The psychodynamic perspective is a žschool of thought developed by Freud that focuses on how behaviour springs from unconscious drives and conflicts. Freud developed the psychoanalytic theory and founded psychoanalysis, a therapeutic technique that provides insight into unconscious motives and conflicts. Freud’s theories were very controversial and many of them were disproved by other psychologists, however some of his findings and therapeutic techniques have proven useful in real-life applications and are still used today.


Freud’s View of the Mind

Freud believed that the mind was split into three parts. The conscious, the preconscious, and the unconscious mind.

  • The Conscious Mind: consists of thoughts and feelings we are aware of.
  • The Preconscious Mind: holds thoughts and memories that are not in one’s current awareness but can easily be retrieved
  • The Unconscious Mind: the region of the mind that we are unaware of that mostly consists of unacceptable thoughts, wishes, feelings, and memories

Freud believed that the unconscious region constituted 90% of the mind whereas the conscious and preconscious regions each constituted 5% of the mind.


The Psychoanalytic Theory

Freud also proposed that human personality is structured into three parts developed at different stages in life. The id, the ego, and the superego.

  • The Id: the impulsive, unconscious part of our personality which is present at birth. It demands immediate gratification and is governed by the pleasure principle. Concerned with žbasic sexual and aggressive drives
  • The Ego: the conscious, rational part of the mind that develops around the age of two. Aims to balance the demands of the id and the superego in a socially acceptable way and is governed by the reality principle
  • The Superego: develops at around four years of age and embodies the child’s sense of right and wrong. It is developed through identification with one’s parents and role models


Psychosexual Stages of Development

Freud claimed that the three levels of personality develop during five psychosexual stages of development. At each stage, a person’s life force or libido is attached to an organ of the body.

Unresolved conflict at any one of these stages (through fixation) may have a lasting affect on the individual’s personality in later adulthood.

  1. The Oral stage: this is where the libido shifts its focus on to the mouth and pleasure is gained by biting and sucking for example.
  2. The Anal stage: sees the body focus shift onto the anus – and pleasure is gained from bowel and bladder functions.
  3. The Phallic stage: focuses on the genitals and on the parent of the opposite sex.
  4. The Latency stage: nothing much happens in terms of psychosexual development.
  5. The Genital stage: occurs during puberty, when the main source of pleasure returns to the genitals.


  • Much of our behaviour is determined by our unconcious mind
  • Our personality is shaped by our childhood experiences
  • There are 3 parts to our personality (the id, ego and superego) and these are conflicted – resolving this unhealthy conflict is the key to healthy adulthood
  • Behaviour is motivated by unconscious instinctual forces and drives (eros and thanatos – sexual and aggressive drives)

Core Studies

The following studies can be seen to reflect the psychodynamic perspective:

  • Freud (1909)
  • Thigpen and Cleckley (1954)

Evaluation of the approach


+  Explains a wide variety of human phenomenon, such as phobias, memories and mental disorders

+ Often uses the case study method which allows for rich, in-depth data and a detailed analysis of one person

+ Provides many useful practical applications to understand people with mental health problems and has had a huge impact on the world of counselling, psychotherapy and psychiatry


– It is very difficult to test the theory of unconscious drives, whatever is not remembered can be said to be repressed, this is unfalsifiable and therefore explanations may lack validity

– Tends to adopt the case study method which uses unrepresentative samples and therefore findings lack generalisability

– Adopts a reductionist and deterministic view because it does not take into account  other possible reasons for behaviour and rejects the notion of free-will

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