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Contrast between two theoretical approaches to psychology

1244 words (5 pages) Essay in Psychology

5/12/16 Psychology Reference this

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Throughout the history of psychology, many schools of thought have emerged. Two of the most influential are: the psychoanalytic and the humanistic. The debates between the two schools of psychology encompass a wide range of topics; these include but are not restricted to: human existence, self-actualization and the human psyche. While both schools adhere to a similar set of academic understandings throughout the discipline, (to manage, predict, and describe human behavior), they share different views and interpretations on the questions that intrigue psychologists. Why does a person behave this way? What are the causes?

Sigmund Freud was the father of modern psychology. He founded the school of psychoanalysis. He focused his research on psychosexual and psychosocial behaviorisms in humans. Stevenson (2001)-8

The theory of psychoanalysis is devoted to the study of human psychological functions and behavior. It states that behavior is inherently controlled through unconscious thoughts, wishes and memories. Pre-Freudian views within psychology tended to overlook behavior and instead focused on physiological explanations of ‘abnormality’. Quigley. (1998)-6 Freud’s approach to psychology was revolutionary; he interpreted seemingly neurotic behaviors that were thought to be random and coined them as goal-oriented. He essentially looked for a purpose behind ‘abnormal’ behaviors. Gross, (2009)-4

Freud argued that all humans are born with natural instincts, i.e. a tendency to meet their needs for shelter, food, and warmth. Quigley. (1998)-6 When Freud thought of the psychoanalytic approach to psychology, his aims were to uncover behaviors by unveiling and interpreting the subconscious. He did this through two techniques: free association and dream analysis. Free association is a technique where the patient is asked to state whatever is on his/her mind. It is intended to help patients find out more about their inner self. The theory of psychoanalysis often assumes that individuals share a conflict between their need to know more about themselves and their (conscious or unconscious) fears and defenses to the outside world. Dream analysis is a technique where the patient is asked to describe his/her dreams in detail. Mendham (2003)-2

According to Freud, contents of dreams are purely based on wish-fulfillment. The contents of dreams are often found in events relating to the day preceding the dream; he called this “day residue”. One of the major strengths of Freudian psychoanalysis is that it provides valuable understanding of the effects of early life experiences and/or relationships and how they shape a person’s personality. Another strong point is that it was the first psychological school of thought to attempt to explain and understand mental illnesses as complex psychological phenomena and not only from a medical praxis point of view. This had an enormous influence on modern day understanding and treatments of mental disorders.

Today, Freud’s theories are considered either out-dated or suspect; however, even scholars who reject his theories usually recognize that they have had some influence on the evolution of contemporary psychology. One of the weaknesses in Freud’s approach to psychoanalysis is that most of the research was done within a controlled setting. He based his findings on case studies, single individuals where cases were often unique. Another weakness to his model is that Freud did not take into consideration cultural, racial and socio-economic differences. His research, while being extensive was done on Caucasian, Middle-class individuals. Glassman; Haddad. (2009)-3

The humanistic approach to psychology has its origins in theories pertaining to philosophy (existentialism). It rose to prominence in the early twentieth century with the works of early pioneers like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Essentially, the humanistic approach is based on a holistic view of human existence. It concerns itself with issues such as: human experiences and self-actualization. Robbins (2008)-7

Self-actualization is term that has been used throughout psychology; it is broadly defined as the motive behind realizing one’s true potential. Schneider; Bugental; Pierson (2001)-10

The concept was brought to prominence through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The approach was thought of in response to concerns by therapists that the Freudian model of psychotherapy, especially psychoanalysis had its limitations in terms of connectivity with patients. Maslow’s theory was intended to offer a less artificial approach. Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow believed that psychodynamic theories did not address important issues such as the meanings of behaviors. They essentially wanted to create a variation to Freud’s theory.

Maslow, one of the pioneers of the humanistic theory believed that human motivation was based not only on basic biological survival needs but the fulfillment of these needs in order to improve one-self. To prove his theory, he created the ‘hierarchy of needs’ which he labeled as “the Third Force” to illustrate the Humanistic Approach and underline its difference from the Psychodynamic and Behaviorist Approaches which was the main trend in psychology around the middle of the 20th century. He opposed this to the “Second Force” a result of Freudian concepts and the depth psychologies of scientists like Alfred Adler, Erik Erikson, Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, Otto Rank, Harry Stack Sullivan who laid the emphasis on the “dynamic unconscious” in the human mind which must be taken into consideration and incorporated with the conscious mind without which a sound personality is not possible. Maslow pointed out to motivation as the crucial element to understanding human behavior. And although this emphasis recalls parts of Freud’s concepts, the two models lay an accent on diverse and sometimes dissimilar categories of motives. This approach led to a theory of personality which illustrates the distinctiveness of “healthy growth” by techniques comparable to Rogers’s “fully functioning person”.

The hierarchy suggested that human motivation is founded on fulfilling basic physiological and safety needs before moving on to others. The hierarchy is frequently displayed in the form of a pyramid. The lowest levels making up the most basic needs while needs, which are more complex in nature, are located at the top of the pyramid. The bottom needs are basic physical requirements which include food, shelter, warmth and sleep. As individuals progress up the pyramid, their needs become increasingly social and psychological. Eventually the needs for love, intimacy and personal accomplishments take priority. Kendra, (2011)-1

One of the major criticisms to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may stem from its lack of social diversity. It fails to illustrate and expand upon societal differences between individuals raised in individualistic cultures and those brought up in collectivist societies. He drew up the hierarchy strictly from an individualistic point of view. The needs of those in societies such as for example, the United States tend to be more self-centered than those in collectivist nations. (China). Self-actualization being at the top of pyramid is only representative of needs of certain cultures or societies.

In conclusion, theoretical approaches to psychology, the humanistic and the psychoanalytical have many strengths and weaknesses. The differences between these two approaches provide a wider perspective which is much needed in the analysis of human behavior. Despite the fact that they have been extremely significant to the development of the discipline, flaws in their methodological structures are apparent. Freudian psychology is loosely based on individual and sometimes on extremely rare cases while the Maslow/Rogers humanistic approach has been seen as socially biased towards western societies and cultures. Nevertheless, the outlining importance of both of these theories cannot be ignored.

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