolved leads to fixation where the child carries out certain behaviours associated with that stages through to adult life.

Defense mechanisms:

Repression -forcing a distressing memory out of the conscious mind

Denial -refusing to acknowledge some aspect of reality

Displacement -transferring feelings from true sources of distressing emotion onto a substitute target.


Untestable concepts-Karl Popper argued that this approach does not meet the scientific criterion for falsification,as it can’t be tested through empirical methods as they are said to occur at an unconscious level.So it can be seen as a pseudoscience.

The case study method-Freud’s interpretations were highly subjective and critics have said that it is not possible to make universal claims about human nature based on studies of such a small number of people who were psychologically abnormal.

The psychodynamic approach is a psychological perspective that focuses on the unconscious mind and its influence on behavior. It was developed by Sigmund Freud and his followers and emphasizes the role of early childhood experiences and the internal conflicts between different parts of the psyche.

The key concepts of the psychodynamic approach include the unconscious mind, the three-part structure of the psyche (the id, ego, and superego), defense mechanisms, psychosexual stages of development, and the Oedipus and Electra complexes.

The unconscious mind is a reservoir of thoughts, feelings, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. According to the psychodynamic approach, many of our behaviors and experiences are influenced by unconscious processes.

The id is the primitive and instinctual part of the psyche that seeks immediate gratification of our basic needs and desires. The ego is the rational part of the psyche that mediates between the id and the external world. The superego is the moral and ethical part of the psyche that represents internalized values and standards.

Defense mechanisms are unconscious strategies that we use to protect ourselves from anxiety and emotional pain. Examples of defense mechanisms include repression, denial, projection, and displacement.

The psychosexual stages of development are a series of stages that we pass through during childhood, each characterized by a focus on a different erogenous zone and a particular developmental task. The stages include the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages.

The psychodynamic approach views mental illness as the result of unconscious conflicts and unresolved issues from early childhood experiences. The goal of therapy is to bring these issues to conscious awareness and resolve them.

The psychodynamic approach views personality as the result of interactions between the id, ego, and superego, as well as early childhood experiences. Personality is shaped by unconscious conflicts and defenses, and is divided into conscious and unconscious parts.

Some criticisms of the psychodynamic approach include its lack of empirical evidence, its focus on childhood experiences at the expense of current factors, and its limited scope of applicability to different cultures and populations.

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Psychodynamic Approach in Therapy Essay

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Psychodynamic theory was the original work of Sigmud Freud, which has also been expanded upon or modified by the likes of Carl Jung and Eric Erikson. This model depicted the first organized study for the actions of the mind, and other models borrowed a leaf from it. The psychodynamic model has played a significant role in psychology, in the explanation of development of phobias as relates to early childhood experience and the unconscious mind. However, development of phobia has been found to also be a result of cognitive factors, biological factors and latter experiences in life. The psychodynamic model suggested that any person suffering from phobia had a passive role in its development, since it suggested that the unconscious mind was responsible for the development.

In its simplistic understanding, the model suggested that the problem in a person was as a result of encountering something in the past and failure to deal with it. The failure results into the repression or burying of the memory and the memory goes to the unconscious mind. The model proposed that the normal or abnormal behavior of a person was determined by underlying psychological forces which he or he was not consciously aware of (Peace, 2007). According to psychodynamics, childhood traumatic experiences and relationships were likely to result in disorders and dysfunctions. This model proposes that abnormal behavior was learnt just as abnormal behavior. The internal forces discussed latter in this paper were always dynamic and in interaction with each other to give rise to thoughts, emotions and behaviors. Conflicts between these forces was the causative for abnormal behavior.

Psychodynamics has also been useful in explaining abnormal psychology. The perspective proposed that unresolved and unconscious conflicts were likely to produce psychological disorders. Therefore, in order to find solution for these disorders, it was important for the victim to have the conflicts resolved. In the basic theoretical version, Freud identified three elements of the mind, whose interaction could determine or influence one’s personality and motivation. The Id was a childish aspect of every human being which only sought for sensual gratification and aggression release. It represented the pleasure for our five senses. The body applied the defense mechanisms through the second element known as the Ego . The latter possessed the ability of converting the Id desires into socially acceptable or valuable outcomes (PCHS, n.d.). The Ego was also responsible for the suppressing of the desires through a system termed as suppression so as to provide the person with the ability to wait e.g. for them to get some things. The Superego acted as a third element which was also responsible for judging whether the Ego is doing a good job to check the Id and this is achieved by judging on the struggle between the Id and Ego (PCHS, n.d.). In this focus, the ego therefore was being constantly pressured from both sides. Feelings of guilt and feeling like a failure would be as a result of the Superego determining that the Ego did not do well enough to overcome the Id .

Though the above analysis appeared simple, the consequences were not, according to the psychologists’ analysis. Feelings of conflicts can clearly be understood in the interaction between the three elements and the desire for each element to be heard. The theory of psychodynamics proposes that the conflicts occurred in the unconscious mind. Feelings that were being repressed could be trapped in the unconscious mind. More pain and anxiety would result from the fact that the said feelings would, under normal conditions, resurface, if they were really strong. Dreams, misspoken phrases (Freudian slips) as well as unusual behaviors, were likely to be the manifestations of the aforementioned feelings and conflicts. Thus it was possible for a person to suffer from dysfunction. Freud proposed three types of anxiety, namely, realistic, moralistic and neurotic. Individuals were liable to protecting and operating unconsciously and distort reality out of dysfunction of the brain. repression was possible if anxiety was not controlled. Modern psychodynamic theory has helped in freedom of choice, object relations, social forces, ego autonomy among other things.

Psychodynamics also sought to treat dysfunctions through analysis of a person’s behavioral patterns which could have resulted from the past experiences, in order to determine the causes of the dysfunction. Project testing; dream analysis and free association have all been applied to identify sources of dysfunctions. Freud posited that the conscious was only a third of the total mind, and the unconscious being two thirds while the preconscious was the smallest between the two. The psychodynamic therapy approach was designed to make the unconscious conscious. There are many models that have been proposed for therapy. These include projective testing, dream analysis, word association, free association, ego defense mechanisms, and slips of the tongue.

The psychodynamic therapy has helped in the identification of the symptoms of the people suffering from dysfunctions as a result of conflicts. The person, after encountering an experience he or she was unable to cope with may apply defense mechanisms such as repression of the desires and living in self denial. An analysis may help therapists to identify the problem focusing on the self defense mechanisms that the patient may have adopted. People suffering from dysfunction may have a problem of altering words coming straight from the unconscious (such as truth when it is least expected). This does not pass through sensors or filters but comes straight when least expected. The patients may also have symptoms of free flowing conversation (free association). This means that patients may alter words or statements that they did not intend to and these may aid in the therapeutic analysis. Word association is a model where therapists may identify the first words that come out of the mouth of the patient, and the words which may illicit certain responses. Dream analysis has also been applied in the therapeutic models, where the therapist may analyze the diary kept by the patient, for their dreams. The therapist identifies possible hidden meanings or things symbolic of what is happening in the unconscious. Regression analysis focuses on asking the person to relive and examine parts of their lives in detail including thoughts and feelings (Peace, 2007).

Although the psychodynamics model may be credited for its advance in the study of abnormality in the brain, as a result of conflicts of psychological forces in the brain, it has received criticism from scholars. One of the weaknesses of Freud’s theories and studies is that they were based on clinical cases and case studies and therefore may not be applicable to a larger population. The theories have been criticized for overemphasizing on certain areas such as unconscious mind and sex, more than the other areas. Many of the concepts proposed in the psychoanalytic theory are difficult to measure and quantify (Cherry, 2010).

Cherry, K. (2010). What is Psychoanalysis? : The psychoanalytic approach to psychology. Web.

PCHS. (n.d.). Sports Psychology: The Psychdynamic model. 2010. Web.

Peace. (2007). Models of abnormality. Web.

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IvyPanda. (2021, December 12). Psychodynamic Approach in Therapy.

"Psychodynamic Approach in Therapy." IvyPanda , 12 Dec. 2021,

IvyPanda . (2021) 'Psychodynamic Approach in Therapy'. 12 December.

IvyPanda . 2021. "Psychodynamic Approach in Therapy." December 12, 2021.

1. IvyPanda . "Psychodynamic Approach in Therapy." December 12, 2021.


IvyPanda . "Psychodynamic Approach in Therapy." December 12, 2021.

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In this video, we look at how to write a model answer to the following question: Outline the key features of the cognitive approach in psychology. Compare the cognitive approach with the psychodynamic approach. [16 marks]

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