What are some examples of psychodynamic theories

Behavioral and Psychodynamic Models


There are both behavioral and psychodynamic models that deal with health and illness of the psyche. The behavioral models deal specifically with behavior and cognitions and the extent to which these are controlled by learning processes and can affect psychological well-being. The psychodynamic models according to Sigmund Freud, on the other hand, describe the various personality instances and states of consciousness that can conflict with one another. Sometimes people counter these conflicts with defense mechanisms.

Behavior models

The behavior models examine the relationship between environmental influences and thoughts and the resulting changes in behavior. While the learning theory model sees the reactions of the environment as the basis for a person's behavior, the cognitive model assumes that the thoughts and evaluation patterns of the individual person influence their behavior and well-being. The cognitive-behavioral model combines both approaches.

Learning theory model

  • Basic assumption: behavior is largely learned
    • Behavior can be functional (productive) or dysfunctional (not productive)
    • Dysfunctional behavior can contribute to and perpetuate mental illness
    • However, the behavior can also be unlearned again
  • Examples of learning theories

Cognitive model

  • Basic assumption: situations and events are evaluated and interpreted. This evaluation and interpretation has an impact on the feeling and state of mind of the individual.
    • The (negative) assessment of a situation can contribute to the development of mental illness

Cognitive-behavioral model

  • Basic assumption: Both learning processes and the cognitive evaluation of events are important in the development of mental illness
    • Combination of the learning theory and the cognitive model

Psychodynamic models

The doctor Sigmund Freud developed the so-called psychodynamic models (also called "psychoanalysis"): the topographical model and the structural model. These two models describe on the one hand the location of the psychological processes (topographical model) and on the other hand three personality instances that should normally be in a dynamic equilibrium (structural model). If this equilibrium is mixed up, according to Freud, mental illnesses can develop.

Topographic model

The topographical model relates to the location of the psychological events and describes three different states of consciousness in the human psyche.

  • States of consciousness
    • The conscious: Immediately accessible information and thoughts
    • The preconscious: information that can be called up from memory and that runs automatically, such as driving a car
    • The unconscious: Inaccessible information, such as sexual and aggressive instinctual wishes

Structural model

The structural model divides the three instances of personality ("it", "I" and "superego"), which are in a dynamic equilibrium.

  • Personality instances
    • It ("the shoots")
      • Always unconscious
      • Location of the primary drives (sex drive and aggression drive)
      • Oldest instance (exists from birth)
      • Works according to the pleasure principle: gain pleasure and avoid discomfort
    • Superego ("the conscience")
      • Can be conscious, unconscious, or preconscious
      • Seat of values, norms and moral ideas → This often leads to conflicts with the (pleasure-oriented) "It"
    • I ("the mediator")
      • Mostly conscious (but can also be unconscious or preconscious)
      • Seat of reality (logical actions, orientation to real conditions)
      • Works as a mediator between the "id" and the "super-ego" → For this the "ego" uses so-called defense mechanisms

Defense mechanisms (psych.)

There are various defense mechanisms that the "I" uses to mediate between the drives of the "id" and the conscience of the "superego". The "I" uses these defense mechanisms to resolve conflicts. They are part of normal behavior and only become pathological if they are used too often or too dogmatically.

Defense MechanismExplanation
displacementSuppression of an inner drive, a perception or a fantasy with shifting the conscious into the unconscious
denialNot wanting to admit an external reality
insulationThe emotional separation from an event

Unwanted / unpleasant drive impulses or actions resulting from them are given a rational meaning afterwards

Reaction formationPartly unconscious transformation / replacement of a socially unaccepted drive or desire into the exact opposite desired / accepted by society
shiftEmotions are shifted to another person
projectionWhen projecting one's own feelings, desires and dislikes are projected onto another person. Often this is based on a dissatisfaction with oneself, which is however "left out" on another person
Conversion (psychology)Psychological conflicts are transformed into physical symptoms
sublimationPrimitive instinctual impulses (psycho-sexual energy) and socially prohibited instinctual wishes are converted into "higher value" social and cultural achievements
UndoAn attempt is made to undo a past event by doing something about it afterwards, but this is ineffective
IntellectualizationIn intellectualization, the patient abstracts an immediate conflict to such an extent that it no longer seems so concrete to him

Development of mental disorders

According to the psychodynamic models, mental disorders arise from an internal psychological conflict between "id" impulses and "superego". So instincts are in conflict with moral values. However, in the healthy case there is mediation between the two personality instances through the "I" (reality principle). Only in the absence of mediation will the conflict be suppressed and shifted into the unconscious so that the conflict becomes clinically relevant.

Primary and secondary gain from disease according to S. Freud

The psychodynamic models can be used to describe the advantages associated with an illness. A distinction is made here between the primary gain from illness and the secondary gain from illness. With the primary gain from illness, the existing conflicts between "id" and "superego" and thus the tensions of the "ego" take a back seat through them receives attention and compassion.

  • Primary gain from illness: According to Freud, conflicts between “id” and “superego” can lead to illnesses developing - the conflicts then present themselves, so to speak, in the illness. Because a symptom has formed, the conflicts and thus the tension of the “I” lose intensity and take a back seat. The symptom works like a kind of valve.
  • Secondary gain from illness: Secondary gain from illness is understood to be the experience of positive aspects of being ill
    • Financial relief: The patient experiences financial relief, for example by receiving a disability pension
    • Increased social affection: The patient is, for example, more cared for within the family
    • Release from role obligations: For example, the patient does not have to fulfill his role as an employee for the time being

Review questions for the chapter behavioral and psychodynamic models

Psychodynamic models

Name the three personality instances after Freud and briefly explain their respective main functions!

According to the psychodynamic model of illness, what is the cause of the development of mental disorders?

Explain the principle of conflict and defense in psychoanalytic theory!

Describe the defense mechanism of repression and give an example!

Explain the terms rationalization and sublimation!

What is the name of the defense mechanism in which an emotional separation from an event takes place?

What is the difference between projection and displacement?

In which defense mechanism does the actual feelings behave in exactly the opposite direction?

What is meant by secondary gain from illness and in what form can it express itself?


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