To the new student of psychology, and anyone who knows a little psychology, the name Sigmund Freud may bring to mind the picture of a patient lying on a couch sharing their deepest and darkest secrets to a psychoanalyst. The idea is to have the patient share their experiences, relationships and the way they see the world. By so doing, the psychoanalyst can bring to the patient’s consciousness any unconscious bases of feelings, behaviours, and/or any childhood experiences that might explain a behaviour or emotion (adaptive or maladaptive). This thought might again be considered the layman’s understanding of the subject matter of psychology.
The Psychanalytic approach to psychology, a collection of theories by Sigmund Freud posits that
a) How one behaves and feels is as a result of unconscious motives
b) Actions and emotions, both adaptive and maladaptive behaviours, emotions, and psychological problems can be traced back to childhood experiences
c) All behaviour, including parapraxis, (Freudian slip, slip of the tongue) has cause in the unconscious, and therefore predetermined
d) Personality is tripartite, consisting of the ID, EGO and the SUPEREGO
e) Eros (the sex drive and life instinct) and Thanatos (the aggressive drive and death instinct) are the two instinctual drivers of behaviour.
f) The ID and the SUPEREGO are constantly in conflict with the EGO (the conscious part of the mind) a conflict creates and anxiety, necessitating the deployment of defense mechanisms (a mental process such as repression or projection, unconsciously initiated to deal with or avoid anxiety.
g) During different times in childhood, (psychosexual stages of development), as drives get modified by different conflicts associated with each stage, personality is shaped.
The above views indicate that psychodynamic theory is a view that explains personality in terms of conscious and unconscious forces, such as unconscious desires and beliefs. The Psychodynamic approach emphasizes systematic study of the psychological forces that underlie human behavior, feelings, and emotions and how they might relate to early experience.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy takes the form of depth psychology, the primary focus of which is to reveal the unconscious content of a client's psyche in an effort to alleviate psychic tension. In this way, it is similar to psychoanalysis.
Unconscious psychological forces impact the processes of human development. Unlike common statements like ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you,’ the psychodynamic psychologist believes the opposite.
Defense mechanisms protect individuals from unwanted memories and inner conflicts. In this approach, successful therapy is about coming to terms with one’s defenses.