Psychology the first to approach mental life in

Psychology is a relatively new science, having only been officially recognised for a hundred years or so. In this short time there have been many different theories and approaches. In this essay three of the main approaches are discusses and positive and negative ideas of the three are given. The three approaches in discussion are Psychodynamics, Behaviourism and Humanism. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed an approach to psychology referred to as psychoanalysis. Other psychologists refer to Freud’s theories as psychodynamics of the mind. Freud believed that different mental forces operate in the mind. He expanded his ideas to state that conflicting mental forces can cause inner conflict.

Freud believed that a large amount of the processes that occur in the mind happen on an unconscious level. Freud believed that many people were unaware of the thoughts and processes of the mind. Freud argued that slips of the tongue and accidental damage caused by a person had roots in the unconscious and were expressing themselves without the subject being aware. Freud would argue that when a child accidently calls a teacher ‘mum’ the child unconsciously relates to the teacher as a mother. This mistake is termed a Freudian slip.

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Freud states that thoughts and memories were held in the unconscious by a defence mechanism called repression. This is the process by which a traumatic memory or experience is forgotten by the conscious mind and held in the unconscious mind. (Freud, 1915) Freud asserts that early childhood experiences are important to the development of a healthy adult personality. Freud proposed that childhood development took place in five psychosexual stages; Oral, Anal, Phallic, Latent and Genital. One of the more important stages of this series is the Phallic stage. This stage contains what Freud referred to as the Oedipus complex.

This is where the child wishes to posses the opposite sex parent and eliminate the same sex parent. The child becomes fearful of the same sex parent. This conflict can be resolved when the child identifies with the same sex parent. If this complex is not resolved in childhood then Freud argued that it could cause trauma in adult life. Freud believed that the main driving force in mental life was the sex instinct. Freud suggests that this instinct operates on an unconscious level in an area of the personality referred to as the ID.

The sex instinct was actuated according to the pleasure principle, where people and personalities try to gain pleasure. Freud went on to suggest that it was the task of the EGO to satisfy the ID. Freud suggested that a third area of personality, the SUPEREGO, represented the conscience and the ideal self of the mind. Freud asserted that the SUPEREGO and the ID were opposites and it was the job of the EGO to balance the two and reduce conflict. (Stevenson, 1996)

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamics have had several far reaching influences on psychology. The idea that much on mental life is unconscious is now a widely believed theory. The theory that childhood experiences can have an affect on adult development, in particular, a trauma suffered as a child could manifest itself in adult life is a widely studied approach. Freud also developed psychiatry. He was the first to pioneer a psychoanalytical approach to mental disorders. (Pennington, 2002)

Psychoanalysis and Psychodynamics have received criticism. Some of Freud assumptions about the unconscious mind are regarded as unscientific as they can not be scientifically studied. The theory of repressed memories supposedly supressed during childhood and recovered through therapy as an adult has been cast into doubt since Freud first proposed his theory on the matter. (British Psychological Society, 1995). Freud also did not conduct scientific experiments or gain empirical data to back up his theories of the mind. Most of his ideas refer to unobservable mental events. However, the influence of Freud is still far reaching; he was the first to approach mental life in an analytical way.

Behaviourism was established at approximately the same time as Freud was developing his theories by John Watson and Ivan Pavlov. Watson published ‘Psychology as the behaviourist views it’ in 1913. Behaviourists wanted to achieve an objective view that was based on observable behaviour. Behaviourists assume that behaviour is learnt from experiences in the environment. The theory then goes on to state that behaviour is learnt through reinforcement or punishment of behaviours meaning that reinforcement (reward) strengthens the link between stimulus and behavioural response.