Psychology: Psychoanalysis and Humanism

The different psychological schools of thought reflect ideas and emotions of each time period in which they developed, and yet it can be said that they still have relevant value today. Each approach to psychology –the biological, the humanistic, the cognitive, the behavioural and the psychoanalytical– all have relevance in today’s society in their own ways, as well as having distinguishing features yet similar aspects to their teachings. As an example of this, when we first look between psychoanalysis and humanism, we can name the basic and drastic differences between these theories.

For starters, the time frame between the development of each spans around fifty years, with Freud growing his idea of psychoanalysis in the 1890’s, and the humanistic view point not coming to the spotlight until the 1950’s. Another obvious difference between these two schools of thought lies within the basis of humanism as an optimistic philosophy, and by most accounts psychoanalysis is formed from what many would view as a pessimistic study of psychological conditions.

At its birth psychoanalysis was viewed as a form of psychology that would fill the gap in psychiatry, and find a common ground between physical and mental health (Freud, 1915). Humanism came about as a reaction to the pessimistic aspects of psychoanalysis, to try and focus more on the actual human and personal choice. Because of this, it became known as the ‘third force’ of psychology (Maslow, 1962).

Psychoanalysis literally means to take care of the psyche, and how through the talking cure we can use our psyche to realise unconscious psychological concerns that may be present; whereas the humanistic approach is more concerned with personal choice, self-help and the patient’s own abilities to solve their psychological issues. However, both approaches have intergraded similarities as well as the pre-mentioned opposing views, and yet they are both equally important sides in psychology today.

One of the main views that psychoanalysts pose is their theory of development, which Sigmund Freud first developed. At the same time, the humanistic approach has its own theories on human development, which were proposed by Abraham Maslow. Freud’s ideas were based around different age groups, and the changes associated with these stages. He believed there to be five such stages –the oral stage, the anal stage, the phallic stage, the latent stage, and the genital stage. The first stage is concerned with the mouth and activities such as eating and generally falls around the ages of 0-2.

The next, the anal stage, naturally occurred when the child is going through toilet training, assumed at the age of 2-4. The third stage happens between the ages of 4-6 and is the first genital stage, which is known as the phallic part of development, where the child begins to realise their own sex. The following stage is a particular time in development that Freud and psychoanalysts believe no psychosexual development occurs at all. They call this stage the latent stage, and believed it took place between the ages of 6-12.

There is now however widespread disbelief that this could be true in our culture today, and thus, that this particular believe was a product of Freud’s time, where teenagers weren’t the socially active beings they are in today’s society. The last psychoanalytical stage of development occurs around the ages of 12-18 and is seen as the main genital stage, with the child now going through puberty. On top of all these changes to happen through development, psychoanalysts also believe that a child can become fixated on any particular stage, and that this can have a lasting effect in adulthood.

For instance, if this happens during the oral stage the adult tends to become obsessed with activities to do with their mouths, resulting in over-eating and adult obesity. Humanist’s theory of development differs as it is not concerned with child development, and focuses more on the personal needs and goals of adults. Abraham Maslow, the founding father of the humanistic viewpoint, first developed this theory in his 1943 paper –“A Theory of Human Motivation”. This ‘hierarchy of needs’ is often portrayed in a pyramid form and consists of five different needs.

The four lowest of these needs –the physiological, the security needs, the social needs and the esteem needs– are known as deficiency needs which humanists believe need to be satisfied in order for the individual to live happily and move forward. The negative version of these needs is low self-esteem and inferiority complexes (Boeree, 1998). The next level of needs, the growth needs, differ as these are more concerned with your own personal desire to grow as a person, and not necessarily stages you must go through in order to be happy and well adjusted. These self-realisation/ self-actualising needs sit at the top of he pyramid. Indeed, the humanistic view in general is based around the idea that each individual controls and must take responsibility for their own happiness and mental health. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory has the similar principle of Freud’s theory of development as they are both concerned with life stages ,as well as being based on the belief that an individual can’t skip any such stages. Along with these personal growth and developmental needs, humanists and psychoanalysts are also both highly interested in personality types, and how our personas function consciously as well as unconsciously.

Humanists such as Carl Rogers theorised that an individual’s mental health was a result of how one perceived the world, and as such, how the individual’s personality controlled their own mental state. He believed by this, that understanding and controlling ones personality would help that individual become ‘The fully functioning person’. Rogers’ theory explained that such an individual would have five particular qualities –openness to experience, living in the here and now, trust within ourselves and our ideas, freedom and also creativity. The end result of this is a self-aware individual who has a realistic grasp of their personality.

Psychoanalysts are also interested in our conscious self, but also form opinions of how our unconscious plays a big role in our personality, and indeed our mental state. Freud believed the adult human mind has three components –the id, the ego, and the super-ego. The ego can be looked at as, ‘wait’, whereas the other two sides are: ‘I want’, i. e. the id, and ‘I must’, i. e. the super-ego. They are in constant battle with each other, as we regularly have to weigh up decisions based on what we want, what we need/ must, as well as taking into consideration social restrictions.

In regards to this theory, psychoanalysts believe we all have unconscious thoughts and drives, that most of the time we are unaware of. This may seem to differ once again from the humanistic point of view as the humanistic approach is more concerned with the conscious mind, however psychoanalysts use a patients’ unconscious mind through the talking cure therapy to make the individual self-realise their own issues –very similar to the humanistic idea of a patient using their own ability to help cure one’s self.

The talking cure therapy within psychoanalysis involves an idea of free association, where upon the patient is encouraged to talk openly about their life situations, problems and fears, in the hope that eventually subconscious issues will arise. Freud himself believed in the power of words and talking, and that by the use of words one person can make another person blissfully happy or drive them to despair (Freud, 1915). It is a type of therapy that psychoanalysts believe is not easily learned as it is a treatment that can never be truthfully witnessed.

The reasoning for this is due to the type of connection formed between the therapist and patient, and entering a third party into the equation to witness the therapy will surely influence and change the situation. The talking cure, like most psychological treatments, is subjective in working in regards to many reasons, including the patients out-look and personal belief in the process. It is however still used today in the form of such therapies as counselling. Humanistic therapy styles take a more holistic view of personality.

They are concerned with emphasising personal experience, growth and motivation as well as self-actualisation (Zimbardo, 2005). However, humanists believe somewhat in a form of talking therapy similar to psychoanalysts, but believe more in the power of a group form of counselling, sometimes referred to as co-counselling. Generally speaking though, these type of ‘councillors’ have no experience, apart from perhaps life experience to the relating topic. People within the group are encouraged to share stories with each other, in the hope that they can learn from each others experiences.

Person-centered therapy (PCT) is another form of talking psychotherapy that humanists use, but it is now widely criticised as the therapists role is not necessarily to lead the patient to a solution to their problem. Humanists are also responsible for Gestalt therapy, a type of treatment in which the individual learns to come aware of their current social and emotional environment. Patients are encouraged to re-evaluate their thought processes and negative perspectives, to live in the here and the now, rather than bringing interpretations of the past into new situations (Idhe, 1977).

They also believe in such holistic therapies as pilates, yoga and hypnotherapy, which have became very popular in the past thirty years. Indeed it can be stated when reflecting upon these two schools of thought, through the obvious evidence in which we have just analysed, that they are both naturally the opposite views of each other –with the humanistic view point rooted from the negativity of psychoanalysis. Both viewpoints share a strong belief to the importance of separate life stages, and the consequences of not proceeding through these in the healthiest, usual manner.

The humanistic view point states that these consequences consist of low self esteem and inferiority complexes, while psychoanalysts believe that fixation during developmental stages can lead to long term issues in adult life. This is interesting to see, that even though humanism is often contrasted to psychoanalysis –as an alternative, less pessimistic viewpoint– both have very similar outcomes, when looking at unhealthy results. As people are complex beings they rely on different techniques, and indeed viewpoints, to be available –what may work for one person, might not be as successful for another.

Where the humanistic view concentrates on the conscious mind, the psychoanalysis view point focuses on both the conscious and unconscious mind. However, this isn’t to say that psychoanalysis is in any way superior to humanism when it comes to their treatments. In conclusion, it can be said that not only do psychoanalysis and humanism have intergraded ideologies, even more importantly, one perspective may not have existed without the other.

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