Exploring Psychology: Person Psychology: Psychoanalytic and Humanistic Perspectives

Chapter 9 is on Person psychology: psychoanalytic and humanistic perspectives. It runs to just under 50 pages and is the fourth exam chapter. The topics here are covered in somewhat more depth in D171 Introduction to Counselling.

This is quite a complex chapter which looks first at psychoanalysis then at humanistic approaches before finally comparing the two.

This harks back to the identity chapter in some ways, looking at who we are and how we got to be that way, focusing on subjectivity and our inner selves in general which is somewhat against the grain of present day psychology’s attempts to become more scientific and objective.

Psychoanalysis is very much dependent on the ideas and techniques of Freud which developed out of the deep self-analysis that he conducted towards the end of the 1800s. From this three broad themes emerge: 1) the importance of unconscious feelings and emotions, 2) their origin in early childhood experiences and 3) the importance of unconscious anxiety and inner conflict (psychodynamics). To explore the unconscious he initially used hypnosis but moved on to free association and dream analysis (which tries to map the symbolism within dreams onto real-life objects [see The interpretation of Dreams, 1900]; there are all kinds of issues with this.). In terms of early childhood experiences, he sees us as moving though various levels of pleasure starting with the oral stage (pleasure from sucking 0 to 2 years), moving on to the anal stage (pleasure from pooing at 2-4) before we reach the phallic stage (from 4 to adolescence) with subsequent relationships incorporating, for example, the oral stage through kissing. Oedipal conflict arises during the phallic stage when boys unconsciously find their fathers to be a source of competition for their mother’s affections but it’s been suggested that this really came from
his Jewish background where his father would have been aloof. His account of female development as a consequence of penis envy seems more than a touch flaky. Moving into adulthood the earlier relationships can exhibit transference to adult ones. Allied to that is the idea of fixation on an earlier stage of development e.g. an over-reliance on oral gratification through being fixated on the oral stage leading to chewing sweets, drinking or talking. Psychodynamics moves us on to the consideration of three levels of self and the conflicts that can arise between the id (the basic desire to satisfy biological needs), the ego (the reality testing perceptual level) to the superego (the moralist highest level) e.g.
the id may want sexual gratification, the ego rails that back from a fear of punishment whilst the superego throws guilt into the mix. This conflict leads to angst, is managed through repression and displacement or projection onto another person. These defence mechanisms to avoid internal conflict are largely unconscious e.g. forgetting to pay an annoying bill, or projection of anger onto a doll for young children. There are variations of psychoanalytic theory 1) varying in the driving force e.g. object relations rather than sexuality, 2) variations in how early childhood develops and 3) the role which society plays.

Humanistic psychology considers more of an existential approach i.e. we exist, are conscious and have choice (autonomy) and allows for personal growth. This is centred on our conscious experience of the events going on around us but is an experience which we generally are unaware of, something that makes it difficult to study. Maslow (1973) picked up on the idea of a peak experience: a feeling of delight, meaningfulness and wholeness. Csikszentmihalyi (1992) picked up on flow experiences, the total involvement in something. Kelly (1955) described personal constructs as the way in which we look at the world, consisting of a range of bipolar aspects (e.g. friendly-cold, stimulating-dull) which he displayed  in a repertory grid for an individual that enabled him to model the way that person looked on the world e.g. if they used happy-sad in a similar way to lively-reserved it might indicate how they related to others. Very rigid constructs would indicate that the individual may have difficulties in relationships. He considered that our experiences are open to reinterpretation: constructive alternativism. Extentialists consider that we have situated freedom i.e. we have a great deal of freedom to choose who we wish to be, albeit situated within a range of constraints; they refer to acknowledgement of this situation as authentic. We all have Frankl’s will to meaning, the feeling of importance in finding a purpose and direction for our lives, through actions, experience, love or fortitude. Moving along, Maslow (1954) introduced his model of needs ranging from physical at the bottom of his pyramid to self-actualisation at the top although there are issues with his selection of people e.g. those making full use of their talents would be likely to devote themselves to this work. Rogers looked more at how we might reach self-actualisation through personal growth. He considered that our sense of self rests on our own experience and our evaluations by others and developed person-centred counselling to get around the problems of conditional evaluations by others and operates by way of unconditional regard. Humanistic psychology takes a holistic approach which encompasses methods such as encounter groups, gestalt therapy (lots of role-playing) and psychosynthesis with current developments such as positive psychology.

How do psychoanalysis and humanistic psychology compare? In looking at subjective experience, psychoanalysis considers the unconscious and uses a lot interpretation whereas humanists considers the conscious and analyses the information e.g. through repertory grids. In terms of autonomy, psychoanalysis considers that we are a result of our childhood experiences whereas humanists consider that we have a lot of opportunity for personal growth and change. To change, psychoanalysis reveals how we got to be at this point whereas humanists consider that we are our own agents in getting here (psychoanalysis would say that without the deep understanding, changes will be superficial). Criticism of psychoanalysis is mainly in terms of it being subjective and non-scientific.

For the exam, the key topics for this chapter are:

Defence mechanism(s)
Personal constructs
Oedipal conflict

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