The biological approach to abnormal psychology focuses on the medical issues that underlie the mental illness. These issues may involve physical illness, damage or lesions to the brain or chemical imbalances. Biological treatments are often pharmacological; that is, most biological treatments involve drugs.
Remember Jenni? The biological approach to abnormal psychology would attribute Jenni’s depression to a chemical imbalance in the brain. In that case, Jenni would be prescribed an antidepressant, which would work to correct the chemical imbalance.
The psychodynamic approach views abnormality as a result of conflict between unconscious urges and conscious desires. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychodynamic theory, said that when conflict in early life is not resolved, we repress things and that leads to mental illness.
Psychodynamic therapists focus on talking about childhood issues and analyzing dreams. Let’s look at Jenni again. According to the psychodynamic approach, Jenni’s depression might be caused by her repressing anger. When repressed, anger turns inward and becomes self-hate, which then causes depression. Treatment would include talking with a therapist about everything from childhood incidents related to anger to the dream she had last night.
The behavioral approach to abnormal psychology is about the observable behaviors of the patient. Behavioral psychologists believe that we learn behaviors through a complex system of rewards and punishments. Behavioral treatments focus on changing the behaviors of the mentally ill, not on addressing the underlying causes of the behaviors. In the case of Jenni, a behavioral therapist would look at Jenni’s behaviors of disengaging from her friends and staying in bed all day as the main problem. They would seek to either punish these behaviors or reward good behaviors, like when she socializes or gets up and goes to work.
Psychologists who follow the cognitive approach explain abnormality in terms of the thought processes of the patient. Thought processes and perceptions are viewed as a major force on the mentally ill, and treatment focuses on changing maladaptive thought patterns.
For example, if Jenni were to go to a cognitive therapist, the focus would be on changing the thought patterns that contribute to Jenni’s depression. Jenni might be depressed because she thinks she’s worthless, and a cognitive psychologist would help Jenni change her thought pattern to focus on her positive qualities.
The humanistic approach says that abnormality occurs when people are not able to be their authentic selves. According to humanistic psychology, people can only be their authentic selves when their physical and social needs are met first. However, because many people do not have those needs met, they are not able to pursue their deepest, truest passions.
A humanistic psychologist might view Jenni’s depression as a result of her inability to be her authentic self. For example, perhaps deep down she really wants to be an artist, but has been pressured into becoming an accountant. A humanistic psychologist might help her realize her deep dream of being an artist, and work out a way to meet her basic needs while still pursuing that dream.
People don’t live in a vacuum, which is why the sociocultural approach looks at the impact of society on abnormal psychology. Whether it is family dynamics, cultural expectations or societal biases, sociocultural psychologists look at the way society can cause or exacerbate abnormality. Treatments include therapy, including group sessions, where people can get support and find a way to deal with the pressures of the world around them.
In Jenni’s example, a sociocultural explanation for her depression might be that she is involved in a bad relationship that’s bringing her down. By attending a therapy group that includes others in bad relationships, Jenni can begin to see the way to deal with her family issues or to find the strength to walk away from the relationship.
The last approach to abnormality, the diathesis-stress model, states that some people are vulnerable to mental illness, and therefore people have varying levels of stress at which they will develop a mental illness.
For example, Jenni may be vulnerable to develop depression due to biological or situational factors. She might have a genetic predisposition to depression, or she might have grown up in an unsteady household that exposes her to a predisposition to depression. When something bad happens, like a bad breakup, she might then become depressed.
In contrast, Jessie, Jenni’s friend, might not have a genetic or situational predisposition to depression. When something bad happens to Jessie, she just shrugs it off instead of becoming depressed. In the diathesis-stress model, ‘diathesis’ is considered to be your predisposition, or your vulnerability to a mental illness. ‘Stress’ is the life event that precipitates your development of that mental illness.
Abnormal psychology is the study of mental illness and abnormal behavior. There are seven major approaches to abnormal psychology. The biological approach says psychological disorders are a result of physical issues. The psychodynamic theory views psychological disorders as a result of unconscious desires. The behavioral model is about the observable behaviors of the disorders. The cognitive approach seeks to change a person’s thoughts in order to treat abnormality.
The humanistic approach says that psychological problems are due to people’s inability to be their true selves. The sociocultural approach views psychological problems as being due in part to society and family. Finally, the diathesis-stress model says that mental illness is a result of both a predisposition to a disorder and a stressful life event. Each has their own way of explaining and treating mental illness.
Completing this video lesson will help students explain and illustrate the seven approaches to abnormal psychology: biological, psychodynamic, behavioral, cognitive, humanistic, sociocultural, and diathesis-stress.
-Founded by Sigmund Frued
Originating in the work of Sigmund Freud, the psychodynamic perspective emphasizes unconscious psychological processes (for example, wishes and fears of which we’re not fully aware), and contends that childhood experiences are crucial in shaping adult personality. The psychodynamic perspective has evolved considerably since Freud’s time, and now includes innovative new approaches such as object relations theory and neuropsychoanalysis. Some psychodynamic concepts have held up well to empirical scrutiny while others have not, and aspects of the theory remain controversial, but the psychodynamic perspective continues to influence many different areas of contemporary psychology.
Psychodynamic theory is most closely associated with the work of Sigmund Freud, and with psychoanalysis, a type of psychotherapy that attempts to explore the patient’s unconscious thoughts and emotions so that the person is better able to understand him- or herself. Thinking about our won thoughts-” Metacognition“.
Psychodynamic theory refers to the behavior motivated by internal or psychological forces and abnormality is caused by imbalance in internal forces that motivate the behavior. He believed that mental illnesses arises from unsolved conscious conflicts and these happens mostly in early childhood( Freud 1925).
Freud introduced his topographic model of the mind, which contended that the mind could be divided into three regions: conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. The conscious part of the mind holds information that you’re focusing on at this moment—what you’re thinking and feeling right now. The preconscious contains material that is capable of becoming conscious but is not conscious at the moment because your attention is not being directed toward it. You can move material from the preconscious into consciousness simply by focusing your attention on it. Consider, for example, what you had for dinner last night. A moment ago that information was preconscious; now it’s conscious, because you “pulled it up” into consciousness. (Not to worry, in a few moments it will be preconscious again, and you can move on to more important things.)
The unconscious—the most controversial part of the topographic model—contains anxiety-producing material (for example, sexual impulses, aggressive urges) that are deliberately repressed (held outside of conscious awareness as a form of self-protection because they make you uncomfortable). The terms conscious, preconscious, and unconscious continue to be used today in psychology, and research has provided considerable support for Freud’s thinking regarding conscious and preconscious processing (Erdelyi, 1985, 2004). The existence of the unconscious remains controversial, with some researchers arguing that evidence for it is compelling and others contending that “unconscious” processing can be accounted for without positing the existence of a Freudian repository of repressed wishes and troubling urges and impulses (Eagle, 2011; Luborsky and Barrette, 2006).
Impacts on Society
- Recognizing recurring patterns helps people see the ways in which they avoid distress or develop defense mechanism as a method of coping so that they can take steps to change those patterns.
- The psychodynamic approach can be criticized for being sexist against women
- Any irrational behaviors can be blamed on childhood instances of trauma or development.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Psychodynamic Approach
- The psychodynamic approach is that it takes both nature and nurture into account. This is a strength because it emphasises the importance of both.
- It claims that everybody can suffer mental conflicts and it is part of life.
- Promotes more optimism regarding mental illness and encourage speaking up about their psychological distress.
- No scientific machineries needed like MRI thus making people feel more comfortable and relaxed that hey themselves can cure their mental illness.
- The greatest criticism of the psychodynamic approach is that it is unscientific in its analysis of human behavior.
- The psychodynamic perspective is unfalsifiable as its theories cannot be empirically investigated.
- Rejects Free will (e.g. Humanism believe free will exists)
- Not measurable or cannot be relied by repeatedly testing.
The Psychodynamic Approach
By Saul McLeod, updated 2020
- The psychodynamic theory is a psychological theory Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his later followers applied to explain the origins of human behavior.
- The psychodynamic approach includes all the theories in psychology that see human functioning based upon the interaction of drives and forces within the person, particularly unconscious, and between the different structures of the personality.
- Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis was the original psychodynamic theory, but the psychodynamic approach as a whole includes all theories that were based on his ideas, e.g., Carl Jung (1912), Melanie Klein (1921), Alfred Adler (1927), Anna Freud (1936), and Erik Erikson (1950).
- The words psychodynamic and psychoanalytic are often confused. Remember that Freud’s theories were psychoanalytic, whereas the term ‘psychodynamic’ refers to both his theories and those of his followers.
- Freud’s psychoanalysis is both a theory and therapy.
Sigmund Freud (writing between the 1890s and the 1930s) developed a collection of theories which have formed the basis of the psychodynamic approach to psychology.
His theories are clinically derived – i.e., based on what his patients told him during therapy. The psychodynamic therapist would usually be treating the patient for depression or anxiety related disorders.
Our behavior and feelings are powerfully affected by unconscious motives:
The unconscious mind comprises mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness but that influence judgments, feelings, or behavior (Wilson, 2002).
According to Freud (1915), the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like an iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see.
Our feelings, motives, and decisions are actually powerfully influenced by our past experiences, and stored in the unconscious.
Our behavior and feelings as adults (including psychological problems) are rooted in our childhood experiences:
Psychodynamic theory states that events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality. Events that occur in childhood can remain in the unconscious, and cause problems as adults.
Personality is shaped as the drives are modified by different conflicts at different times in childhood (during psychosexual development).
All behavior has a cause (usually unconscious), even slips of the tongue. Therefore all behavior is determined:
Psychodynamic theory is strongly determinist as it views our behavior as caused entirely by unconscious factors over which we have no control.
Unconscious thoughts and feelings can transfer to the conscious mind in the form of parapraxes, popularly known as Freudian slips or slips of the tongue. We reveal what is really on our mind by saying something we didn’t mean to.
Freud believed that slips of the tongue provided an insight into the unconscious mind and that there were no accidents, every behavior (including slips of the tongue) was significant (i.e., all behavior is determined).
Personality is made up of three parts (i.e., tripartite): the id, ego, and super-ego:
The id is the primitive and instinctive component of personality. It consists of all the inherited (i.e., biological) components of personality present at birth, including the sex (life) instinct – Eros (which contains the libido), and the aggressive (death) instinct – Thanatos.
The ego develops in order to mediate between the unrealistic id and the external real world. It is the decision making component of personality.
The superego incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned from one’s parents and others.
Parts of the unconscious mind (the id and superego) are in constant conflict with the conscious part of the mind (the ego). This conflict creates anxiety, which could be dealt with by the ego’s use of defense mechanisms.
History of Psychodynamic Theory
The History of Psychodynamic Theory
- Anna O a patient of Dr. Joseph Breuer (Freud’s mentor and friend) from 1800 to 1882 suffered from hysteria.
- In 1895 Breuer and his assistant, Sigmund Freud, wrote a book, Studies on Hysteria.
In it they explained their theory: Every hysteria is the result of a traumatic experience, one that cannot be integrated into the person’s understanding of the world. The publication establishes Freud as “the father of psychoanalysis.
- By 1896 Freud had found the key to his own system, naming it psychoanalysis. In it, he had replaced hypnosis with “free association.”
- In 1900 Freud published his first major work, The Interpretation of Dreams, which established the importance of psychoanalytical movement.
- In 1902 Freud founded the Psychological Wednesday Society, later transformed into the Vienna Psychoanalytic Society.
- As the organization grew, Freud established an inner circle of devoted followers, the so-called “Committee” (including Sàndor Ferenczi, and Hanns Sachs (standing) Otto Rank, Karl Abraham, Max Eitingon, and Ernest Jones).
- Freud and his colleagues came to Massachusetts in 1909 to lecture on their new methods of understanding mental illness. .
Those in attendance included some of the country’s most important intellectual figures, such as William James, Franz Boas, and Adolf Meyer.
- In the years following the visit to the United States, the International Psychoanalytic Association was founded. .
Freud designated Carl Jung as his successor to lead the Association, and chapters were created in major cities in Europe and elsewhere. .
Regular meetings or congresses were held to discuss the theory, therapy, and cultural applications of the new discipline.
- Jung’s study on schizophrenia, The Psychology of Dementia Praecox, led him into collaboration with Sigmund Freud.
- Jung’s close collaboration with Freud lasted until 1913. Jung had become increasingly critical of Freud’s exclusively sexual definition of libido and incest. .
The publication of Jung’s Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido (known in English as The Psychology of the Unconscious) led to a final break.
- Following his emergence from this period of crisis, Jung developed his own theories systematically under the name of Analytical Psychology. .
Jung’s concepts of the collective unconscious and the archetypes led him to explore religion in the East and West, myths, alchemy, and later flying saucers.
- Melanie Klein took psychoanalytic thinking in a new direction by recognising the importance of our earliest childhood experiences in the formation of our adult emotional world. .
After becoming a full member of the Berlin Psychoanalytic Society in 1923, Klein embarks upon her first analysis of a child. .
Extending and developing Sigmund Freud’s ideas, Klein drew on her analysis of children’s play to formulate new concepts such as the paranoid-schizoid position and the depressive position.
- Anna Freud (Freud’s daughter) became a major force in British psychology, specializing in the application of psychoanalysis to children. .
Among her best known works are The Ego and the Mechanism of defense (1936).
Psychodynamic Approach Summary
It has given rise to one of the first “talking cure,” psychoanalysis, on which many psychological therapies are now based.
It could be argued that Freud was the first person to highlights the importance of childhood in mental health and this is an idea extensively used today.
The Psychodynamic approach takes into account both sides of the Nature/Nurture debate.
Freud claimed that adult personality is the product of innate drives- i.e., natural motivations or urges we are born with- and childhood experiences- i.e., the way we are raised and nurtured.
Ignores mediational processes (e.g., thinking)
The psychodynamic approach places too much emphasis on the psychological factors, without considering the biological/genetic factors that influence and contribute to mental health problems.
Too deterministic (little free-will)
Unfalsifiable (difficult to prove wrong)
Case Studies – Subjective / Cannot generalize results
Simplifying the human mind into the id, ego, and superego and the five psychosexual stages make the approach reductionist.
Issues and Debates
Issues and Debates
Free will vs Determinism
It is strongly determinist as it views our behavior as caused entirely by unconscious factors over which we have no control.
Nature vs Nurture
The psychodynamic approach recognises the influence of social factors as it argues that we are driven by innate biological instincts, represented by the Id (nature), but the ways these instincts are expressed is shaped by our social and cultural environment (nurture).
Holism vs Reductionism
The psychodynamic approach is determinist as it rejects the idea of free will. A person’s behavior is determined by their unconscious motives which are shaped by their biological drives and their early experiences.
Idiographic vs Nomothetic
Freud argued that human behavior is governed by universal processes that apply to everyone e.g. the tripartite structure of the mind (nomothetic).
However, he also proposed that the ways in which these processes manifest themselves in the individual is unique (idiographic).
Are the research methods used scientific?
The concepts proposed by Freud cannot be tested empirically. The theory is not falsifiable as if people behave in the way predicted by the theory it is viewed as support, if they don’t it is argued that they are using defence mechanisms.
The psychodynamic approach has given rise to one of the first “talking cure”, psychoanalysis, on which many psychological therapies are now based. Psychoanalysis is rarely used now in its original form but it is still used in a shorter version in some cases.
The greatest criticism of the psychodynamic approach is that it is unscientific in its analysis of human behavior. Many of the concepts central to Freud’s theories are subjective, and as such, difficult to test scientifically.
For example, how is it possible to scientifically study concepts like the unconscious mind or the tripartite personality? In this respect, it could be argued that the psychodynamic perspective is unfalsifiable as its theories cannot be empirically investigated.
However, cognitive psychology has identified unconscious processes, such as procedural memory (Tulving, 1972), automatic processing (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; Stroop, 1935), and social psychology have shown the importance of implicit processing (Greenwald & Banaji, 1995). Such empirical findings have demonstrated the role of unconscious processes in human behavior.
Kline (1989) argues that psychodynamic theory comprises a series of hypotheses, some of which are more easily tested than others, and some with more supporting evidence than others.
Also, while the theories of the psychodynamic approach may not be easily tested, this does not mean that it does not have strong explanatory power.
Nevertheless, most of the evidence for psychodynamic theories is taken from Freud’s case studies (e.g., Little Hans, Anna O).
The main problem here is that the case studies are based on studying one person in detail, and with reference to Freud, the individuals in question are most often middle-aged women from Vienna (i.e., his patients). This makes generalizations to the wider population (e.g., the whole world) difficult.
Another problem with the case study method is that it is susceptible to researcher bias. Reexamination of Freud’s own clinical work suggests that he sometimes distorted his patients’ case histories to ‘fit’ with his theory (Sulloway, 1991).
The humanistic approach makes the criticism that the psychodynamic perspective is too deterministic. Freud suggests that all thoughts, behaviors and emotions are determined by our childhood experiences and unconscious mental processes.
This is a weakness because it suggests we have no conscious free will over our behavior, leaving little room for the idea of personal agency (i.e., free will).
Finally, the psychodynamic approach can be criticized for being sexist against women. For example, Freud believed that females’ penis envy made them inferiour to males.
He also thought that females tended to develop weaker superegos and to be more prone to anxiety than males.
Is there a difference between psychodynamic and psychoanalytic?
The words psychodynamic and psychoanalytic are often confused. Remember that Freud’s theories were psychoanalytic, whereas the term ‘psychodynamic’ refers to both his theories and those of his followers.
What is psychodynamic in simple terms?
Sigmund Freud highlights the role of the unconscious mind, the structure of personality and the influence that childhood experiences have on later life. Freud believed that the unconscious mind determines most of our behavior and that we are motivated by unconscious emotional drives.
How to reference this article:
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2017). Psychodynamic approach. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/psychodynamic.html
APA Style References
Adler, A. (1927). Understanding human nature. New York: Greenburg.
Bargh, J. A., & Chartrand, T. L. (1999). The unbearable automaticity of being. American psychologist, 54(7), 462.
Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
Freud, A. (1936). Ego & the mechanisms of defense.
Freud, S., & Breuer. J. (1895). Studies on hysteria. In Standard edition (Vol. 2, pp. 1–335).
Freud, S. (1896). Heredity and the etiology of the neuroses. In Standard edition (Vol. 3, pp. 142–156).
Freud, S. (1900). The interpretation of dreams. In Standard edition (Vols. 4 & 5, pp. 1–627).
Freud, S. (1909). Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. In Standard edition (Vol. 10, pp. 153–249).
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Freud, S. (1915). The unconscious. SE, 14: 159-204.
Freud, A. (1936). The Ego and the Mechanisms off Defense. International Universities Press, Inc.
Greenwald, A. G., & Banaji, M. R. (1995). Implicit social cognition: attitudes, self-esteem, and stereotypes. Psychological review, 102(1), 4.
Jung, C. G. (1907). Ueber die Psychologie der Dementia praecox. Psychological Bulletin, 4(6), 196-197.
Jung, C. G. (1912). Wandlungen und Symbole der Libido: Beiträge zur Entwicklungsgeschichte des Denkens. F. Deuticke.
Jung, C. G., et al. (1964). Man and his Symbols, New York, N.Y.: Anchor Books, Doubleday.
Kline, P. (1989). Objective tests of Freud’s theories. Psychology Survey, 7, 127-45.
Stroop, J. R. (1935). Studies of interference in serial verbal reactions. Journal of experimental psychology, 18(6), 643.
Sulloway, F. J. (1991). Reassessing Freud’s case histories: The social construction of psychoanalysis. Isis, 82(2), 245-275.
Tulving, E. (1972). Episodic and semantic memory. In E. Tulving & W. Donaldson (Eds.), Organization of Memory, (pp. 381–403). New York: Academic Press.
Wilson, T. D. (2004). Strangers to ourselves. Harvard University Press.
How to reference this article:
How to reference this article:
McLeod, S. A. (2017). Psychodynamic approach. Simply Psychology. www.simplypsychology.org/psychodynamic.html
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