2) body- Why does the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical approach to

2) Why does the
psychodynamic/psychoanalytical approach to understanding personality attract so
much attention from lay people? Does this support the work that personality
psychologists do or hinder it? Give reasons for your opinion.


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psychodynamic approach looks at internal and psychological forces to justify
manifestations of behaviour that define our personality. Psychoanalysis is
Freud’s theory, that suggests our behaviour is manifestation of conscious and
subconscious forces, as well as a result of our childhood
experiences. The lay person could use psychoanalysis over other approaches
because it is well-known in pop culture (i.e. inferiority complex). In this essay, we explore the effect
of psychodynamic theory’s popularity on personality psychologists work. We do
so by examining the actual purpose of the personality psychologists’ work, in
order to fully assess whether a lay person helps or heeds this.


Overall, it will be argued that lay people do not hinder the work of personality
psychologists (for the psychodynamic approach), because the approach is at
times unscientific and thus open to subjective interpretation. So, the nonprofessional
will not necessarily have a big impact in interpreting it.   



Main body- Why does the psychodynamic/psychoanalytical approach
to understanding personality attract so much attention from lay people?


Firstly, I will outline three
reasons why the psychodynamic approach attracts attention so. One type
of psychodynamic approach is Freud’s psychoanalysis. He is well-known by the
lay person due to his controversial theories (Wilson, 1997). For example, Freud
proposed that all human beings possess an instinctual libido that is
established through five stages, the oral, anal, phallic, latency and genital
stages. During the phallic stage the Oedipus complex occurs, described by an
unconscious sexual desire for one’s mother (Freud, 1896). This controversy has
been exacerbated by pop culture. In the show Law and Order, a murder
investigation looks into whether the stepson has murdered the dad because of
the Oedipus complex. We also see it in one of the most scandalous novels of the
twentieth century, ‘Sons and Lovers’, (D.H. Lawrence, 1913). Thus, controversy
and consequent literature and film showcasing have made psychoanalysis attract
attention from the lay person. Moreover, it generates attention from those
disputing its controversial nature.


Secondly, the psychodynamic approach appeals to the lay
person because it overlooks the trappings of science. According to Popper
(1959), for a subject to be scientific it must be falsifiable. Jung (1953),
proposed a collective unconscious, but his hypothesis was unfalsifiable as we
cannot measure this objectively. This can be contrasted with the more
scientific methods used by behaviourists. This makes
psychodynamic work more accessible to non-professionals; the reading and
interpretation of this approach would be easier to understand than approaches
like behaviourism.  Also, the conclusions drawn in
psychodynamic theory are less clear due to unscientific methods (Grünbaum,1986),
as opposed to objective conclusions and thus can be interpreted in different
ways. This would attract the lay psychologist as it allows them to draw their
own interpretations, instead of being limited by objective results.


Thirdly, the psychodynamic approach is popular because it
was revolutionary for its time. Freud revolutionised the way we perceived
ourselves. Through psychoanalysis, the lay person could be cured from a
terrible mental condition and understand themselves. He provided them an
outlet, and made mental illness more acceptable as it could now be attributed
to bad experiences, hence resonating with them. (Freud, 1905) He highlighted
the importance of unconscious activity which made him stand out amongst his
contemporaries, giving him attention. (Manichander, 2016). Further, the idea
that problems could be solved through talking was also new to the lay person,
hence their attraction to it.


Main body- Does this support the work that personality psychologists do or
hinder it?


As mentioned earlier, to determine the effect of attention,
we look at the aims of personality psychology to see what the work hopes to
achieve and how, by specifying two aims. A general aim of personality theory is
to assess variability within individuals (Ashton, 2013). This can be done ideographically
or nomothetically.


The ideographic approach assesses an individual, looking at
what is unique to them. For example, (Freud 1909) theorised Little Hans’ unique
phobia of horses was attributed to Oedipus complex. Something important to note
is that Freud didn’t work directly with little Hans (Merlino, 2006). His
interpretation of Hans symptoms was based on letters from Hans’ father; he read
and theorised from the father’s findings. This can be likened to behaviour of
the lay person; they read Freud’s findings and theorised on personality from
them. Though Freud was highly educated, and founded psychoanalysis, we cannot objectively
conclude he was more adept than the lay psychologist at drawing conclusions.
Thus, one could conclude in this case, lay people did not hinder his work
because they would do the exact same thing as him, draw conclusions from what
they read. Additionally, for the ideographic approach the lay person may
support Freud’s work. For example, Freud’s idea that Oedipus complex was universal
led to excoriation by anthropologists, but it made anthropologists research
into Freud’s hypotheses and use his test methods (such as dreams and
psychoanalysis). In this instance, the nonprofessional helps to test the
generalisability and reliability of Freud’s results, hence supporting the work
of personality psychologists. This is especially useful for the ideographic
approach, as it helps us see if research can be applied nomothetically too.


However, the extent to which it would support personality
psychologists depends on if it helps them to get to closer to their aim; assessing
individual variability. A well-known anthropologist, Malinowski (1927), aided
in assessing individual variability by further refining Freud’s theory by
claiming that in the Trobriand Islands the Oedipal conflict arose concerning a
child’s maternal uncle as opposed to their father. But, it could be undermined
by subsequent findings. Spiro (1982), amongst others, judged the Trobriand
island ‘myths’, to have little empirical basis. So, whilst it does seem to
support their work on the face, some argue it doesn’t due to lack of empirical
evidence. Regardless of Malinowski’s research quality, it did support
psychologists through the knock-on effect of subsequent research.



The nomothetic approach draws ‘law like’ generalisations of
personality. Horney (1945) proposed the tripartite structure of personality.
Based on clinical observations, she said children reacting to bad parenting can
develop three types of coping mechanisms; the child moves toward, against or
away from people. Her research was well-received by non-professionals, as in it
they ‘found self-recognition’ (Reynolds, 2003). This was further substantiated
by her book self-analysis (1942). Here the lay person hinders the work of personality psychologists. Not
only through potential misunderstanding and hence misinterpretation of her work
but also, they draw conclusions in self-analysis that are not generalizable to
a population, but specific to themselves. Individual assessments fail to
support personality psychologists in seeking out nomothetic conclusions in
particular. It also doesn’t necessarily help in ‘assessing variability within individuals’
because this assessment is done in a completely subjective manner, so lacks
validity, meaning personality psychologists couldn’t use it to supplement their


Although, some may argue that attention paid to Horney’s
theories was beneficial to an extent because it led to further experimentation.
Coolidge (2001), for example, sought to operationalise the tripartite structure
of personality through the Horney-Coolidge Tridimensional-Inventory. It has
been reported the HTCI has test-retest
reliability, scale reliability and construct validity (compared with other personality disorders). This
is beneficial for personality psychologists. However, because
Horney had an arguably bigger reception with the original theory than Coolidge
did with the operationalisation, the argument still stands that in the case of
the nomothetic approach to assessing the variability, the effects of attention
from non-professionals did more harm than good (in terms of impact on the personality psychology field).


Another issue
with Horney is that lots of her theory was direct contradiction of Freudian
theory on women, for example she said women’s inadequacy was not due to lacking
a penis, in fact men had womb envy. She was known as a psychoanalytic feminist
(Paris, 1996). Here, influence from the nonprofessional (feminists), could have
impacted her thought, therefore hindering work, without her realising.  Without strong empirical evidence, it is hard
to say whether this a reactant theory (to Freud’s sexism) or a non-biased valid
approach to nomothetically assessing variability within individuals. Though, it
could be argued that as she was ‘too individual’ to join feminist movements, the
extent to which she was influenced by them was probably minimal.


Finally, I will discuss the second aim of personality
psychologists, a more nuanced definition; personality psychology assesses’ the
variability of individuals in regard to the intricate interaction between
genetics and the environment (McGue, 1998). The psychologists themselves
disagree on the impact of nature versus nurture. Freud saw the tripartite unconscious
as storage for reprehensible thoughts, with the superego being affected by our
parents, here we see an interaction nurture versus nature.  Whereas Adler viewed the unconscious as
‘un-understood’, but understanding wasn’t needed for everyday functioning,
hence speciously placing little emphasis on nature. The lay person wouldn’t necessarily
understand the nature aspect of personality however the extent to which they
understood depended on how complicated the theory, so there may have been more
understanding of some psychologist’s theory than others. As a result of
misunderstanding they may place greater emphasis on nurture to explaining their
behaviour and in doing so, fail to recognise an important aspect of personality
therefore hindering the work of personality psychologists.


Moreover, looking deeper into Adler’s work, it could be
argued that there is an aspect of nurture in his work, that would be beneficial
to understanding his theory fully. This is evident in his first book. (Adler,
1907) wrote how humans try to subdue organ inferiority through physical
compensation. Only when he began to study depth psychology did he realise that
compensation (and overcompensation) can play out physically and
psychologically. (Ansbacher, 1964).
As Adler (1979) reported, an infant with inferior organs would feel incompetent
at the ‘tasks of life’, leading to overcompensation. Hence, here we see and
interaction between nature and nurture. But, the lay person probably wouldn’t
seek out this further research into Adler’s work, or if they did, they would
probably misinterpret the intricate interplay between nature and nurture (as they
misinterpreted his more well-known ideas such as the inferiority complex).
Hence this further backs up the point that the lay person would hinder the work
of personality psychologists because in failing to understand they do not
better the work in any way. This, is based on the assumption that they didn’t
have the motivation to understand the Adler’s approach.



In conclusion, in
determining whether the effect of the lay psychologist, there are nuances to
consider. For example, for assessing individual variability, whether they
support or hinder depends on the use of the ideographic or nomothetic approach.
In ‘looking at the intricate interplay between nature versus nurture’, it could
be argued that the lay person fails to understand how the both interact and in
seeking a lay explanation instead of the true explanation, they don’t support the
psychologists work.


It could be argued
that personality psychologists themselves didn’t believe the lay person hindered
their work; they encouraged involvement of the lay person; in ‘The Question of
the Lay Analysis’, Freud argues that medical education isn’t needed for
psychoanalysis. Further, Horney claimed the lay person could learn
self-analysis in ‘Self-Analysis’. Through my findings on the psychodynamic
approach, it is clear one must reject traditional scientific testing for
subjective approaches like self-analysis and psychoanalysis. This is justified
through the very subjects we are testing: personality and individual
variability, which are difficult to define let alone test objectively. Perhaps
a more scientific approach like behaviourism would be hindered more by the


It is fair to argue
that in some nuanced examples lay people can hinder personality psychologists.
For example, where hypotheses are scientifically tested ((Baars 1992), on
Freudian slips, experimented whether priming a taboo that was typically avoided
would increase the likelihood of slips that reveal it). Yet, in pop culture,
Freudian slips are all mistake slips of the tongue, though empirical evidence
suggests this is the wrong definition, hence misrepresenting this work. However,
ultimately due to the mainly subjective nature of the psychodynamic approach,
the lay person doesn’t hinder the work of personality psychologists. In fact, even
in the examples of non-professionals ‘hindering’ the work in my earlier
analyses, a more refined answer is non-professionals often ‘fail to support’
through lack of understanding, rather than ‘hinder’.









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