Sigmund Freud was the first person to develop in the field of Psychodynamic theory.

He first categorizes the mind into the conscious and the unconscious (or subconscious). The conscious is that which is in our awareness. The unconscious consists of underlying elements that we are not aware of, yet have the greatest influence on our behaviors.

According to the theory, human beings:

  • are driven by their libidinal psychic energy
  • behave through unconscious motivations
  • have biological and/or instinctual needs and drives
  • develop completely during the first five years of life (psychosexual development)

According to Freud, human personality (psyche) consists of three elements: id, ego, and superego.

The Id is present at birth. It functions on life and death instincts and the pleasure principle. If it desires something, it seeks immediate gratification.

The Ego develops at around 6 months of age. It works on the reality principle by deferring the gratification that sought by the Id.

The Superego develops at around 4 to 5 years of age after the child has internalized the societal standards. It attempts to permanently block the impulses presented by the Id.

As seen in the diagram, the Ego tries to balance the struggle between the Id and the Superego.

For example, if you are walking down the hallway at work and see a wallet on the floor. You pick it up and see money inside. Your Id will tell you to “take the money.” Your Ego might say “don’t take it, return it and you might get a reward” or “don’t take it because no one likes a thief.” The Superego responds to this by saying “don’t take it because it’s not the right thing to do.”

Because it is difficult for the person to accept the Id’s impulses, the individual begins to present with Defense Mechanisms. These exist to deal with the anxiety felt by the individual by denying or distorting reality. Some examples of Defense Mechanisms include:

  • Repression: the most basic Defense Mechanism. It keeps uncomfortable thoughts from coming to awareness.
    • A traumatized individual forgets the memories related to the trauma.
  • Denial: the individual refuses to accept the uncomfortable reality.
    • An alcoholic refuses to admit the problem.
  • Projection: the individual attributes his/her own uncomfortable thoughts and feelings to someone else.
    • A husband who says wife wants a divorce when he is the one who wants it.
  • Regression: when someone psychologically moves back to an earlier age/time due to current stress.
    • A five-year-old starts sucking on his thumb when asked to explain himself.

Psychotherapy and Goals

According to this theory, psychopathology is due to unconscious needs and drives and unresolved conflicts from childhood.

Psychoanalysis consists of confrontation, clarification, interpretation, and working through. The goal of therapy is to bring the unconscious drives and childhood conflicts into awareness.