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The Psychodynamic Approach | AQA B Psychology
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The Psychodynamic Approach

Psychoanalytic Perspective

Key Assumptions:

  • Assumes that a large part of out mental life operates at an unconscious level
  • It is assumed that unconscious sexual and aggressive instincts drive behaviour
  • The personality is made up of the id, the ego and the superego, which are in constant conflict
  • Defence mechanisms protect individuals from anxiety producing thoughts
  • It is assumed that early childhood experiences are important to understanding current behaviour
  • Children develop though psychosexual stages which involve conflict which mist be resolved
  • Assumes that dreams and slips of the tongue have unconscious explanations
  • Assumes that the best method for understanding human behaviour is the case study


  • Focuses on unconscious/internal conflicts.
  • Unconscious motivation
  • Adult behaviour shaped by childhood experiences.
  • Developed therapy called psychoanalysis – unconscious can be looked into consciously

Personality Structure

  • Id – Pleasure principle, unconscious urges and desires
  • Ego – Reality principle, decides what actions are appropriate
  • Superego – Value and morals. It’s also the conscience and ego-ideal.

Defence Mechanism

Repression – Unconscious forgetting. Disturbing thoughts not allowed becoming conscious

Displacement – Transferring impulses and feelings to an originally neutral or innocent target

Projection – Attributing ones own unacceptable feeling onto another person

Identification – behaving in a similar way to someone you regard as a role model

Sublimation: Type of displacement where an activity is found to express an unacceptable desire.

Denial: Deny a situation you can’t deal with

Mind is Split up into the following:

  • Conscious
  • Pre-Conscious
  • Unconscious

Psychosexual Stages

  1. Oral Stage           0-1 years
  2. Anal Stage          1-3 years
  3. Phallic Stage      3-6 years
  4. Latency Stage    6-12 years
  5. Genital Stage    12-18 years
    • Each stage the libido (sexual energy) is focused on different things –mouth in the oral stage etc
    • Children can become fixated with things due to experiences during these stages
  1. Oral Stage 0-1 years:
  • Mouth is the source of pleasure
  • Lack of oral stimulation results in oral fixation
  1. Anal Stage 1-3 years:
  • Anal source of pleasure
  • Aware and controlling bowels
  • Potty training – going to the toilet in the right place at the right time
  • Over strictness about forcing the child to go and cleanliness causes anal fixation and obsessive behaviour
  1. Phallic Stage 3-6 years:
  • Children become aware of their genitals
  • Oedipus complex (boys)
  • Electra Complex (girls)
  1. Latency Stage 6-12 years:
  • Move away from sexuality
  • Concentrate on social and intellectual development
  1. Genital Stage  12-18 years:
  • Adult feelings develop and mature love becomes possible

Oedipus complex:

  1. Develops strong desire for mother
  2. Noticing a strong bond between parents
  3. Becoming jealous of father
  4. Being afraid of father who might discover boys true feelings
  5. Fearing the punishment of castration
  6. Resolves by identifying with the father

Electra complex:

  1. Girls discovers no penis – develops penis envy
  2. She blames mother for her lack
  3. Transfer’s love from mother to father
  4. Resolves by Identifying with mother to become like her.

Case Studies

  • How psychoanalysis concepts applied to a real persons mental life
  • Appeal to wider audience
  • Show how psychoanalysis could help treat people

Post-Freudian Theories: Erik Erickson

  • Relationships with people throughout life (Psychosocial Development)
  • Strengthens and weakens the ego
  • Positive and optimistic view of the human condition


  • Unscientific – Based on case studies rather than experiments. No testable hypothesis.
  • Interpretation problems
  • To deterministic
  • Effectiveness of psychoanalysis treatment has not been demonstrated. Maybe effective for some and not others.
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