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Applications of Psychoanalytic Theory to Social Care Practice

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Social Work
Wordcount: 1151 words Published: 18th Nov 2021

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This essay will explore how psychoanalytic/psychodynamic concepts can be useful in social care practice. I will evaluate two theorists and give examples of my own experience and including evidence from other findings. The theorists I plan to focus on are Freud and Jung. I will focus on Freud’s theory on defence mechanisms and Jung’s shadow theory.

Freud’s theory of defence mechanisms has allowed me to deepen my understanding of human behaviour. Through my study of what defence mechanisms are, I have heightened my knowledge and awareness of human behaviour and understand that not everyone is as them seem. What you see on the surface is not always the true self and one may be using a defence mechanism to protect themselves. An Ego Defence mechanism is the theoretical term used to describe several phenomena utilized in order to repress anger or other feelings. This has also been named as Defence Mechanisms and Mental Mechanisms. (Cooney,M 2019) Freud listed the primary functions of a defence mechanism to be-

  1. minimize anxiety
  2. Protect the ego
  3. to maintain repression (Cooney,M 2019)

Freud asserts that repression is important as it prevents discomfort and it also leads to economy of time and effort.  These psychological strategies are unconsciously used to protect a person from anxiety arising from unacceptable thoughts or feelings.

Freud states that these thoughts are feelings are likely to be from certain situations during childhood. (Cooney,M 2019)  In support of Freud’s theory, I looked at articles on online that gave further evidence on defence mechanisms. The article was published on Simply Psychology by Saul McLeod. The article stated that these mechanisms operate at an unconscious level and help ward off unpleasant feelings or make good things feel better for the individual. This is useful framework for me to use as social care practitioner as it allows me to acknowledge that people may not realise, they are using a defence mechanism to protect themselves.

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Saul McLeod states that Ego-defence mechanisms are natural and normal. Any one from service users to staff can hide behind a mechanism.  However, it is important to understand that someone can begin to frequently use a defence which can cause anxiety states, phobias, hysterias and obsessions. (Mcleod, 2019) There are several defence mechanisms. One that stands out to me is Denial as it is something everyone can be guilty of, myself included. Denial is defined as “Failing to recognize obvious implications or consequences of a thought, act or situation.” (Cooney,M 2019)

I myself am guilty of using denial as a defence mechanism when it comes to a task I do not enjoying doing. If I have a college assignment that I may not be interested in, I enter a stage of denial. I push the task to the back of my mind and deny that it must be done. When I was on placement working with young people in probation, I observed a young girl using denial to protect herself from her court dates. She blocked the external event of her court date and didn’t turn up, so she wouldn’t have to feel anxious sitting in court.

I will now evaluate the concept of Jung’s Shadow. In Jungian psychology, the "shadow", "Id", or "shadow aspect/archetype" refers to an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself, or Jung advises it can also refer to the entirety of the unconscious, i.e., everything of which a person is not fully conscious. In a nutshell, the shadow is the unknown side. (Cooney,M 2019)  This shadow can be rejected, or one can remain ignorant to this undesirable aspect which leaves the shadow as largely negative. However, the shadow isn’t always a negative attribution. There can also be a positive shadow that may be hidden in people with anxieties, self-esteem issues and false beliefs.

For example, a shy person may have brilliant voice but keeps it hidden because of shyness and false beliefs that no one else will think she is a good singer.  I think Jung really put forward a valid and strong concept which I think all people could concur with, but some may choose ignorance bliss regarding their own shadow self.

An article I read by Harry J. Stead reiterates this point by saying “Anyone with any sense at all sees through the façade.” But hits home the concept that people would rather remain ignorant to the shadow “but we each participate in pretending that all this is real, so that society might carry on as normal.” (Stead, 2019) I think the serial Killer Ted Bundy is the perfect example of what a shadow self is. He oozed charisma and seemed like a regular man but behind his mask/shadow was a murderer and narcissist. 

An aspect of the shadow self I observed on my own college placement was rationalization. One of the young people who was normally quite introverted was being reprimanded for calling another young person abusive name after losing a game of pool. She rationalized this behaviour by saying it was only because of the game.

A quote from Jung that really allowed me to understand the Shadow comment was “The thing a person has no wish to be.” (Cooney,M 2019)  This stuck with me as it is a useful framework to have when trying to understand the actions of humans. People want to appear in such a way on the outside but there is always more beneath the surface. I find this to be a concept that as social care practitioners we should always have in our minds, to remember there is always more to a person.

I feel that both concepts have provided me with a beneficial outline when it comes to understanding more about human behaviours. I find both concepts applicable not just in my work as a social care practitioner but in everyday life as they are aspects of life that we can all attain.


Stead, H. (2019). 4 Carl Jung Theories Explained: Persona, Shadow, Anima/Animus, The Self. [online] Medium. Available at: https://medium.com/personal-growth/4-carl-jung-theories-explained-persona-shadow-anima-animus-the-self-4ab6df8f7971 [Accessed 7 Nov. 2019].

Mcleod, S. (2019). Defense Mechanisms | Simply Psychology. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/defense-mechanisms.html [Accessed 7 Nov. 2019].

Cooney, M. (2019) – Class notes.


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