The Psychoanalytic Approach
The Psychoanalytic Approach to psychology is rooted in the theory that behavior is merely a symptom of an underlying cause. Psychoanalytic theories are among the oldest in psychology with the most famous and respected theories being those of the great Sigmund Freud and the later Erik Erikson.
Freud was the first to introduce his theory of the id, the ego and the superego sometime around 1917. In Freud's theory the id represents our instincts and is completely subconscious. As we grow and develop the ego emerges. The ego is the part of the personality that represents our decision-making. This ego has no sense of right or wrong. If the ego decides that a stomach is hungry then it will tell the mind to grab an apple regardless of the consequences. As we grow and develop we begin to have a conscience, this is the part of the personality that is called the superego. The superego constantly resolves conflict between the id and the ego. When the conflict becomes too great we begin to exhibit defense mechanisms. These defense mechanisms are what alter our behavior (Santrock, 2008).
Another important aspect of Freud's theory is his stages of development, which are deeply rooted in the human sexual impulses. It is this element of Freud's theory that has evoked staunch criticism over the years. According to Freud, if one does not move smoothly through all of these psychosexual stages then they will develop a conflict within themselves and their development will become stagnated at one of the five stages (Santrock, 2008).
Erik Erikson is another prominent psychoanalyst who came along in the 1950s. Erikson believed that our personality unfolds throughout our lifespan. According to Erikson's theory there are eight stages of development each having a crisis that must be resolved. Freud's developmental stages were considered psychosexual while Erikson's stages were considered psychosocial (Santrock, 2008).
Humanistic Psychology is an approach that focuses on a persons values and intentions. It is these values and intentions that are said to motivate behavior. In the 1950's, one of the founders of the Humanistic perspective, psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the term self-actualization (Harnish, 2001).
According to Maslow, we have five levels of psychological needs that revolve around a healthy self-esteem and lead us on a continuum until we reach our full potential: self-actualization. He titles these a "Hierarchy of Needs" as it is these needs that form our values and intentions and thus drive our behavior. Maslow's theory is based on five levels (Green, 2000).
Physiological needs are our basic human needs for survival. These are food, sleep, water, and oxygen. If someone is living day-to-day struggling just to eat, until these needs are met they will never be able to continue the path to growth, but when these needs are supplied we can indeed proceed on the path toward self-actualization (Green, 2000).
The next basic human need on the continuum is safety. The security of a steady job and a roof over our heads are again needs that we each must have met before we can become a whole person. When these basic needs are not met, a cycle of cause and effect results as the person is caught up in his or her need driven quest to meet the physiological or safety criteria on the "Hierarchy of Needs (Green, 2000)."
Climbing further on the continuum we find the need of love and a sense of belonging. We each have a deep need inside of us to be loved and to belong to something bigger than ourselves. This is where, I believe the Bible meets Abraham Maslow. We were each created with a place inside of our hearts that can only be satisfied by a relationship with a real and loving God (Fuller, 2008).
Further up the continuum is the need of Esteem; esteem being defined as self-esteem, confidence, achievement and respect. These are all psychological necessities that few people ever truly attain. All to many people go through life struggling just to meet the basic physiological and safety needs in life never reaching the level at which self-esteem is even found. It is at this level of esteem where people are truly able to achieve everything that God has planned for their lives. It is the people who reach this level who are able to develop the virtue and character to change the world for the better (Fuller, 2008).
Self-Actualization is the final stage in Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. According to Abraham Maslow self-actualization is reached when we become moral, creative, realistic, tolerant people (Green, 2000).
To some extent I agree with Maslow's definition of self-actualization, however I do not agree that once we have attained it we will be completely self-actualized. Once we become Christians, we are constantly on a continuum of growth between the levels of esteem and self-actualization with complete self-actualization never taking place until the day that we meet our Lord and Savior face to face (Fuller, 2008).
The Psychoanalytic Approach comes from the perspective that all behavior stems from a conflict that was unresolved in some stage of one's development, while the Humanistic Approach views these same behaviors as being driven by needs values and intentions. Both approaches in general agree that behavior is often a result of our subconscious thought. It is at this point that my experience brings in the perspective of Behaviorism.
According to behaviorism we can only study what we can see, a persons observable behavior. It is this observable behavior from which all development is learned. Pavlov was one of the first behaviorists. His theory of classical conditioning maintains that our fears are simply responses to our previous experiences. Skinner took this theory a step further when he studied operant conditioning. Skinner did many studies to show how behavior is positively affected by reward and negatively affected by punishment (Santrock, 2008).
While I strongly agree with the psychoanalyst perspective that says that behavior is merely a symptom of an underlying emotion or subconscious thought, I cannot discredit the role that Behaviorism has played in our knowledge of how to help one change his or her behavior. My life experience leads me to fundamentally agree with the Psychoanalysts, my faith requires the consideration of the Humanist and Behaviorism is what reconciles the two.
It all looks something like this. An individual experiences a traumatic event in childhood that stagnates their growth and development. The individual is plagued with guilt and emotional turmoil well into adulthood. That same individual comes to know the Lord Jesus Christ and it is that newly acquired faith that begins to challenge the values and beliefs that they hold dear. As the values and beliefs begin to experience resistance and the heart begins to soften, the memories begin to play out and defense mechanisms are triggered. The individual begins to realize that their personal behaviors do not line up with what God's Word is asking of them. How does a human being control those behaviors? They identify the hurts that are causing the conflicts in the subconscious and target the behaviors that are stemming from them. As a person or counselor uses psychoanalytic techniques to identify the hurts they can begin to resolve emotional attachments with forgiveness. Once the emotion is no longer attached to the subconscious thought, the behavior can easily be replaced with a new and healthy habit.
Taking this application a step further and bringing in the psychosocial stages of Erik Erikson one can reason that if an individual's development was stagnated at one of the stages and he or she were able to move past that stage using this eclectic approach then that individual could indeed move onto the next stage of development. If the technique were applied repeatedly then someone who had not matured past adolescence (assuming that there was not a biological cause) could indeed become a mature functioning adult.
In conclusion, my life experience leads me to believe that an eclectic approach to therapy that includes the practices of Psychoanalyst, Humanism and Behaviorism is the most effective and permanent type of approach.
Fuller, C. (2008). Self-Actualization: Living Up to Your Full Potential.
Green, Chris. (2000). A Theory of Human Motivation. Classics in the History of
Harnish, John. Wockholtz, Bruce. (2001). Humanistic Psychology Overview.
Association for Humanistic Psychology.
Santrock, John W. (2008). Life-Span Development. New York: McGraw Hill.