Comparison of Theories Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


It is difficult to summarize psychodynamic theory without a brief discussion of Freud. Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, the father of psychodynamic theory, and in effect the father of modern psychotherapy. Freud's notions retain quite a bit of popularity, especially his ideas that things are not what they seem on the surface. Because of his understanding of the mind and behavior, Freud considered that overt behaviors were not always self-explanatory (or perhaps "not often explanatory" would be the better term). Instead, these overt or manifest behaviors represent some hidden motive. Sigmund Freud was trained as a neurologist and specialized in the treatment of nervous disorders. His early training involved using hypnosis with the French neurologist Jean Charcot in the treatment of hysteria, the presentation of baffling physical symptoms (mostly in young women) that appeared to have no physical origin (Hall, Lindzey, & Campbell, 1998). Freud also partnered with the Viennese physician Josef Breuer who practiced a revolutionary "talking cure" to reduce patients' symptoms by talking with them about how they felt as well as using hypnosis to remove emotional barriers to their feelings. He eventually abandoned the use of hypnosis in favor of a process he termed "free association" in which he had patients talk about what was on their minds without censoring their train of thought. This led Freud to develop his theory of the human mind as a complex system that is comprised of three basic components and that much of the significant activity occurring in the mind is not conscious. Freud's three-component model of the mind (ego, superego and id) reflects that notion a vast portion of the mind functions below the level of awareness of the individual (Hall, Lindzey, & Campbell, 1998).

Many of Freud's basic premises are still retained to some extent by most psychodynamic theorists who followed in his footsteps. The basic tenets of psychodynamic theories are (Hall, Lindzey, & Campbell, 1998; Shedler, 2010):

1. Human behavior and human emotions are strongly affected by unconscious motives.

2. Adult human behavior and feelings originate from experiences in childhood.

3. Every behavior has a cause (this cause is usually unconscious) no matter how benign we believe it to be this includes such behaviors as slips of the tongue.

4. Given the first three principles all human behavior is determined.

5. The human psyche is composed of three parts (the tripartite mind composed of the id, ego and super-ego). Different psychodynamic schools will emphasize one as being more important in behavior.

6. Human behavior is motivated instinctual drives. For Freud these were the Eros (the sex and life instinct) and the Thanatos (the aggressive and/or death instinct). Other theorists will emphasize different drives. Situational and long-term behaviors result from these drives.

7. The components of the unconscious mind (the id and superego) are in conflict with the more conscious component (the ego).

8. Human personality is forged as drives are modified by different conflicts that occur at different stages in life. Most, but not all, dynamic theorists view childhood as the most important period of development.

9. The therapeutic process is designed to uncover the unconscious conflicts that lead to dysfunctional behaviors and through the use of insight and guidance the patient will eventually understand them and resolve them.

Criticisms of psychodynamic theories are (Hall, Lindzey, & Campbell, 1998):

1. Many theorists do not rely on empirical methods to support their assumptions. Thus, they are unscientific in analyzing human behavior.

2. Many of the concepts central psychodynamic theories are subjective and as such impossible to scientifically test such as the unconscious mind or the tripartite personality.

3. Reliance on case studies and restricted samples makes generalization difficult.

4. Psychodynamic perspectives are too deterministic and allow little room for the notion of personal agency and mediating factors (such as cognition) in explaining behavior.

Nonetheless, many concepts fostered in psychodynamic theories such as the notion that childhood experiences can be important determinants of later behavior, defense mechanisms, transference, the importance of relationships in childhood, and moral development have retained their importance in many modern theories of personality and therapeutic models (Strupp, 1992; Shedler, 2010; Westen & Gabbard, 2002). Moreover, while the unconscious as Freud viewed it was very difficult to empirically confirm several modern theories such as social cognition understand the importance of unconscious processes in behavior and that most of our activities are carried out by an unconscious, automatic, and fast component of the mind (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977a; 1977b). These theories use empirical measures such as the Implicit Association Test and others to test their assumptions. Theories such as Mowrer's Two-Factor Theory (Mowrer, 1950) and other theories have incorporated psychodynamic theories with learning and cognitive theories to explain anxiety disorders, reactions to stress, avoidance behaviors, etc.

In terms social justice, traditional psychodynamic theories attempt to describe universal laws of behavior that can be applied to individuals. Thus, diversity of experience at a group level is traditionally neglected and traditional psychodynamic theories. More recent psychodynamic perspectives have tried to address this bias and develop a better understanding of diversity (Mcleod, 2007). Nonetheless, these theories remain very strong in their explanation of child -- parent relationships; however, are weaker in understanding other relationships in the individual's life. Moreover, there is a bit of the influence of any type of fatalistic attitude of these theories and lack of attention to diversity issues.

The "third force" in psychology was the humanistic movement. This movement was fueled primarily by Carl Rogers, although certain other theorists like Abram Maslow were also instrumental in promoting the humanist perspective (Mcleod, 2007). This perspective came about as a reaction to the mechanistic and deterministic stances of the psychodynamic and behavioral models, hence the third force tag. Humanists strongly believe in choice, free will, and self-determination (or self-actualization as characterized by Maslow) as the important determinants of behavior and personality. Their ideas are reaction to the psychodynamic notion that instincts direct behavior and the behaviorist notion that the environment shapes personality. Therefore the humanistic model sought to put the control of people's lives back in their own hands and concentrated on issues such as the need to meet basic human needs such as food and shelter, but also the human need to strive for other more abstract goals such as a sense of belongingness, creativity, and becoming more in tune with the greater meanings of life. Motivation was then not also due to instincts or environmental pulls, but was also fueled by the need to become something more than a cog in a machine and a need to find deeper meanings to life and existence, something not well explained by the previous two paradigms. The humanistic paradigm was also extremely accomplished in the area of psychotherapy thanks to Carl Rogers being the first therapist to apply experimental methodologies to psychotherapy outcomes (Barry, 2002). Given their views the humanists are often considered to have the most positive outlook on behavior and personality compared to the previous tenets of the paradigms of psychodynamic theory and behaviorism.

In Rogers' client-centered psychology the self (the "I" or "me") was the central concept. For Rogers the self-concept had two aspects: the self as it is (or the self structure) and the ideal self, which is fostered by the expectations placed on us by others (Rogers, 1959). The congruence between these two constructs in the person determines their level of maturity, personal adjustment, and mental health. When the symbolized self (the interpretations and perceptions of the self and relations with others) matches the actual experience of the person the self-concept and the person (organism) are said to be congruent, when there is not such a match the organism (person) is incongruent (Rogers, 1959). Rogers' chief concern was how incongruence occurs and how to help the person become more congruent. It is important to understand that Rogers used the term congruent instead of equivalent or equal as certain perceptions or goals of the ideal self-reflect abstract constructs that evolve and change or can never be fully realized in concrete terms.

Unlike psychodynamic modes of thought Rogers placed more emphasis on choice and free will. People have many needs, but the most important goal is to become self-actualized (the self-actualizing drive). Rogers acknowledged that there are indeed many basic needs and drives, but these are all subservient or secondary to the need to maintain and enhance oneself (Rogers, 1965). Two of the most important needs related to self-actualization and congruence are the need for positive regard from others and the need for self-regard (Rogers, 1965). These needs are learned in infancy when the child is cared for and receives attention and regard from its caregivers.

The self-actualizing drive is laid down by heredity, but movement along this path allows the person to become more differentiated, autonomous, and socialized as they mature. Self-actualization is forward progress and for this to occur the person needs to be able to recognize the difference between forward or progressive behaviors and behaviors that lead to…

Sources Used in Document:


Barry, P. (2002). Mental health and mental illness. (7th ed.) New York: Lippincott.

Hall, C.S., Lindzey, G., & Campbell, J.B. (1998). Theories of personality. New York: John


Mcleod, S. (2007). Psychology perspectives. In Simply psychology. Retrieved December 2,

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