The merits and limitations of a psychotherapeutic paradigm

When discussing the psychological system there are certain concepts which need to be defined, the first of these being the psyche. Freud traditionally defined the psyche as a two component entity, composed of the conscious and unconscious. Later on he changes this to a three component structure now consisting of the super-ego, ego and the id. His ‘structural’ theory attempts to bring together both biological and non physical (minds), and explains all three sub sections in this way. The Id is a correspondence of the unconscious in some sense and is a representative of some of the basic instinctual features of the psyche such as desires.

The second ‘stage’ is called the Ego which can be described as the conscious mind and is linked with rational thought. , it has been said that this is the intermediary between the id and super ego (i. e. what the self wants and what in reality the self can get) or sometimes described as the conflict between the devil and the angel in the mind. The third sub section is the superego which has been built up with the individual’s interpretations of parents and others that they have relationships with.

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This is sometimes described as the ‘voice of the parents and community’. The psychodynamic paradigm suggests that from birth to maturity individuals move through 5 psychosexual stages. The first of which is the oral stage, after which they move through the anal stage, then the phallic stage. The last two stages are the latency period and the genital stage. Whilst going through these stages the psychic energy changes. It is claimed that if one gets fixated at either of these stages it affects them for the rest of their life unless they are treated.

Also as part of his theory Freud also proposes the Oedipus complex which suggests that all children have an attraction towards the parent of the opposite sex and wish to get rid of the parent of the same sex. He also suggests that female children have penis envy, and therefore are frustrated because they are unable to acquire one. All these suggestions of what goes on in a child’s mind and the stages that they go through come together and assist Freud in explaining the human personality and its many components. The Psychodynamic theory is centrally concerned with conflict, defense and anxiety.

They claim that a conflict arises when one is unable to fulfill ones desires immediately due to reality or the conscious not allowing it. This generates anxiety which arises when one feels that they are unable to cope, this can be both conscious and unconscious and is what gives rise to defense mechanisms, which are based in the mind and allow the individual to block of or hide away painful feelings and situations. This is what causes psychological problems. The Psychodynamic theory not only tries to explain what causes these psychological problems but also proposes cures which coincide with his theory of personality.

As with any theory the psychodynamic theory also has its strengths and limitations. As the psychodynamic theory is nothing less than a description of the human personality it can definitely not be taken as the whole explanation for human personality. It strengths lie in the fact that it attempts to describe almost every aspect of the human personality from personality development, to emotional experiences and even abnormal behavior. Freud’s theory has also been credited for his view that the psychological processes that underlie ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ behavior are essentially the same.

Because the psychodynamic theory does not break up into smaller proponents, but rather the theory suggests that internal conflicts, anxiety, unconscious processes, and defense all have a part to play in determining whether behavior is normal or abnormal behavior is also a positive feature of the theory. Alongside developing a theory Freud also developed a method of testing and treating psychological illnesses, which is very important to see if the theory actually has any practical strength.

The theory can also be accredited for its concentration on the inners self during treatment as unlike other therapies it looks at the root of the problem and tries to solve it. The limitations of this theory begin with the theory relying too heavily on the use of individual observation cases and so lack empirical evidence. Even though the use of individual observations can be positive in terms of the qualitative data, the sample that Freud used is what causes the problems as it was a very small group of mainly Viennese women who were in their early, middle adulthood.

This causes problems because Freud used the findings of these few women and generalized it not only to people of different ages and gender but also to different countries, making the theory over generalized. The therapy is one which is very difficult to either support or disprove. Because of the fact that the theory is so complex and everything is intermingled it is difficult to point out exactly what the cause of a specific problem is. This is because the psychodynamic approach states that a behavior is determined by more than one force, and so is difficult to know which one is causing the problem so it can be cured.

The real issue with proving is due to the fact that one can never prove that the unconscious motive is what is really motivating the behavior as only the patient is aware of it. It is invisible to all others and can only be inferred by the therapist. Therefore the therapist can never know exactly what the problem is with their patient and if they are actually having an affect. Many aspects of the psychodynamic paradigm are still to prove themselves. For example the Oedipus complex has failed to find support in later studies (Fisher and Greenberg 1977).

This is the same with many of the aspects which have till this day failed to find scientific back up. It seems that the psychodynamic theory in some aspects is just ‘ideas’ but in reality are to abstract to prove. The main reason for this being the fact that psychodynamic is primarily dealing with the inner self. Other limitations also lie on the fact that psychodynamic theories rely overwhelmingly on personal inner traits as being responsible for certain behaviors however, what it fails to do is to take in consideration the influence of the context and situation.

Both of which play a great role in determining how one will respond to a problem. As the psychodynamic theory is based mainly on clients own reactions to problems it hasn’t taken this vital part into consideration. As a result of the problems with the theory this also causes the treatment aspect of this paradigm to be limited to some degree. The main problem of treatment lies in the fact that the orthodox psychoanalysts will use the same treatment for a wide range of problems.

It is difficult to accept that one single treatment can resolve all the psychological problems. As it seems that they may be caused by different things, especially for different people. However regardless of its popularity it has been found that psychotherapy or treatments that have been derived from it have not proved very effective. Eysneck (1952) has claimed that many studies have found that psychoanalytic treatment is not effective. Even if the treatment was to have some effect there is no criteria as such to determine whether there has been any improvement.

As again any improvement is only known to the patient and there is no way for the therapist to ‘truly’ know if there has been any improvement. Overall the paradigm, despite its popularity seems to be very limited in its approach, very over generalized and as a whole difficult to prove. However they have offered individuals the ability to overcome their psychological distresses, and enabled them to get to the root of their problems. Nevertheless the tendency to over generalize and the lack of scientific leaves the theory with great imitations.