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Here, we will explore the basic tenants of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic theories as they relate to psychopathology.

Two techniques for treatment are also explored briefly.

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Psychoanalytic

Isn’t it funny how things become generic? Terms like Kleenex and Q-tip are actually brand names, not products. I bring this up because psychology has undergone a similar process where one of the oldest forms of psychotherapy has become known as the general way that psychotherapy is done.What I mean is, when lay people think about psychology, they have generalized psychoanalytic schools to be representative of all psychology and that does a disservice to the history of psychoanalytic as well as all of psychology.

Let’s look at some of the basics of psychoanalysis and the schools of thought that branched out from it, then we will look at how psychopathology, or mental illness, is viewed.Psychoanalytic means the Freudian school of thought, involving unconscious processes, psychosexual development, and defense mechanisms. It is a little tough to boil down a massive theory that has been around for nearly 100 years into a single statement. Basically, psychoanalysis is based on the teachings and writings of Sigmund Freud, who believed that the mind was driven and influenced by primarily unconscious processes. Let’s look at an iceberg diagram, which sums up the main ideas behind psychoanalysis.The iceberg diagram shows how Freud envisioned the human mind working.

Above the waters is our conscious thought, or what we are aware of going on in our mind. At the water level is our preconscious thought and is typically where memories and other such things are held. Effectively, they are not conscious, but they are not totally unconscious.The last part, the majority of it, is the unconscious mind, which is the place buried deep in our mind that is difficult to access. In fact, a lot of psychoanalysis is based on the idea that our unconscious is unknowable to ourselves, and we must look for ways that it manifests itself, like in dreams, free association between words, and fantasies.

Psychodynamic

It is also worth mentioning here the other schools of psychoanalytic, which are called psychodynamic. Basically, when we say, psychodynamic, or neo-Freudian, we mean psychoanalytic-based sub-schools that utilize their own ideas as well as some, but not all, of the ideas of psychoanalysis. Here, we have things like Carl Jung and the various ways he divided up the conscious and unconscious, as well as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and their attachment theories.One thing to note about the psychodynamics is that they typically rely on the idea of unconscious processes. That is to say, there are processes occurring that influence thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs that we are not aware of.

This is still a hotly debated topic because it lacks a vital component of the scientific method: falsifiability. One cannot prove or disprove the existence of an unconscious process.

Psychopathology

Psychopathology is a study of mental and social disorders and is also a synonym for mental illness. Since the beginning, people have tried to differentiate between what is mentally ill and what is mentally healthy. One of the first structured ways of doing this was by the psychoanalytic schools, which used their own model of the mind and explained why some people had mental illnesses, while others, even those in the same household, did not.Psychoanalysis attempts to explain mental illness as a reflection of unconscious conflicts. As we discussed earlier, a person has a massive and deep unconscious that they are not personally aware of.

Inside this deep, deep well, we put all the things we don’t want to acknowledge about ourselves and about things we do. What a person is doing with these conflicts is repressing them, or mentally pushing down ideas, thoughts, or memories.Let’s use a terrible example.

Your unconscious is sort of like a septic tank buried in the yard. If you took a bunch of bad stuff and kept flushing it down the toilet, it will disappear; at least for a time. But if you keep flushing things down, keep pushing more and more into the septic tank, then something is eventually going to overflow and that is what mental illness is.Typical of Freudian fashion, these unconscious conflicts were sexual in nature, involving desire to have a relationship with the opposite gendered parent. They were treated by exploring the unconscious by way of dream analysis and free association, or the process of a trained psychologist interpreting the answers of the patient stating the first thing that comes to mind.

The hope here is to go into the unconscious and untangle some of the mess that repressing has done.

Lesson Summary

Psychoanalytic means the Freudian school of thought, involving unconscious processes, psychosexual development, and defense mechanisms. It depends heavily on the iceberg model, with conscious thought representing a small fraction of the overall mind, pre-conscious thought being things that can be brought into the conscious thought, and unconscious thought, which are effectively unknowable aspects to the individual.

Psychoanalysis gave rise to psychodynamic, or neo-Freudian ideas, which are psychoanalytic-based sub-schools that utilize their own ideas as well as some, but not all, of the ideas of psychoanalysis. Psychopathology is the study of mental and social disorders and also a synonym for mental illness. Psychoanalysis explains this as the unconscious mind becoming a repository for ideas or thoughts that the conscious mind is repressing, or mentally pushing down ideas, thoughts, or memories. The only way to access this is by dream analysis and free association, or the process of a trained psychologist interpreting the answer of the patient stating the first thing that comes to mind.

Learning Outcomes

After completing this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Define psychoanalytic or Freudian school of thought
  • Describe psychodynamic or neo-Freudian based sub-schools of thought
  • Recognize repression as a major cause of some mental illness
  • Explain what free association is and how it is used in psychology

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