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Psychodynamic Perspective

The psychodynamic perspective was originally developed by Sigmund Freud but includes ideas from many other people who have developed Freud?s arguments.

The main assumption of the psychodynamic perspective is 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. 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 superego.

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.

Although Freud made very few mentions of multiple personality disorder, Thigpen and Cleckley were influenced by the psychodynamic approach. Thigpen and Cleckley note that Eve?s inner conflicts and early childhood experiences had led to the development of her multiple personalities.

There are some similarities and differences between the Freud core study and the Thigpen and Cleckley core study.

Both studies relied heavily on the case study method. That is both Freud and Thigpen and Cleckley carried out a detailed investigation into one individual. Freud provided a detailed analysis of a young boy called Little Hans and Thigpen and Cleckley provided a detailed analysis of a young woman called Eve White.

Both studies can also be seen as examples of action research as part of the purpose of the researcher is to influence or change the participant?s behaviour. Freud attempted to cure Little Hans of his phobia and Thigpen and Cleckley were providing psychotherapeutic help to Eve White who was diagnosed as suffering from multiple personality disorder.

Freud?s study of Little Hans consisted of collecting lots of qualitative data gathered from conversations between Little Hans and his father, whereas Thigpen and Cleckley collected qualitative data (e.g. the interviews and hypnosis) and quantitative data (e.g. psychometric tests).

Thigpen and Cleckley met Eve White many times over the 14 months of therapy and also used independent experts to examine her, whereas Freud probably only met Little Hans once as the case study was actually carried out by Hans? father who was a friend and supporter of Freud.

A main strength of the psychodynamic perspective is the way it can be used to explain a wide variety of phenomenon. In fact some followers of the psychodynamic perspective believe that all human life can be explained from a psychodynamic approach. However, you will find even more psychologists who argue that the psychodynamic theory cannot explain anything.

Perhaps Freud?s greatest legacy is the invention of therapies for treating mental disorders. Freud believed that once unconscious conflicts and emotions were made conscious that they could be discussed and resolved. Freud himself briefly used hypnosis to gain access to patients? unconscious thoughts but then developed a technique of free association. However there is considerable controversy relating to these psychoanalytic treatments regarding both their usefulness and abuse by unscrupulous therapists.

One of the many criticisms of the psychodynamic perspective is that is highly subjective and its ideas are hard to test scientifically. For example, most of the ideas are based on case studies of individuals and are not easily tested experimentally. Furthermore the psychodynamic approach does make many generalisations based on these case studies of individuals.