Personality can be defined as a dynamic and organised set of characteristics possessed by a person that uniquely influences his or her cognitions, emotions, motivations, and behaviours in various situations. It refers to the patterns of thoughts, feelings and behaviours consistently exhibited by an individual over time that strongly influence our expectations, self-perceptions, values and attitudes, and predicts our reactions to people, problems and stress. The study of personality therefore has a broad and varied history in psychology, with an abundance of theoretical traditions.
Humanistic and Psychoanalytical theory can be seen as two main dispositional perspectives derived through the field of Psychology. Psychoanalytic theory explains human behaviour in terms of the interaction of various components of personality for example the id, ego, and super-ego and believes that personality is based on the dynamic interactions of these three components. In contrast to humanistic psychology it is emphasised that people have free will and that they play an active role in determining how they behave. Accordingly, humanistic theory focuses on subjective experiences of a person as opposed to forced, definitive factors that determine behaviour. With this fundamental difference in mind this essay will therefore compare and contrast psychoanalytical and humanistic traditions in terms of their application to counselling and psychotherapy, looking categorically at the shifts and changes within both traditions and therefore how both are used within today’s society.
Psychology Comparison Of Approaches
Psychoanalytic theory was an extremely influential force during the first half of the twentieth century. It focused on understanding of the unconscious motivations that drive behaviour. Psychoanalytic theory originated with the work of Sigmund Freud. Through his clinical work with patients suffering from mental illness (Freud and Breuer 1955 [1893-5]) Freud came to believe that childhood experiences and unconscious desires influenced behaviour. Based on his observations, he developed a theory that described development in terms of a series of psychosexual stages. According to Freud, conflicts that occur during each of these stages can have a lifelong influence on personality and behaviour and through free associations, dreams or fantasies; clients can learn how to interpret deeply buried unconscious memories or experiences that may be causing them distress. (Freud, 1924d)
He believed that neurosis stemmed from early sexual traumas and therefore his ‘hysterical’ female patients had been subjected to pre-pubescent ‘seduction’- that is, in most cases, sexual abuse by the father, reprocessed memories of such assaults later surfaced, he concluded, in otherwise baffling hysterical symptoms. Freud spent a number of years developing this theory until 1896 when he finally went public with his findings. The next year however he confessed ‘I no longer believe in my ‘neurotica’- the seduction theory. By then Freud, deep in richly autobiographical dreams and self analysis, had convinced himself that his patients’ seduction stories were fantasies, originating not in the perverse deeds of the adults but in the erotic wishes of infants. The collapse of the seduction theory therefore brought about the idea of infantile sexuality and without the abandonment of the seduction theory, psychoanalysis as a theoretical structure built upon unconscious desires and there repossessions would not exist today.
However to explain this decisive switch remains hotly contested in the world of counselling and psychotherapy. Orthodox Freudians, notable Freud’s disciple and biographer Ernest Jones, have cast it as the ‘Eureka-moment’ in which he saw the light. Some critics allege, by contrast, a loss of nerve, and hold that it was the abandonment of the seduction theory that was his error, perhaps even a ‘betrayal’ both of psycho-sexual truth and of his patients. If they had indeed been sexually abused, their stories were now discounted, as were those of future patients on the couch. However I personally believe the Freud’s seduction theory has a lot to account for, as there are many trauma related psychosis found in today’s society that are primarily related to rape and sexual abuse (Gerald, 1998).
As already mentioned Freud’s work was both controversial and inspiring to many therefore his followers and competitors went on to expand upon his ideas to develop theories of their own. Much like Sigmund Freud, Erik Erikson (also a psychoanalyst) believed that personality develops in a series of stages but with dissimilarity to Freud’s theory of psychosexual stages, Erikson’s theory describes the impact of social experience across the whole lifespan.
Erikson’s eight-stage theory of psychosocial development describes growth and change, focusing on social interaction and conflicts that arise during different stages of development and therefore was greatly influential to the humanistic movement (Erikson, 1997). Thus there are many threads and interconnection within these formulations of psychoanalytic thinking also known as Neo- Freudianism, which credit its roots in the work of Otto Rank and Karen Horne. It is their research amongst others that can now be categorised into three main modality of humanistic therapy; Gestalt, Transactional Analysis and Person Centred Theory.
Humanistic therapy therefore began as a reaction to psychoanalytical theory and derives from ‘humanistic psychology’ a term which originally flagged up a concern about dehumanisation within the therapeutic relationship. The approach therefore claimed to be more humane, warmer and relational then psychoanalytical traditions. It was coined the ‘third wave’ movement (Maslow, 1962) and many humanistic pioneers believed that they were forming a revolutionary movement which overturned the orthodoxies of the past which dominated psychology at the time. It appeared in the USA in 1940s and 1950s becoming more defined at the Old Saybrook Conference of 1964 (Bugental, 1965) where many of the best know figures came together. They agreed that topics such as self-actualization, creativity and individuality were the central theme of this new approach and in 1961, the American Association for Humanistic Psychology was officially established.
Humanist thinkers felt that psychoanalysis was preoccupied with psychology as a form of science, failing to take into consideration the role of personal choice. Alternatively, movements and waves could be seen as cultural and artistic and there is a strong link between humanistic therapy and creative expression. It was instead focused on each individual’s potential and stressed the importance of growth and self-actualization. Therefore the fundamental belief of humanistic theory is that people are innately good and that psychological problems result from deviations from this natural tendency (Maslow, 1943).