Humanistic And Psychodynamic Perspectives Psychology Essay

Psychology has been influenced by many schools and theorists it is always developing, growing and changing with society. In this essay I will identify, outline and compare two psychological theories. The theories I have chosen are humanistic theory founded by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow and psychoanalytic theory founded by Sigmund Freud and influenced by Carl Jung. I will be comparing these two theories, look at the conflicting differences between them and I will give my opinion in where I feel they sit in the Nature versus Nurture debate. I will discuss how both theories can be applied to social work as well as considering the cross cultural aspects and the implications of both theories in relation to indigenous peoples and gender.

The humanistic school was founded later than the other two dominant schools of psychology, which are behaviour and psychoanalytic. Humanistic theory is often referred as the third force in psychology. (Humanism, n.d, para.2 and 3). Humanistic theorists felt that behaviourists focused too heavy on the behaviour of animals while the psychoanalytic theorists focused too heavily on the unconscious mind. The humanistic theory focuses on an individual’s uniqueness. The humanistic perspective suggests that people are naturally good and strongly highlights self-actualisation with a majority of individuals choosing goal directed, adaptive and self-actualising behaviours. Theorists of humanistic perspective emphasise the idea that an individual has free will and is capable of choosing their own actions. (Approaches to Psychology, n.d., para. 1). It represents a positive view of human experience. Humanistic theory focuses on the element of the personality that are human based not animal or plant based. There are two well known theorists that have contributed to humanistic theory Carl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow.

Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987) was an American Psychologist. He was considered one of the founding fathers of humanistic theory. He was well known for his “person centred approach”. He excelled in various areas such as student learning therapy and client centred therapy. In 1956 the American Psychological Association recognised his work and research and awarded him with the distinguished scientific contributions award and in 1972 he was given the award for distinguished professional contributions to psychology he was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. (Carl Rogers, n.d, para. 1 and 2).

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was an American Psychologist. He created a theory of self-actualisation called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Built up like a pyramid Maslow stated that when an individual has ascended to the top of the five levels he/she has reached self-actualisation. The five levels are physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem and self actualisation. (Abraham Maslow, n.d, para. 1 and 10).

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the founding father of psychoanalytic theory, he is regarded to be one of the most influential theorist’s of the 20th century but he was also the most controversial and criticised theorist especially his Psychosexual development theory which Freud believed to be the foundation of development he outline five stages, Oral stage, Anal stage, phallic stage, latency stage and genital stage. Some of the people who were critical of some of his theories were his fellow psychoanalytic theorists such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler who stated that Freud had over emphasised sexual instincts. (Sigmund Freud, n.d, para. 1 and 2).

The underlying principles of psychodynamic perspective is that an individual’s “behaviour is largely the result of unconscious processes, motivation and early experiences.” (Weston, Burton & Kowalski, 2005, p. 25). Psychoanalytic theorists emphasise that a child’s early experiences with their parents largely shapes development, behaviour and personality. Freud’s unconscious mind theory includes the famous iceberg metaphor. The tip of the iceberg being the conscious mind (what we are aware of) and the bottom of the iceberg which is largely hidden under the water’s surface is what Freud believed to be the unconscious mind (deplorable urges, feelings and thoughts). (Weston, Burton & Kowalski, 2005, p. 12). Freud believed that the human personality was split into three parts the id, the superego and the ego. The id sits in the unconscious and it operates under impulse and impatience. The super ego is unconscious and it is the part that controls guilt as well as our sense of right and wrong. The ego is conscious and is the balancing and rationalising part of the mind it has to balance impulses of the id and the guilt of the super ego. (Santrock, 2008, p. 40)

In the Nature versus Nurture debate, humanistic theory is considered Nurture because a person’s behaviour is learnt from the environment which surrounds them as well as choice and free will. Psychoanalytic theory is considered Nature because it focuses on the behaviour of conscious and the unconscious mind.

Humanistic and psychodynamic perspectives are the complete opposite of each other.

Humanistic theory is centred around behaviour and mental process they criticised psychoanalytic theorists of being too focussed on the unconscious mind. (Theoretical perspectives in psychology, n.d, para. 3). Humanistic theory focuses on the positive influences of behaviour such as uniqueness, choice, self actualisation and free will while psychodynamic focuses on the negative influences of behaviour such as unacceptable sexual urges and deplorable thoughts. Humanistic theory emphasises that people are born “good” and psychodynamic theory emphasises that people are born ‘bad’ and that everything people do has a selfish motive. (Theoretical perspectives in psychology, n.d, para. 2). Humanistic theorists emphasise that an individual has free will and choice and that an individual is influenced by the environment in which surrounds them. Psychodynamic theory emphasises that an individual has very little free will and very little self control and reject the idea of free will. Psychodynamic theory focuses on the individuals ‘dark side,’ the unconscious mind. Psychodynamic theorists believe that it is the force of the unconscious mind that shapes personality. The humanistic perspective focuses on how human behaviour can be changed or modified through self actualisation. “They emphasise the central role of consciousness in shaping our behaviours, assuming that personal experience is a powerful medium for people to become more self aware and self directed in life.” (Westen, Burton & Kowalski, 2006, p. 17). Whereas the psychodynamic approach is that adult personality can’t be changed it is set from a young age. (Theoretical perspectives in psychology, n.d, para. 2). The approach humanistic therapist or clinicians take is through empathy, warmth and respect. It is very person centred. The approach psychodynamic clinician would take is to interpret meanings through verbalised thought and behaviour. They would observe posture, fantasies and dreams which could be referred to as the study of the mind not the study of the person and their environment.

The social work profession is largely influenced by the humanistic approach. As Carl Rogers famously stated “It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried.” (, n.d, para. 3). As a social worker in Aotearoa we work with a range of cultures and practice in a non judgemental way. The humanistic approach could be used across a range of cultures and still be highly effective for the client. As a social worker it is our job to work with clients not be the experts and the humanistic approach allows the client to reflect on the situation to find the answers instead of us telling them what they should change. The humanistic approach would be for the social worker to find out how the client perceives themselves and work with the client to recognise their inner strengths and potential in order for the client to achieve self direction, responsibilities and growth. Another humanistic model can be applied to social work through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. This model would be very effective not only for the client but for the social worker, as they can get a clear understanding of what is going on in the clients

life for example financial stability, housing, safety, children’s well being, domestic violence and how the client maybe coping in general. (Humanistic theories, n.d, para. 2).

The psychodynamic approach in the application to social work would be allowing the client to talk about the situation in depth and the social worker listening, making notes and asking open questions to explore the situation more in depth. The psychodynamic approach focuses on the unconscious that are shown through the client behaviour and the client understanding how past experiences influence their present behaviour. (Psychodynamic therapy, n.d, para. 1). The psychodynamic approach helps the client to realise and explore their feelings which have been repressed into the unconscious mind. (Good therapy, n.d, para. 1).

Social workers in Aotearoa work with a range of cultures therefore as practitioners we need to be culturally aware and sensitive. Not all psychological theories will fit with every culture or gender, we as social workers must consider the barriers to the application of different theories to different cultures. For example Psychoanalytic is a male established and driven theory which feminist’s may see as offensive because in their view they may see it as degrading also a lot of indigenous cultures work as a collective whereas Western culture is centred around ‘survival of the fittest,’ the individual and because psychoanalytic focuses on the individual not the family it could be seen as highly offensive so it would be inappropriate and offensive to apply this theory in these two situations. Humanistic theory can be applied to a large range of cultures easily because of person centred approach; this theory is more adaptable to the collective family approach as well as the individual approach but its down side is that this theory was designed, established and tested on white middle class males the practitioner would have to keep that in mind when applying this theory in practice with different cultures.

In conclusion to this essay I have identified, outlined and compared two completely different theories, it has been established within this essay that humanistic and psychoanalytic are two very conflicting theories with very different ideas and methods but both are two very influential schools within psychology. The theorists I have mentioned Sigmund Freud, Carl Rodgers and Abraham Maslow without a doubt heavily shaped and influenced psychology in their own ways. Both theories have very different approaches but both emphasise the importance of how adult behaviour is established by early childhood environment and experiences. In the application of social work this essay explains how humanistic theory is a positive more empathetic approach, it is “person centred” with the person reflecting and searching for answers whereas psychoanalytic approach focuses on the negative, the deep unconscious thoughts and is expert orientated. I have also considered cross cultural aspects of both theories and explained the implications in relation to gender issues such as feminism and race issues such as indigenous people and how applying these theories to different culture or gender may influence ineffective intervention.

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