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Amanda Bueser

The Psychodynamic approach assumes that all behaviour can be explained in

terms of the inner conflicts of the mind. For example, in the case study of Little
Hans, Freud argued that Little Hans phobia of horses was caused by a displaced
fear of his father. The psychodynamic perspective emphasises 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 much of our behaviour and
that we are motivated by unconscious emotional drives. This suggests that the
approach is very deterministic. Freud believed that the unconscious contains
unresolved conflicts and has a powerful effect on our behaviour and experience.
He argued that many of these conflicts will show up in our fantasies and dreams,
but the conflicts are so threatening that they appear in disguised forms, in the
shape of symbols.
Freud proposed that the adult personality has three parts the id, ego and
superego. The id is the combination of pleasure seeking desires and we are born
with it. The ego develops later and it controls the desires of the id. The superego
is the moralistic part of personality which develops as a child interacts with
significant others such as its parents. The superego can be seen as the
conscience. It is the role of the ego to maintain a balance between the id and the
We use defence mechanisms to protect ourselves from feelings of anxiety or
guilt, which arise because we feel threatened, or because our id or superego
becomes too demanding. They are not under our conscious control, and are nonvoluntaristic. With the ego, our unconscious will use one or more to protect us
when we come up against a stressful situation in life. Ego-defence mechanisms
are natural and normal. When they get out of proportion, neuroses develop,
such as anxiety states, phobias, obsessions, or hysteria.
Freud believed that children pass through five stages of development, known as
the psychosexual stages because of Freud's emphasis on sexuality as the basic
drive in development. These stages are: the oral stage, the anal stage, the
phallic stage, the latency period and finally the genital stage.
The phallic stage, from three to five years old was the stage where the child's
sexual identification was established. During this stage Freud hypothesised that
a young boy would experience what he called the Oedipus complex. This would
provide the child with highly disturbing conflicts, which had to be resolved by the
child identifying with the same-sexed parent.
The approach does have its strengths and weaknesses. One strength of the
Psychodynamic perspective is that it is the first approach to try and attempt to
explain mental illness in psychological terms and has had an enormous influence
on the understand and treatment of mental disorders. An example of this is
Psychoanalysis and Dream Therapy which aims to make the unconscious
material conscious so it is easier to deal with as Freud believed that dreams
showed our hidden thoughts and wishes. A major weakness with this approach
however, 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. This makes generalizations to the wider population difficult.

Amanda Bueser
On the other side of the spectrum, we have the Humanistic approach.
Humanistic psychology begins with the existential assumptions that
phenomenology is central and that people have free will. This means that not all
behaviour is deterministic. We make our own choices and take different paths in
our lives because that is what we choose to do. As it developed, humanistic
psychology focused on each individual's potential and stressed the importance of
growth and self-actualisation. The fundamental belief of humanistic psychology is
that people are innately good and that mental and social problems result from
deviations from this natural tendency.
The humanistic theories of Rogers (1959) and Maslow (1943) are the subjective,
and give focus to the conscious experiences of the individual. Humanistic
psychologists argue that objective reality is less important than a person's
subjective perception and understanding of the world. Due to this, Rogers and
Maslow placed little value on scientific psychology, especially the use of the
psychology laboratory to investigate both human and animal behaviour.
Humanism rejects scientific methodology like experiments and typically uses
qualitative research methods. This is because they aim to find out and analyse
in-depth an individuals thoughts and feelings and this is not possible with such
experimental methods.
To evaluate the humanistic perspective, possible reasons for this lack of impact
on academic psychology perhaps lies with the fact that humanism deliberately
adopts a non-scientific approach to studying humans. For example their belief in
free-will is in direct opposition to the deterministic laws of science. However, the
flip side to this is that humanism can gain a better insight into an individual's
behaviour through the use of qualitative methods, such as unstructured
interviews. The approach also helped to provide a more holistic view of human
behaviour, in contrast to the reductionist position of science.