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Describe and Evaluate Psychodynamic, Behaviourist and Humanist Theory of Psychology

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Describe and Evaluate Psychodynamic, Behaviourist and Humanist Theory of Psychology Psychology is a relatively new science, having only been officially recognised for a hundred years or so. In this short time there have been many different theories and approaches. In this essay three of the main approaches are discusses and positive and negative ideas of the three are given. The three approaches in discussion are Psychodynamics, Behaviourism and Humanism. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) developed an approach to psychology referred to as psychoanalysis. Other psychologists refer to Freud's theories as psychodynamics of the mind. Freud believed that different mental forces operate in the mind. He expanded his ideas to state that conflicting mental forces can cause inner conflict. Freud believed that a large amount of the processes that occur in the mind happen on an unconscious level. Freud believed that many people were unaware of the thoughts and processes of the mind. Freud argued that slips of the tongue and accidental damage caused by a person had roots in the unconscious and were expressing themselves without the subject being aware. Freud would argue that when a child accidently calls a teacher 'mum' the child unconsciously relates to the teacher as a mother. This mistake is termed a Freudian slip. Freud states that thoughts and memories were held in the unconscious by a defence mechanism called repression. This is the process by which a traumatic memory or experience is forgotten by the conscious mind and held in the unconscious mind.


Skinner highlighted his theories with experiments on animals, mainly rats. Skinner devised an experiment in which a rat was put into a box where the pressing of a lever would release food for the rat to eat. The stimulus of hunger, led to the behaviour of pressing the bar, lead to the reward of food. The pressing of a bar for food is not normal rat behaviour so the rat had to be taught to do so. This showed that the rat pressed the bar for food, meaning that the rat had to operate on its environment to gain either reward or punishment. If the reward comes every time for the behaviour then the behaviour is permanently learnt, or 'stamped in'. (Skinner, 1953) Ivan Pavlov developed classical conditioning. The main difference between classical conditioning and operant conditioning is that classical conditioning concerns itself with behaviour that an animal already has. Pavlov conditioned a dog that already salivated at the sight of food to also salivate at the sound of a bell. This was achieved by Pavlov ringing a bell when ever the dog was about to be given food. This meant that the dog became conditioned to salivate at the sound of the bell (stimulus) to receive its food (reward). Pavlov and more so Skinner regard all behaviour as a product of the environment, as highlighted in these two experiments.


(Rogers, 1951) Humanism promotes the idea that humans have free will to choose how they act and behave, the idea of personal responsibility and the idea that humans do not just passively respond to environmental stimuli. The approach also recognises a person as having their own needs as an individual. The humanist approach adds validity to the subjective experience and feelings of the here and now. Humanism rejects the scientific approach as this does not allow for thoughts and feelings to be taken into account. This has meant that little objective evidence is available. Humanists believe that the lack of objective material is not relevant as long as people benefit from the humanist approach to therapy, and lead better lives. (Pennington, 2002) Having looked at the three main approaches to psychology it can be seen that all three have differing views and approaches to the psychology field. Behaviourism is the more scientific approach that enabled the study of the mind to stand up against other sciences. Freud and psychodynamics was the first force of psychology that has got Freud the nickname 'godfather of psychology'. Rogers drew on both behaviourism and psychodynamics to come up with theories of the 'whole' self. The study of the mind can not be categorised into just one field of study. To truly understand the psychology of the human psyche one must use all three approaches and even add their own interpretation to this ever expanding field of study. Can we ever truly understand our own mind? The search goes on.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

4 star(s)

This is a very good account of the three different approaches in psychology. The writer appears to have a clear understanding of all them.

The writer could have included a section on 'Maslow' who is also an influential humanist who is known for his 'hierarchy of needs' pyramid. However, apart from this and the comments made, the essay could achieve full marks with a little adjustment.

Start rating 4*

Marked by teacher Linda Penn 14/10/2013

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