The Psychodynamic Perspective


Psychodynamic - any explanation that focuses on the processes of change and development - the dynamics or forces that drive humans to behave the way they do

Best known psychodynamic theory - Freud's theory of the development of personality

Psychoanalysis - the term used to describe Freud's theory and his method of therapy.

The psychoanalytic perspective - this perspective focuses on explaining human development as an interaction between innate (present at birth, not learned through experience) drives and early experience

Neo - Freudian - agrees with the principles of psychoanalysis but has further adapted the theory, focusing more on the influence of social and cultural factors

(Source: Eysenck, M. W. Topics in A2 Psychology)
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(Source: IBO Diploma Programme, Psychology, For first examinations 2005)

The term “psychodynamic” refers to a wide group of theories that emphasize the overriding influence of instinctive drives and forces, and the importance of developmental experiences in shaping personality. Early in their development, these theories focused solely on the influence of unconscious drives and forces, but they received much criticism and subsequent revision. More recent psychodynamic theory places greater emphasis on conscious experience and its interaction with the unconscious, in addition to the role that social factors play in development. Psychodynamic psychology has occupied a central position in the development of psychology over the last 100 years, and remains an important influence in attempting to understand human behaviour. In an age when empirical research is emphasized, some of the assertions made by psychodynamic theorists have been accepted while others have been rejected. Psychodynamic psychology has produced widespread controversy, as well as new ideas and research.
Psychodynamic theories are in basic agreement that the study of human behaviour should include factors such as internal processes, personality, motivation and drives, and the importance of childhood experiences. Classic theories about the role of unconscious sexual and aggressive drives have been re-evaluated to focus on the conscious experience, resulting in, for example, the birth of ego psychology.
Students should be aware of the revisions to classical psychodynamic theory.

Learning outcomes
Students should expect questions asking them to:
  1. describe and evaluate relevant theories and empirical studies related to psychodynamic psychology (Helena)
  2. explain, where appropriate, how cultural, ethical, gender and methodological considerations may affect the interpretation of behaviour in psychodynamic psychology (Chrissy)
  3. describe and evaluate methodologies used in psychodynamic psychology (Marz)
  4. describe and evaluate applications of research findings and theories in psychodynamic psychology (Charles)
  5. compare and evaluate theories of the influence of childhood experience on human behaviour (Sunwoo and Leslie)
  6. assess the role of both the unconscious and conscious mind in human behaviour. (Max and Brian)

Glassman p. 205


Click here for general definitions of the key terms in this unit.
Keep in mind that these are basic descriptions only.
You need to have your own definitions, with examples, and in the relevant context. Use your own words.

Historical context

See student presentations here

Theories and studies

Can you explain FREUD'S psychoanalytic theory of personality and TWO other theories from this unit?
Can you support your explanation with reference to specific evidence? (1 study for EACH)?

Considering Personality
Click here


Click here

Neo - Freudians

Click here for a basic review of key theorists to help you develop a clear picture
More information may be found in the links below.

Carl Jung
Brian Zhao
Alfred Adler
Charles Lok
Karen Horney
Leslie Chan
Anna Freud
Helena Yeung
Erik Erikson
Chrissy Erickson
Erich Fromm
Sunwoo Park
Melanie Klein
Max Waldman
Donald Winnicott
Marjolein Stevens

Presentation criteria

Gender considerations

Review Freud and gender development
Review also Glassman, pages 353 - 354


You need to be able to
  • explain and discuss at least TWO relevant research methodologies.
  • Identify TWO strengths and TWO limitations for EACH methodology
  • Identify at least ONE example for each methodology that serves as an illustration

You could discuss:
  • Freud's case studies (do not discuss Freud's dream analysis and free association as methodologies, but as part of the case study method)
  • Hall's investigation of the Oedipus complex in dreams
  • Projective tests - click here for overview and analysis
  • Jung's word association method

You should include a discussion of at least TWO of the following:
  • validity
  • reliability
  • whether or not conclusions can be generalized
  • ethical considerations
  • cultural considerations


Case studies
  1. Cross reference with Qualitative notes
  2. Review class notes
  3. Cross reference your notes with Whetham, pages 279 - 280, and page 282 for criticisms
Specific studies
  • Little Hans
  • Anna O

Collecting data from projective tests

Thematic Apperception test (TAT)
  • Quick review
  • Whetham, pages 282 - 283 for specific explanation and criticisms

Word Association

Theories of the influence of childhood experience

You need to know at least TWO theories - Freud and ONE other - please review your packet comparing Freudian and Neo-Freudian theories
Examples are listed below:

  • For summary and explanation - review notes on levels of development
  • sexual tensions in childhood critical for personality development (and personality primarily develops in the first 5 years)
  • cross reference with the explanation for depression using the Psychodynamic approach - review 'Theories and models of depression' packet

Adler and Horney
Adler - Glassman - page 266 - 7
Horney - Glassman - page 269

  • social determinants in childhood critical for personality development

  • goal of early stages of life is to develop relationships of trust with care-givers - theory of psychosocial development
  • see Glassman page 270 for a comparison table with Freud

  • Object relations theory
  • "focused on the relationships between the individual and those to whom there are significant emotional ties (particularly the mother, due to early rearing). According to object-relations theory, the infant's interactions lead to the creation of mental concepts, or 'objects'; distortions in these concpets (such as idealized or faulty expectations of the mother) create the foundation for later problems. Melanie Klein and Donald Winnicott were among the pioneers of this approach." (Glassman & Hadad, page 261)
  • Application to therapy - interpersonal psychotherapy (IPT) is an outgrowth of object relations theory - Glassman & Hadad, page 430

Role of the unconscious and conscious mind

You need to know at least TWO theories
  • Roles of the id, ego and superego
  • 3 levels of cosicousness
  • Insight required to develop and sustain good mental health
  • personal and collective unconscious

  • Focus on conscious rather than unconscious thought
  • conscious strive for perfection


Make sure you can explain ONE application of Freudian theory and ONE application of ONE Neo-Freudian theory


  • Quick review of the general psychoanalytic approach to therapy from Whetham - pages 301 - 303
  • Cross reference with Dysfunctional unit - Depression - focus on the strengths and limitations of this area
  • Add to the big picture - Glassman pages 428 - 430 - evaluates the psychodynamic approach to therapy in relation to the cognitive and humanistic approaches (includes references to specific studies - Sloane et. al. is particularly useful)

Specific application of Freudian theory in therapy
  • Freud and free association
  • Freud and dream analysis
  • see Eysenck reading on the effectiveness of psychodynamic therapy

Specific application of one Neo-Freudian theory in therapy

  • Adler is a useful choice - make sure you use your notes on summarizing the theory so that you provide the background for the therapy
  • See Adler page above
  • Adlerian Play therapy in the context of depression


(if you want to study Klein in relation to application, include a reference to the van Schaik study - you do not have to discuss more than 2 of the limitations outlined in that paper)


Click here for tips and practice questions

Ask yourself

Can you summarize and evaluate psychoanalytic theories in the following areas?
  • Development of personality
  • Influence of childhood experience
  • Role of the unconscious mind
  • Role of the conscious mind

Can you summarize and evaluate 2 applications of psychodynamic theory?

Can you summarize and evaluate 2 methodologies used in the psychodynamic perspective?


Assessment 1