In this essay I will be evaluating the three psychological theories known as Psychoanalytic Theory, Behaviourism and Humanistic Theory. I will describe each of the 3 theories and discuss their strengths and limitations, and what each theory aimed to do.
Psychoanalytic theory is the theory of personality development that guides psychoanalysis and is a particular therapy that aims to help with repressed emotions and memories (Mcleod 2007). It is also a clinical method for treating psychopathology, which is the scientific method for treating mental health disorders, (Oxford Dictionaries, English, 2019). The theory began with Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century. This theory is based on the belief that an individual is moved by the unseen powers that are controlled by the conscious and rational thought. Freud believed human behaviour consists of three different components in the mind. These are the ID, Ego and Super ego. The ID is the primitive part of the mind that wants immediate gratification, it contains the sexual and aggressive drives and is the unconscious part of the mind that doesn’t give much thought to what is right and wrong. The Ego is the logical and the conscious part of the mind which balances the demands of the ID and the super Ego. And the Super Ego is the ethical constraint, it relates to the moral values we learn as we mature. As we grow in society our Super Ego helps us differentiate between right and wrong. Freud believed these three components of the mind are always in conflict as the primary goal is different for each stage. Freudian slips are an example of the unconscious conflicting with the conscious, Freud described these ‘slip of the tongue’ as unconscious thoughts, beliefs or wishes.
Unlike other theories of that time, Psychoanalytic Theory relied on, and was based on experimental psychology. This theory has been able to explain aspects of the human personality and has led to more theories as time went on. Based on Freud’s findings it allowed for a new perspective on mental health and illnesses, it also helped people to see that talking about their problems with professionals could help their symptoms. Though Freud had positive results not everyone is willing to go through therapy as it is time consuming and doesn’t provide answers quickly. Patients also have to be prepared to invest not just time but money into therapy, and that unfortunately is not possible for all. Therapy can also lead to patients reliving some painful and unpleasant memories that have been repressed, which in some cases can lead to more distress. Freud helped a lot of patients in his time and a lot of patients benefited from this therapy but therapy does not work for all people and all types of disorders.
Behaviourism refers to a psychological approach which emphasizes scientific and objective methods of investigation. The approach is only concerned with observable stimulus-response behaviours, and states all behaviours are learned through interaction with the environment. The Behaviourist movement started in 1913 when John Watson wrote an article entitled ‘Psychology as the behaviourist views it,’ which brought to light a number of assumptions regarding methodology and behavioural analysis. Behaviourism can also be referred to as Behavioural Psychology, which is a theory of learning, based on the thought that all behaviour occurs through conditioning. We learn new behaviour through classical or operant conditioning. This can also be known as learning theory. Behaviourists believed that we were born with a mind as a blank slate (tabula rasa) and that our surroundings and environment shape us. John B Watson (1920) conducted a study using classical conditioning on a child known as ‘Little Albert’. In this case study you can see how classical conditioning can create an emotional response. In the study they used the white rat amongst other items as a neutral stimulus, the loud noise as the unconditioned stimulus and then the unconditioned response was fear which lead to the white rat being the conditioned stimulus. ‘Little Albert’ soon feared not just the white rat but anything resembling it. Today the Little Albert experiment would be highly unethical as it did not protect Albert from psychological harm as the purpose was to induce fear. Though highly unethical it did identify the similarities between animals and humans and that classical conditioning can occur in humans.
There are many advantages and disadvantages to Behaviourism. One advantage of Behaviourism’s is its way of defining behaviour clearly and how it can measure changes in behaviour. Behaviourism looks for simple reasons that can explain human behaviour from a scientific standpoint. However, Behaviourism only provides a partial account of human behaviour, it only considers what is observable and measurable, it doesn’t take into account emotions, thoughts, moods or expectations. Behaviourists accept the existence of cognitions and emotions but they prefer not to study them since only observable behaviour can be scientifically measured. Humanistic psychology assumes humans have free will to make decisions in life, unlike what proponents of behaviourism believe. Freud also rejects this theory as it does not take into account the importance of the unconscious mind and how the unconscious mind influences our behaviour. Freud also rejected the idea that humans are born ‘tabula rasa’, which means blank slate (Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2019). Freud believed we are born with instincts. Despite the criticisms from Freud et al, Behaviourism has had a significant impact on psychology and has brought many contributions to psychology. These include awareness into language development, learning and gender development.
The Humanistic approach in psychology is a perspective that emphasises looking at the whole self. Humanism was developed as a rebellion against behaviourists and psychodynamic psychology and is sometimes referred to as the ‘third force in psychology, after psychoanalysis and behaviourism (Maslow, 1968). Humanistic Psychology rejected the psychodynamic approach because it is deterministic and relies a lot on the unconscious driving a lot of our behaviour. Humanists regard this as dehumanising. Humanism focuses on the individual and stresses how important self-growth is and how important the potential to reach self-actualisation is. Rogers and Maslow believed it was human motive to want to become ones best self, meaning each person in different ways wants to grow psychologically and continuously enhance themselves throughout life. Humans are always looking for ways to grow, learn new skills and to become better in hope of self-actualisation. (Maslow,1943) stated that people are motivated to achieve certain needs, and Maslow went on to create the hierarchy of needs. Maslow introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs in his paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ 1943 and his other book Motivation and Personality.
The hierarchy of needs consist of a 5-tier model of human needs. The bottom of the hierarchy includes basic needs, you must achieve these basic needs before being able to progress upwards towards the psychological needs. Once you have met the psychological needs it progresses towards self-actualisation which is where you achieve your full potential. Maslow believed only 2% of people reach self-actualisation (Mcleod, 2018). Carl Rogers (1902-1987) was also a humanist and agreed with the beliefs of Maslow but argued that for a person to grow they will need to have an environment that provides them with genuineness, acceptance and empathy, without these, healthy personalities and relationships will not develop as they should. Rogers (1946) believed that every person could achieve their goals, wishes, dreams and when they did so self-actualisation would take place.
Critics of the humanist theory argue that the approach is unscientific and too subjective. They argue that the very notion of free will is in direct conflict with the scientific rigour and predictability of science. In short, critics argue that observations are unverifiable, and that one cannot accurately measure or quantify results. In contrast proponents of the Humanist approach argue that it is precisely this ‘unscientific’ approach that allows a deeper understanding of individual motivations through the adoption of deeper more qualitative research.
In conclusion, we do not have to think of Psychoanalytical Theory, Behaviourism, and the Humanistic Theory as mutually exclusive or competing theories. Each theory has both positive and negative elements. To gain a greater understanding of Psychology, elements of each theory have significant insights that need to be considered. At the same time each theory has influenced Psychology and contributed to our understanding of the human mind, mental health, motivation and behaviour. From an ethical perspective we have come a long way in Psychology since the early studies outlined in this essay. Today Psychology has a Code of Ethics and Conduct, which is designed to help and guide members in how they approach research and investigations, and to protect its subjects from unethical research methodologies.
- Oxford Dictionaries | English. (2019). psychopathology | Definition of psychopathology in English by Oxford Dictionaries. [online] Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/psychopathology [Accessed 20 Jan. 2019].
- McLeod, S. (2007). Psychoanalysis | Simply Psychology. [online] Simplypsychology.org. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/psychoanalysis.html [Accessed 22 Jan. 2019].
- Oxford Dictionaries | English. (2019). tabula rasa | Definition of tabula rasa in English by Oxford Dictionaries. [online] Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/tabula_rasa [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].
- Mcleod, S. (2018). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [online] Simply Psychology. Available at: https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html [Accessed 29 Jan. 2019].