The psychoanalytic approach understands us from the point of view of our unconscious and early childhood experiences. The contents of our unconscious can give us a neurosis, which is an anxiety state that affects the quality of your life. Freud’s psychodynamic structure of personality suggests that our behaviour is influenced by id, ego and superego. We are born id, and acquire ego and superego by puberty. Freud also has a psychosexual theory of adult personality development, where he says our personality develops in stages during childhood. If we fail to resolve conflicts associated with a particular (oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital) stage of personality development Freud said we could develop fixations. These can show themselves in our personality-related behaviours e.g. an adult thumb sucker would be said to have an oral fixation. We unconsciously use ego-defence mechanisms to protect ourselves from the anxieties of life. An application of the approach is found in psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Features of psychoanalytic psychotherapy include free association, dream analysis, analysis of parapraxes, resistance, regression using hypnosis and transference. The main limitation of the psychoanalytic approach is evidence generated in its support. The case study is non-scientific. Further, it is hugely difficult to scientifically or otherwise, find support for its hypothetical constructs like id, ego superego etc. Also, Freud used a small sample of neurotic middle class Viennese women, and generalised his findings out to all of us. His emphasis on the psychosexual saw splits with Adler and Jung. Erikson also later questioned his sexual emphasis on the emerging personality. Adler, Jung and Erikson went on to develop the broader psychodynamic approach, which includes psychoanalysis. The psychodynamic approach believes it is the social, rather than the sexual world, that has a greater influence on our personality development.
The big button above takes you to the psychoanalytical approach resources and exam questions. Or alternatively you can click this link to go back to the Approaches Overview.