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The word ‘Psychology’ is derived from two Greek root: ‘Psyche’, meaning ‘mind’ or ‘soul’ and ‘Logos’, meaning ‘study of’. A more recent definition is that of Atkinson et al (1991) suggesting that psychology is: ‘The scientific study of behaviour and mental processes’. A contradiction to this is the dictionary definition claiming that psychology is ‘the study of human and animal behaviour’ and the informal term being ‘a person’s mental makeup’.

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All definitions are correct in their own rights but as simple definitions are slightly misleading as throughout history, psychologists have not only disagreed about the designation of psychology but what and how it should be studied. I will be concentrating on defining psychology using a variety of perspectives and describing how psychologists have developed them. Firstly, I will introduce, discuss and explain each approach before then deciding on arguments for and against them.

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Finally, I will give an evaluation of the relevance of each approach, highlighting the bias and flaws and inputting my own ideas and opinions on what I feel best defines psychology. Psychoanalysis is name applied to a specific method of investigating unconscious mental process and to a form of psychotherapy. The term also refers to the systematic structure of psychoanalytical theory, which is based on the relation of conscious psychological processes.

The technique of psychoanalysis and much of the psychoanalytic theory were developed by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). His work concerning the structure and the functioning of the human mind had far-reaching significance, both practically and scientifically. Contemporaries of Freud, such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, despite being inspired by Freudian theory, emphasized different issues in human development and experience. This wider theoretical framework is known as the psychodynamic approach.

The first of Freud’s innovations was his acknowledgment of unconscious psychiatric processes that follow laws different from those that preside over conscious experience. The laws of logic, indispensable for conscious thinking, do not apply to the unconscious mental productions. The unconscious part of the mind was seen as being dominated by the ‘id’, the primitive part of an individual’s personality that is purely concerned with self-gratification.

This part carries out the ‘primary process thinking’. The second area is the ‘ego’, dominating the conscious mind. This is the part of the mind that is in contact with the outside world and as such carries out ‘secondary process thinking’. The third part, the ‘superego’ that develops as we become more aware of the rules and conventions of society and specifically of our parents. According to Freud, the ego and superego dwell largely in the conscious mind, while the id is in the unconscious area of the mind.

These ideas are just a few of the controversial aspects of Freud’s theories. The psychodynamic approach is also used to explain various unconscious anxieties that can be expressed in different ways. An important contribution of the psychodynamic approach is suggested by Tavris and Wade (1995), they feel it may be shown in all of us, that due to our unconscious patterns and needs, we tend to be the last to know the reasons for our behaviour.

Tavris and Wade also suggest that it is possible to apply the psychodynamic approach to account for unpredictability of our behaviour, the unwanted negative moods that arise for no apparent reason and the emotional overreaction to innocent remarks. The many supporters and critics include Slife and Williams (1995), who put forward that as the unconscious mind influences of which we are unaware, we are unaware of the forces that guide us therefore we are not capable of intervening to change or go against them.

According to Freud, we are a large part of legacy of our past. Our adult life is shaped by the way in which we have charted our stages of development and dealt with the conflicts presented in each. As Slife and Williams point out, this view of development makes us very much ‘victims of our past’. In order to accepted as a scientific theory, it should be possible to conceive of the circumstances of where the theory might be proved wrong, because if there is no way to suggest the theory might be wrong, there is no grounds for accepting that it might be right. Such a theory would lack ‘falsifiability.’

Much of Freudian theory makes use of concepts or process (such as the superego) that can be observed directly, but can only be inferred. Although offering a persuasive description of human behaviour, it seems to explain a lot but predict very little, therefore firing claims about the lack of validity. Taking the ‘holism and interactionism’ view in the reductionism debate it is suggested that there is a great practical difficulty in investigating the theories.

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Kylie Garcia

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