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Sunday, October 16, 2011

The psychoanalytic model of abnormality

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Discuss the Psychoanalytic Model of Abnormality.


All theories of human behaviour that claim to be psychoanalytic in nature adhere to a number of basic claims put forward by Sigmund Freud earlier last century. In its simplest form Psychoanalysis suggests that the conscious behaviour of any individual is in essence determined not by their conscious decisions and intentions but instead by motives and processes that operate below the level of conscious awareness. Essentially then this means that an individual does not always know why they behave the way that they do since being unconscious, their motives are inaccessible to them. In attempting to comprehend behaviour psychoanalytic theory encourages us to consider the view that our conscious actions are merely symbolic representations of our unconscious motives and processes. Therefore in order to comprehend behaviour it is necessary to establish what that behaviour might be symbolizing for a person at a deeper sub-conscious level...this is essentially the basis of Psychotherapy...the treatment for abnormality according to this model.


By considering the symbolic content of his patient’s behaviour and recollections Freud claims to have identified a recurring theme of either trauma or abuse occuring in early childhood. Since his patients had no concious recollection of these experiences Freud suggested that they had become locked away in the sub-conscious and made unavailable for conscious experience. According to Freud early experience of trauma had undergone repression but were finding symbolic expression as neurotic behaiour. As a solution the model assumes that a person must gain insight into their repressed trauma. When the person becomes consciously aware of their own repressed conflicts they are, as a adult, in a much better position to come to deal wit it in a more rational way.


As a model of abnormality, psychoanalysis relies heavily on the assumption that repression does indeed exist as a process. Levinger and Clarke showed how recall for threatening words (at least in the short term) was significantly less than for neutral words. This has sometimes been regarded as evidence for a repression like process taking place. However we must consider the fact that over a much longer time period, Eysenk discovered the opposite effect i.e. that threatening words had the better recall. It is also doubtful whether we can make comparisons between threatening words and real experiences such as abuse.


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Perhaps the most serious issue with this model is the reliance it places upon subjective interpretations. In their analysis, the psychotherapist can not be certain that the patients accounts are valid nor can anyone be sure that their interpretation will be meaningful. Some professionals have suggested that psychotherapy may come with its own expectations and that whatever trauma/experience is pieced together is essentially a false memory that becomes conesually validated.


As a course of therapy, psychotherapy is neither quick nor inexpensive. Both the time and the financial commitment must surely play a role in the acceptance of a therapists interpretation and play a role in what have become known as “iatragenic” illnesses, i.e. illnesses or conditions that are essentially the a product of the therapy itself. It also highlights another issue with the model. Rather than nurturing an attitude of self-reliance and autonomy, psychotherapy tends to encourage dependency and reliance on the therapist as a source of answers and insight. Finally we must consider the fact that the central aim of psychotherapy i.e. to allow repressed traumas to once again become conscious, may not be a healthy experience in itself indeed it may cause considerable anxiety for the patient. One tends to assume that the therapist is in a position to sensibly weigh this risk up against the value of “insight”. However this is not guaranteed to be the case despite a professional code of conduct.


In summary then, the psychoanalytic model assumes that current abnormality is caused by the repression of sub-conscious needs and anxieties. Psychotherapy aims to make these conflicts once again conscious i.e. to gain “insight”. The main limitation of this approach is it’s reliance upon a therapist’s subjective interpretations and the potential for creating iatragenic illnesses as patients come to rely so heavily on the therapist.





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