Sigmund Freud is one of the earliest pioneers of psychology. He is among a team of people whose discoveries have led to the development of psychology from one level to another. Currently, this subject is considered to be the broadest of all scientific subjects. This is not a small achievement considering the fact that psychology was just a miniature subject a few centuries ago.
This essay will discuss the major theories of Sigmund Freud as far as the psychodynamic approach to human behaviour is concerned. The essay will also look at the strong points in support of and against the theories. Finally, the essay will describe the cognitive approach to psychology as an alternative to Freud’s theories.
Background Of Psychodynamics
Psychodynamics is a type of study that focuses on the relationship between parts of the brain which coordinate to yield a certain human behaviour. The main components of psychodynamics are the human psyche, the personality of an individual and the mind. The organization of these three elements gives way to an effect on a person’s mental activity, emotional control and motivational forces.
This study also holds that the power of the mind which influences the states of the mind can be divided into emotional forces and inner forces that affect human behaviour. The following are theories that Sigmund Freud developed in his course of study of psychodynamics.
Sigmund Freud suggests that the unconscious state of the human mind is the major cause of the way individuals behave (Ahles 2004). Freud explains that the exact character of a person can only be determined through the knowledge of such a person’s unconscious state of mind. He explains that no action or deed is ever done without the preconception of the mind and the coordination of the elements of the mind. A surprising discovery that Freud made states that people rarely if ever know what goes on in their mind.
Freud holds that most of the actions of people are beyond their control. The decisions made are actually determined by their psyche. Unlike the personality of an individual, this component of the human mind consists of various parts which are in constant conflict with each other. These components include the ego, the id and the superego. According to Freud, these are the elements which are believed to be in control of the human behaviour.
The disagreement among the superego, the ego and the id usually leads to a decision that is favourable to all of them. The disagreement among these three goes on in the unconscious and so the person cannot really tell what is going on in his or her mind. However, this person may be in a position to feel the repercussions of the conflict. For instance, he or she may experience excitement, depression or even a headache as a result of what is going on in the unconscious state of mind.
The superego, the ego and the id each have different roles to play in the whole process of decision making and influence of human behaviour in the mind. Their roles can be summarised into three forces which are the instinctual drive, the moral constraint and the consideration of realistic possibilities at the time of decision making.
The id is controlled by instinctual drives such as an obsession for food, sex, drink and other wants. The id is only concerned about the acquisition of these desires and does not pause to consider the possibility or impossibilities of accessing them. In some cases, it might even get frustrated if it fails to achieve its desires.
On the other hand, the superego works on the basis of moral constraints. It advocates for only what is right and acceptable in the eyes of the society. The superego is the component that takes into consideration the advice and wise counsel that a person receives and prompts him to act according to them. The superego can go as far as punishing the individual if he acts contrary to the moral virtues he is supposed to adhere to. It does this by instilling a remorse feeling of guilt and anxiety.
Finally, the ego is the voice of reason behind the decision making process. As much as the id and the superego have a say in the entire process, it is the ego that finally decides what is to be done. It does this by considering the possibilities of both actions suggested by the id and the superego and then balancing between the needs of the id and the moral constraints imposed by the superego.
As pointed out earlier in this essay, Freud’s psychodynamic theory suggests that a majority of the thinking that goes on in the human mind happens without the knowledge of a person. According to Freud, the human mind can be divided into three main parts: the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious.
The conscious part of the mind contains a small portion of mental activity that we are aware of and is majorly made up of thoughts and perceptions. The preconscious state of mind is deeper than the conscious but shallower than the unconscious. In this state of mind, the person is in a position to know hidden things but only if he or she tries to do it. It majorly comprises of stored information and memories.
In the unconscious state of mind, an individual does not know and cannot know things that go on in his or her mind (Mcleod 2007). There is a lot of information that falls under this state. These include shameful experiences, violent motives, fears, unacceptable sexual desires and traumatic experiences.
Most of these things are kept in the subconscious state of mind because the person refuses to think about them either because they threaten him or her or that they are totally unacceptable. The superego plays a big role in forcing these things from the conscious to the subconscious because of the guilt they evoke.
However, the repression of these thoughts into the unconscious state has the potential of doing a person more harm than good. This is because of the accumulating effect that the thoughts discussed above have on the mind. The locking up of these thoughts is one of the causes that lead to madness caused by depression or stress. This happens after the individual is unable to bear the weight of the locked up thoughts and becomes a victim of the same.
In some cases though, the ego may try to get rid of the pressure in the unconscious state of mind by finding alternative outlets. For instance, the ego can develop defence mechanisms that work by changing the form of one impulse into another form or type. A good example is that of individuals who refuse to accept shameful things about themselves and instead see the fault in others.
Sigmund Freud points out that the way people are brought up has a great impact on their later lives. This has a lot to do with the virtues they were taught by their parents and people around them. It also depends with the cultural background of the society in which the people are brought up in. The structure of a person’s psyche and personality is greatly influenced by the way he or she is treated by other people during childhood.
Strengths Of Freud’s Theories
Sigmund Freud’s theories would not have been wildly accepted and used had they not been sure and convincing. His theories are currently used in a number of medical practices such as psychoanalysis.
This is the most significant strength of Freud’s theories. Through his psychodynamic approach to psychology, it has been possible to identify causes of mental disorders and even try to restore the mental stability of mentally disorderly persons. The dream therapy which is based on the theories has also been helpful in the treatment of mentally disturbed patients.
In addition to that, the theories can be used to describe and explain any phenomena in life. This is because they provide an insight to the main factor that propels life in the universe; human behaviour. It is therefore possible that the theories of Sigmund Freud can be incorporated in almost each and every aspect of daily life and used to unravel hidden meanings.
The last strength of these theories is that they are among the few psychodynamic theories that used experimental methods to arrive at conclusions. The practical experimentation of the theories by Freud lends credence to their effectiveness. The documentation of the experiments can also serve as guidelines to medical practitioners who use the theories in treatment.
Weaknesses Of Freud’s Theories
First and foremost, Sigmund Freud’s theories are not in a position to be scientifically proved. This is because they can neither be measured nor quantified. The theories are therefore closed to constructive scrutiny. Had they provided room for scientific testing and proving, chances are that the theories could even have been improved and made into a better form than they are now.
Secondly, Freud’s theories are marginalised and present a possibility of bias. This is because the theories were developed from a small localised sample population in Vienna. Moreover, the majority of the people were middle-aged women and therefore the results cannot be used to provide a general worldwide view. They were based on mere clinical observations that cannot be a representation of the entire world population.
The last weakness of Sigmund Freud’s theories is that they did not take into account variations in culture. The experiments were solely done on white middleclass patients who represent only a fraction of the world population. The theories then generalise the conclusions and similarly apply them to other people from other cultures. This leads to misleading and in accurate information.
The Cognitive Approach
Cognitive psychology is the study of how people understand, recall, talk, think and evaluate problems (Neisser 1967). Unlike psychodynamics, cognitive psychology is a purely scientific approach to psychology. This is because it can be tested in the laboratory and proved.
Cognitive psychology deals mostly with the mental activity of an individual as opposed to psychodynamics which basically deals with behavioural characteristics. Cognitive psychology is also based on the acknowledgement of states of mind that are internal such as obsessions, notions, motivations and courage.
The cognitive approach is based on a number of assumptions. First and foremost, the approach suggests that a combination of scientific processes influences the behaviour of human beings. The second assumption is that this human behaviour only comes about as a response to external factors or stimuli. Finally, the cognitive approach also holds the view that genetic factors and other physical features have no influence on human behaviour. It suggests that people act the way they do because of their own thoughts.
Although the cognitive approach is among the latest sub disciplines of psychology, it has been successfully incorporated in many subjects such as personality psychology and abnormal psychology. The development of computers and increased artificial intelligence has also led to the widespread use of the cognitive approach.
From the foregoing discussion, it is evident that Sigmund Freud was a prominent psychologist whose psychodynamic theories revolutionized the entire discipline of psychology. His psychodynamic theories, namely the psyche, the unconscious state and childhood influences have provided meaningful explanations to some of the phenomena in life. The theories are also widely in use today because of their strengths and credibility.
However, they also have weaknesses which led to the establishment of the cognitive approach. This approach focuses on the mental activities and thought processes as major factors which influence human behaviour. The approach has grown due to the recent developments in psychology as a discipline. Finally, the cognitive approach has benefited from increased use of technology in the discipline of psychology.
Ahles, S (2004) our inner world: A guide to psychodynamics and psychotherapy. New York, Johns Hopkins University Press.
Mcleod, S (2007) Psychodynamic approach. [Online] Available at: http://www.simplypsychology.org/psychodynamic.html. [Accessed 26 October 2011].
Neisser, U (1967) Cognitive psychology. New York, Meredith.