Psychological Approaches to Mental Illness

3006 words (12 pages) Essay in Psychology

23/09/19 Psychology Reference this

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Psychology Presentation Notes/ Speech

Psychology can be an interesting and complex subject to research. This presentation will explain four psychological approaches Behaviourism, Humanistic, psychodynamic and cognitive psychology key features. These approaches have attempted to develop an understanding of individuals especially people suffering from mental illnesses to develop therapies. 


McLeod (2017) says behaviourism is an approach created as it was believed psychology should be more scientific due to it being impossible to study the mind. When an individual is born, they have a blank slate and all behaviours are not innate but learnt through their environment. Behaviour is learnt through classical or operant conditioning.

  • Classical conditioning– is learnt behaviour through association which was discovered by Ivan Pavlov. Watson believed classical conditioning could explain human behaviour.
  • Operant conditioning– behaviour learnt through rewards and punishment. Association between behaviour and consequence developed by B.F Skinner

Ivan Pavlov (1902)

Atkinson & Hilgard (2014) explain Pavlov was researching salivation in dogs when being fed however Pavlov noticed that the dogs began to salivate when they saw the food bowl.  Pavlov believed he may be able to teach the dogs to associate a sound with food.

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Pavlov said that when dogs are presented with food they salivate, and this behaviour is not learnt it is an innate behaviour. Therefore, Pavlov concluded food is an unconditioned stimulus and salivating is an unconditioned response.

Pavlov then rang a bell which is a neutral stimulus as it did not create a response. Pavlov began to ring the bell before feeding the dogs and after repeating this the dogs began to salivate when hearing the bell. The bell has now become a conditioned stimulus as a new behaviour is learnt by linking the bell with food. As the response to the bell is learnt this is a conditioned response to a conditioned stimulus.

Pavlov discovered for the association to be made the two-stimulus had to be presented close together.

B. F. Skinner 1938

McLeod (2018) Skinner believed humans and animals have a mind however it is irrelevant as the mind can not be observed unlike behaviour. Glassman & Hadad (2013)  say Skinner thought classical conditioning was too simplistic to explain human behaviour instead skinner felt to understand behaviour the cause of response and consequence must be taken in to consideration.  

  • Positive reinforcement- placed hungry rat in a box similar to Thorndike’s puzzle box (known as Skinners box. The box contained a leaver which if the rat knocked food would be dispensed in to box. After experiencing this trial a few time, the rat learnt that knocking the leaver would result in receiving food therefor the rat repeated this action. Skinner concluded that positive reinforcement strengthens behaviour.
  • Negative reinforcement- rat was placed in to the skinner box however there was no food being dispensed. There would be an electric current causing discomfort if the rat knocked the leaver the electric current would stop. Again after a few trials the rat learnt to knock the leaver when placed in the box to stop electric current. Skinner developed this further teaching the rats to avoid the electric current. a light would be turned on just before the electric current the rats learnt to press the leaver to avoid the discomfort. Skinner concluded negative reinforcement strengthens behaviour as the reward is the removal of an unpleasant experience.
  • Punishment- weakens behaviour therefor is opposite of reinforcement

John. B. Watson 1913

McLeod (2017) says Watson believed that all human behaviour could be explained through classical conditioning and differences in behaviour are due to differences in learning.

  • Theorised that emotional responses could be classically conditioned same as Pavlov’s dogs. Watson did not believe in the mind or consciousness and that different behaviour was learnt from different experiences.

Gross (2017) describes little albert experiment

  • Little Albert– 9 month old
  • 1st session white rat is presented to Albert and he reaches for it and touches the rat with his left hand. Once contact is made with the rat a metal bar is struck causing little Albert to jump but he did not cry. When albert reaches for the rat again and touches it with his right hand the bar is struck again causing Albert to jump and fall forward, he then began to whimper.
  • Second session was 7 days later rat touched left hand causing Albert to withdraw. When presented with the rat again the metal bar was struck causing Albert to fall over but he did not cry. When presented with the rat a 3rd time Albert withdraws and cries.
  • 3rd session 12 days after first played with toys happily when presented with the rat Albert leaned away falling over doing so. When presented with a rabbit Albert leaned away and started to cry. When presented with a dog Albert leaned away but did not cry. When cotton wool was placed on his feet, he kicked it away but would not touch it.
  • 4th session 17 days after first session rat was presented but there was little reaction therefore the bar was struck again causing him to cry. A rabbit was presented Albert leaned away but reaction was not as strong as last session. Albert was moved to a bigger and more well-lit room and presented with the rat albert did not react however he would not touch the rat.
  • Follow-up session was done 1 month later Albert was presented with a Santa beard he withdrew and would not touch it. When forced to touch the beard Albert started to cry. When presented with a fur coat Albert withdrew and began to whimper as it got closer. Given wooden blocks Albert played with them as normal however when the rat touched his hand Albert withdrew and leaned back but did not cry.


Schneider & Bugental and Pierson (2001) say humanistic approach studies the person and their uniqueness, was developed as behaviourism and psychodynamic approaches were viewed as dehumanising. Humanistic approach assumes people have free will which is the choices made in life. Humans suggest we are innately good, and everyone aims to make themselves better. Belief that people aim to self-actualise.

John Maslow 1943

Psychology Today (2017) say Maslow created the hierarchy of needs which contains five levels and was viewed as motivational.

  1. Physical– need for air, food, water, sleep, reproduction, clothes
  2. Security– need for shelter, stability, personal security, resources, property
  3. Social– need to feel included and loved such as family, friendship and intimacy
  4. Ego– need for self-esteem, recognition, power, respect, freedom
  5. Self- actualisation– creativity, awareness, independence and honesty

McLeod (2017) Maslow believed for a human to be healthy these five needs must be met the first two levels are basic needs, and third and fourth levels are psychological needs and the last level is self-fulfilment needs.

Bottom 4 levels are deficiency needs (D-needs) these needs arise when experiencing deprivation and when needs are not met motivation is increased. Motivation becomes stronger the longer needs are not met. The top level is known as being needs (B- needs) which is a need to develop as a person once these needs are met an individual reaches the top-level self-actualisation. Once a need is met an individual moves on to the next need that has not been fulfilled.

Everyone can move up and down the hierarchy progress can be disrupted by changes to life such as loss of a job or relationship breakdown.

Carl Rodgers 1959

Self-worth– is an individual’s personal thought of themselves- Rodgers says feeling of self-worth is developed in childhood formed from interactions with parents.

Self-image– How an individual view themselves influenced by body image or personality. An individual may view themselves ugly or beautiful this image effects how an individual behaves.

Ideal self- is the person an individual aspires to be consists of goals and ambition. The ideal self changes as our aspirations change.

Congruence– when an individuals ideal self is similar to self-image the opposite of this is incongruence.

Agreed with Maslow’s hierarchy but felt for an individual to grow they require an environment that is open, accepting and empathetic. Shares same beliefs that humans are innately good and wish to self-actualise. Rogers thought humans become destructive when poor self-concept fails to meet the valuing process. The main barrier to self-actualisation is childhood experience.

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An individual self-actualises when ideal self is congruent with self-image at this point Rodgers believed an individual is a fully functioning person. Rodgers said an individual wants to behave in a way that reflects our self-image and ideal self. The closer self-image and ideal self are the more congruent an individual is and therefore has higher self-worth.


Sigmund Freud 1915

Seel (2002) Freud developed a number of theories which form the psychodynamic approach. His theories were based on what his patients had told him during therapy sessions usually for depression or anxiety. Cherry (2018) Freud believed childhood events have an influence on the development of personality and adult lives. These childhood events are usually stored in the unconscious mind which can cause issues in adult lives.

Freud thought personality was made of three parts

  1. Id– contains primitive instincts which cause a drive for satisfaction, instincts are present from birth and are part of an individual’s personality. These components include sex (Eros)- life instinct and contains libido. 
  2. Ego– is the conscious self which compromises between ego and instincts. Ego is usually developed through influence of reality. Usually decision-making part of the personality.
  3. Superego– critically compares values and set of standards developed from parent’s influence (id and superego- unconscious mind) which self-worth is measured against. If standards are not met an individual will experience guilt represented by conscience mind (ego).

The psychodynamic theory suggest unwanted behaviour is caused by thoughts in the unconscious mind, these thoughts can transfer to the conscious mind causing slip of the tongue. Freud believed the slip of the tongue (Freudian Slips) was not an accident but an insight to what is on an individual’s mind.  

Freud believed behaviour was influenced by three psychological forces these are

  • Preconscious mind- consists of anything that could be transferred to the conscious mind. Thoughts are stored here until they are required any thoughts or memories that are negative or traumatic are repressed therefore are not available to conscious or preconscious.
  • Conscious mind– contains thoughts, wishes feelings and memories which can be accessed at any point. Includes mental processes that can be discussed and explained rationality.
  • Unconscious mind– where unacceptable or unpleasant thoughts, feelings, urges and memories are stored such as feelings of anxiety, conflict or pain. These thoughts can influence behaviour and judgements. Freud believed information too traumatic to be stored in conscious or preconscious mind is repressed here. Contains basic instincts such as eros and thanatos. Believed info stored here is revealed through dreams or slip of tongue.

Freud described these forces as an iceberg with the consciousness the tip preconscious at water level and unconscious is the largest part under water where id is stored. Ego and superego are stored across conscious, preconscious and unconscious.

Cognitive psychology

McLeod (2015) Is a scientific study of the mind as an information processor and was developed due to dissatisfaction with behaviourism, as focus was based on behaviour rather than internal thought process. Cognitive psychologists try to build a model of the information processing that happens inside people’s minds this could be based on perception, language, memory, thinking and consciousness. Eysenck & Keane (2010) say there is now four cognitive psychological approaches.

  1. Experimental cognitive psychology
  2. Cognitive neuro science
  3. Cognitive neuro psychology
  4. Conceptual cognitive science

McLeod (2018) Piaget’s cognitive development theory gives an insight to how children produce a mental model of the world and believed cognitive development is a process that happens by maturation and interactions with the environment. Piaget was translating English intelligence test papers to French at Binet Institute and found children’s answers interesting especially the wrong answers to logical questions. Piaget believed these wrong answers identified important differences between the thought process of adults and children. Piaget aimed to explain the process that an infant and a child develop in to an individual who can think and reason hypotheses.

Piaget developed three components to his theory 

  1. Schemas– basic knowledge that enables an individual to construct a model of the world. When a child’s schemas can explain perceptions around them Piaget said they are in a state of equilibrium. Babies have schemas that are innate and genetically programmed such as suckling.
  2. Adaptation process– process that enables transition from one stage to another. This is an adjustment to the world which happens through assimilation- uses existing schema to understand and solve a new situation. Accommodation- an existing schema needs to be changed to understand or solve new situation.
  3. Equilibration– happens when a child can understand and solve new situation using existing schema disequilibrium occurs when new situations can not be understood or solved using existing schema.

Paiget developed the stages of cognitive development

  1. Sensorimotor period– from birth to 2 years babies are born with schema’s for suckling where babies have a sucking reflex if their lips are touched. This stage is where schemas are developed for other objects. Object permanence is developed where a child knows an object still exists even when it can not be seen.
  2. Preoperational period– 2 to 7 years children think about objects symbolically and can use language, gestures and mental images to describe an object. However, a child is still unable to understand other viewpoints.
  3. Concrete operational period– 7 to 11 years children have the ability to think logically which allows them to complete tasks internally rather than physically. Development of conservation which is an understanding that something holds same amount however it has changed appearance.
  4. Formal operational period– 11 to 15 years children can now think abstractly internal operations are not limited to concrete objects. 

Piaget suggested all children go through these stages however perhaps not at the same rate as the ages suggested are an average indicator.

Each approach has the same aim to explain human behaviour which they can to a degree. However, not one approach can explain behaviour in full this could be due to the mind being complex or the uniqueness of each individual requires more than one explanation which is why today psychologists are still studying the mind.


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