Good Essay On Psychodynamic And Humanistic Theories

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Psychology, Theory, People, Personality, Relationships, Life, Behavior, Development

Pages: 5

Words: 1375

Published: 2021/02/22

The study of human behavior is one of the most fascinating of all the sciences. What makes people think, feel and act the way they do? Why do some people traverse life with ease while others struggle with patterns of behavior that sabotage their happiness? What makes one person violent and antisocial and another agreeable and a team player? Why do some people with all the worldly possessions imaginable including a supportive and loving family fall into the depths of depression while others lacking even the most necessary of human needs seem to maintain a zest for life? And how do the people who seem to be missing out on a thriving life figure out how to live better? These are the question people in the fields of psychiatry, counseling, psychology, therapy and social work to answer. Multiple theories have been developed in the pursuit of understanding and changing human behavior. Two major developments regarding human behavior are the psychodynamic and humanistic theories. The psychodynamic theory is an offshoot from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis. The core of the psychodynamic theory are the assumptions that people are deeply influenced by the unconscious and childhood experiences and develop defense mechanisms to deal with internal conflict resulting from competing deep seeded needs and beliefs. One of the foremost figures in the development of the humanistic theory was Abraham Maslow. The core of the humanistic theory are the assumptions that people are good at their core with a drive for creativity and self-actualization. These theories take into account the role of personality, personality characteristics and interpersonal relational aspects in human behavior.
The role of personality is imperative to understanding and changing human behavior. “The term ‘personality’ usually refers to the distinctive patterns of behaviour, thoughts and emotions that characterize each individual’s adaptation to the situations of his or her life.” (Kronström et al., pg. 53, 2011) The psychodynamic theory relies of Freud’s theory of the id, ego and superego when dealing with personality. In essence, the id is the primal drive all humans have, the superego is the internal judge of moral character and the ego is the balancing act between the two. The ego utilizes defense mechanisms to balance the needs between the id and the superego. The superego is developed by the relationships children have with their parents in their early years of development, neuroscience has recently supported this theory of personality: “both Montgomery and Mishna et al. highlight the most recent knowledge in neuroscience that supports many of our long-held psychodynamic ideas and techniques. For example, research validates the fact that relationships play a crucial role in the development and functioning of the brain and that early relationships lay the foundation for the development of personality. Moreover, researchers better understand how the brain processes information, supporting the existence of an unconscious, and in particular, defense mechanisms.” (Bliss & Rasmussen, pg. 212, 2013) The humanistic theory is similar to the psychodynamic theory in that both are reliant on deep seeded, subconscious drives that people are not truly aware of. They differ in the end goal of the personality. Psychodynamic theory is based on the belief that the personality is driven by sex and aggression. The humanistic theory is based on the belief that the personality’s main drive is to self-actualize: “Rogers emphasized the personality’s innate drive toward achieving its full potential: “the organism has one basic tendency and striving - to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism” (Rogers, 1951, p. 487) In striving toward this end people naturally seek to become more authentic, to form, and express their Alfred own values and beliefs (Rogers, 1961). In his clinical observations, Rogers (1951) found his clients investing a great deal of time and energy wearing various masks, that is playing at socially ascribed roles in order to gain acceptance, love and respect from those around themallow the client to explore hidden or concealed elements of the selfto enhance self-regard, openness to experience and emotions which are thought to result in greater autonomy and mastery of life” (McDonald & Wearing, pg. 43, 2013) The humanistic theory was developed in reaction to the ugly view of humanity the psychodynamic and behavioral theories painted – those practicing the humanistic theory prefer to see the true nature of humans as good and evolving to something higher rather than the true nature of humans as driven by sex or aggression or rewards. The development of personality plays a large part in the psychodynamic and humanistic theories, personality characteristics also play a large part.
Personality characteristics are behaviors, actions and attitudes that people display habitually. These include, but are not limited to, being adaptable, patient, sensitive and humble. The psychodynamic theory postulates that many personality characteristics are the result of the defense mechanisms the ego creates to balance the needs of the superego and the id. A person who has personality characteristics of defensiveness, emotional volatility and blame do so out of defending either the id or the superego. The humanistic theory is more optimistic, rather than identifying personality characteristics as defense mechanisms balancing our drive for sex and aggression with our moralistic sense of duty personal characteristics are identified as tools to evolve. People can adopt traits of acceptance, interdependence and humor on the path to self-actualization. Both theories place a high importance on balance and flexibility to ensure a healthy personality, a disorder personality is one which becomes overly rigid and therefore maladaptive. This is seen is people who are out of balance in terms of attachment patterns: “These diverse presentations all appear to have a theme in common; namely that ‘Severe personality pathology arises when the psychological mechanism of attachment is distorted or dysfunctional and cannot fulfil its biological function of preserving the intactness of self- representations’ (Fonagy, 2003a, p.212). However, it is worth noting that insecure attachment patterns are not considered problematic in themselves, ‘It is only when the strategies inherent in the insecure attachment patterns are later rigidly and inappropriately applied to new contexts that they can be regarded as maladaptive’” (Daniel, 2006, p.973). (Larsson, pg. 213, 2012) Personality characteristics are key to a person’s ability to have fulfilling interpersonal relationships.
Humans are highly social creatures, to experience a high quality of life people must have at least a few strong relationships with others. Relationships are a part of all the major areas of life: “Alfred Adleridentified five key areas of influence on our everyday existence: social, love, self, work, and spiritual; and three life tasks as he called them: (1) love and sexual relationship; (2) relationship to work and occupation; and (3) relationship to others and the culture.” (Williams, pg. 231, 2012) The psychodynamic theory approaches interpersonal relationships from the angle relies on the idea that people are attracted to one another – either romantically or other – because the other person represents needs that need to be fulfilled. Perhaps a woman sees attributes in her husband that are similar to those of her father. She never got what she needed from her father so she marries her husband with the hope of getting the needs that were never met by her father met by her husband. This theory may help people better assign meaning to why they are attracted to the people they are attracted to but it doesn’t necessarily help people learn how to interact with others in a way that increases the fulfilment in the relationship. The humanistic theory is based on the idea that healthy people have relationships with others that are interdependent, based on mutual respect and shared goals and values rather than need. Using the humanistic theory, a person striving to be healthy would work toward fulfilling his or her own needs of esteem, confidence and ability to manage life and could then have relationships with others that are selfless instead of selfish. One can see the difference between the pessimism of the psychodynamic theory and the optimism of the humanistic theory in that the former is based on the selfish needs of people and the latter is based on the ability of people to be selfless.
Some of the major similarities between the psychodynamic and humanistic theories is not necessarily positive. Both theories are difficult to test. Unlike theories that are popular today such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, psychodynamic and humanistic theories don’t provide specific steps for behavior changes that can be tracked. In essence, the psychodynamic and humanistic theories provide ideas as to why people are the way they are but don’t provide much guidance on how to do things differently. These theories are also highly subjective and potentially based more on the values of the people who developed them than on proven science. That being said, they are both useful in terms of helping people find meaning. Humans are on a constant search for the meaning behind how they feel, think and act. Meaning for life in general. Both theories provide people with a foundation from which people can build their belief in their own meaning on. For those who the ideas of Darwin such as survival of the fittest resonate, the psychodynamic theory can provide further context for the meaning behind human behavior. For those who are taken by the ideas of Maslow such as the inherent goodness of humanity and the drive to evolve into the best possible version of self, the humanistic theory can provide a roadmap for growth of the soul. Another determinant for a person deciding between the psychodynamic and humanistic theories is whether he or she is optimistic or pessimistic about the nature of man. If a person believes at his or her core that humans are merely animals trying to get their needs met however they can the psychodynamic theory would work better for his or her worldview. If a person believes at his or her core that humans have infinite potential for good the humanistic theory would be a better fit. Regardless, both theories provide ideas about the role of personality, personality characteristics and interpersonal relational aspects that are worthy of discussion.


Bliss, S., & Rasmussen, B. (2013). Reflections on contemporary psychodynamic theory in clinical social work. Journal Of Social Work Practice, 27(3), 211-215. doi:10.1080/02650533.2013.818938
Kronström, K., Salminen, J. K., Hietala, J., Kajander, J., Vahlberg, T., Markkula, J., & Karlsson, H. (2011). Personality traits and recovery from major depressive disorder. Nordic Journal Of Psychiatry, 65(1), 52-57. doi:10.3109/08039488.2010.487571
Larsson, P. (2012). How important is an understanding of the client's early attachment experience to the psychodynamic practice of counselling psychology?. Counselling Psychology Review, 27(1), 10-21.
McDonald, M., & Wearing, S. (2013). A Reconceptualisation of the self in humanistic psychology: Heidegger, foucault and the sociocultural Turn. Journal Of Phenomenological Psychology, 44(1), 37-59. doi:10.1163/15691624-12341244
Williams, P. (2012). Looking back to see the future: The influence of humanistic and transpersonal psychology on coaching psychology today. International Coaching Psychology Review, 7(2), 223-236.

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