Competing psychological theories of human behaviour

Although there are various stages of human development, for the purpose of this essay, we shall analyse the adult stage of behaviour. There are a number of comparisons and contrasts between the psychodynamic approach and the humanistic approach in psychology, to help understand human behaviour. To provide a significant contrast, this assignment analyses the two founding fathers of these approaches, Sigmund Freud for the psychodynamic approach and Carl Rogers for the humanistic approach. The founding fathers give a vast diversity of theory and therapy used when looking at behavioural patterns in humans.

The psychodynamic theory was originally pioneered from Freud’s findings in the late 1800’s. This theory looks at analysis of parapraxes, free association and dream interpretation, which can provide insights into the unconscious mind which in turn, can affect human behaviour. Freud spilt the personality into three; namely, the id, ego and super-ego. Freud suggests the id is present from birth, for example; the survival instinct of sucking and crying. The ego then evolves from the id, through contact with the world, the environment and becomes aware of self through reality. From the age of three onwards Freud suggests we develop the super-ego, this is learnt through parents and family influence. The super-ego curbs the demands from the id, mainly concerned with the conscious, what’s ‘right and wrong’. Freud saw consciousness as a whole comprising of three levels, the conscious, the preconscious and the unconscious (Freud, 1936).

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“The ego is that part of the id which has been modified by the direct influence of the external world. The ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id, which contains the passionsaˆ¦aˆ¦in its relation to the id; it is like a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse (Freud, 1961 [1923] pg 25).

The psychodynamic theory also examines anxiety and defence mechanisms, which suggests we possess in order to keep a healthy balance. The purpose of the defence mechanisms is to shield the ego from some of the harsh aspects of reality. All defence mechanisms share two characteristics, firstly the protection of the ego and secondly, they operate unconsciously so we are not aware a distortion of reality has taken place (Gross, 2005).

Another aspect of the psychodynamic approach is Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality and the psychosexual stages, which could be associated to specific adult personality traits and behaviour. The fundamental aspect of these stages are based on the assumption the child derives pleasure from certain parts of their body, which may relate to sexual desires. The sequences of Freud’s stages are determined by maturation and how the child is treated by others, especially their primary caregivers. The first stage is the oral stage (0-1), the second stage is the anal stage (1-3), and the third stage is the phallic stage (3-5/6). The genitals now become the new source of pleasure and the child also becomes aware of their sex differences, which marks the beginning of the Oedipus complex. This complex suggests the child’s emotions conflict in relation to their same and opposite-sex parents; both boys and girls experience the Oedipus complex (Gardner, 1982).

“the baby’s obstinate persistence in sucking gives evidence at an early stage of a need for satisfaction which, though it originates from and is instigated by the taking of nourishment, nevertheless strives to obtain pleasure independently of nourishment and for that reason may be termed sexual” (Freud, 2003 [1949] pg 24).

The fourth stage of the psychosexual stages is the latency period (5-6 to puberty), this stage is where the sexual pre-occupations of early childhood are repressed into the unconscious and the balance between the id, ego and super-ego is greater than any other time in the child’s life. The fifth stage is the genital stage (puberty-maturity), Freud suggests this is where the previous stage is the ‘calm before the storm’. It marks the beginning of adolescence and harmony within the child’s personality is now disrupted by the powerful instincts of the new demands of the id, for example; sexual desires. Although, Freud fundamentally analysed childhood, he utilised his theory to explain disturbances in terms of adult behaviour (Gardner, 1982).

Rogers is considered to be the most influential humanistic psychologist and commonly known as the founding father of the humanistic approach. The humanistic theory was developed in the 1950s and fundamentally focuses on the dimension of experience, personal responsibility, free will and the importance of the ‘here and now’ rather than the past. Furthermore, its key principles are personal growth and fulfilment (Rogers, 1951).

“He has learned that it is safe to leave the less dangerous consideration of his symptoms of others, of the environment and of the past and focus upon the discovery of “me, here and now” (Rogers, 1951 pg 136).

The foundations of Rogers’s humanistic theory of the actualizing tendency were based on his agricultural background, with regards to the conditions of growth and he suggested this could be applied to all living organisms;

“I remember that in my boyhood the potato bin in which we stored our winter supply of potatoes was in the basement, several feet below a small basement window. The conditions were unfavourable, but the potatoes would begin sprout pale, while sprouts so unlike the healthy green shoots they sent up when planted in the soil in the spring. But these sad, spindly sprouts would grow two or three feet in length as they reached toward the distant light of the window. They were, in their bizarre futile growth a sort of desperate expression of the directional tendency I have been describing” (Rogers, 1977 pg8).

Humanism emphasises on the positive aspects of human experience and views individuals as having an innate drive to fulfil their potential. Part of achieving this involves exploring and accepting the self, the nature of behaviour and accepting responsibilities which go along with this. The humanistic theory splits the self into three parts, namely the organismic self, the ideal self and the self concept. This concept suggests that the person is open to experience, spontaneous and self-directed rather than simply responding to others. Therefore, showing personal authenticity, which suggests they are being truly themselves (Rogers, 1967).

Arguably one of the key concepts of the humanistic approach is people can be seen as striving for self-actualisation. However, people, including those who suffer from mental disorders, find this hard to achieve. Rogers developed his client-centred therapy, also known as person-centred therapy. This kind of therapy provides a positive and encouraging environment designed to promote personal growth and to facilitate self-actualisation (Eysenck, 1998).

“The organism actualises itself in the direction of greater differentiation of organs and of function. It moves in the direction of limited expansion through growth, expansion through extending itself by means of its tools, and expansion through reproduction” (Rogers, 1951 pg 488).

Person-centred therapy aims to overcome obstacles which have blocked or prevented individuals from achieving their potential. It appears essential for the therapist to be genuine, whole, or congruent in the relationship. This suggests it is important for the therapist to be what he is in the contract with the client, whereas Freud’s therapy technique provides interpretations or gives advice. The role of the therapist is to listen and to reflect back to the client in order to clarify what the client has said. The therapist creates an environment which will facilitate the process of self-discovery, rather than enforcing any particular view or outlook. Therefore, this indicates a contrast in therapy techniques between the psychodynamic approach and humanistic approach, which positions them at one end of the spectrum to the other (Rogers, 1951).

“It has been my experience that though clients can, to some degree, independently discover some of their denied or repressed feelings, they cannot on their own achieve full emotional acceptance of these feelings. It is only in a caring relationship that these ‘awful’ feelings are first truly accepted by the therapist and can then be accepted by the client” (Rogers, 1951 pg 202).

Rogers identified three core ingredients, crucial to the therapy for this process to work successfully. First, the therapist must have genuineness or congruence, which indicates the therapist, should allow true feelings and thoughts to emerge in the therapy session, rather than acting a role towards the client. This demonstrates a contrast between psychoanalysis, where the therapist allows little of his own personality into the therapeutic relationship. The transference technique was originally created by Freud, who implemented the theory of transference in the therapeutic relationship. Therefore, this demonstrates a significant relationship between the two theorists. Second, the therapist should have empathy, to understand the clients experience and feel with the client. Finally, the therapist should actively accept and value the client, which Rogers called unconditional positive regard (Crooks & Stein, 1988).

Rogers’s humanistic approach suggests our behaviour is affected by the experiences we have throughout our life and did not focus solely on childhood. However, Freud’s psychodynamic approach suggests that childhood behaviour is dependant on innate forces, and adult behaviour is dependent on early childhood experience. Although the psychodynamic approach does explain our natural drives, it does appear to be limited to childhood and allows little or no room for free will. Therefore, it could be argued this demonstrates a vast contrast in the approaches, as there is a significant difference in the foundations of behaviour and differences in free will, as Rogers regarded free will as a key concept to the humanistic approach (Davidson & Neale, 1998).

Although Sigmund Freud was born almost a half a century before Carl Rogers, their theories are not dissimilar, as they both base their theories on the assumption of innate drives. However, according to Kirschenbaum,

“Both Freud and Rogers saw the psychology of the person function in this similar way. The point of difference arose in the primacy Freud gave and the equality which Rogers gave to the id functions. For Freud the id was basic and terrible, for Rogers it existed simultaneously and equally with the superego and was not to be feared but accepted. Aside from differences in methods, one of the most apparent contrasts in the thinking of Rogers and Freud is in their basic evaluation of human nature” (Kirschenbaum, 2007 pg 243).

It could be argued the humanistic approach signifies a counterbalance to the psychodynamic approach, as it has helped to bring the ‘person’ back into psychology. It fundamentally, recognises people help determine their own behaviour and are not slaves to their past. Rogers suggests people are aware of their behaviour which has similarities to psychoanalysis, it emphasises the desire of being aware of the motives behind the behaviour. However, like Freud’s theory several concepts are difficult to observe experimentally, such as self-actualisation and it cannot account for the foundations of the behaviour. It describes but does not explain personality and behaviour, therefore, subjecting it to erroneous belief (Gross, 2005).

In conclusion it is clear from the above there are striking differences between Freud and Roger’s theories. Roger’s view is clearly fluid, as it assists the individual to recognise and understand reasons for their behaviour based on life experience in general. It also, in contrast to Freud’s theory, does not impose any particular belief. Freud’s theory is somewhat rigid, as it acts as an interpretation and suggests that adult behaviour is controlled by childhood experience. Despite the theories being complex when analysing adult behaviour, both Freud and Rogers were considered to be two of the most prominent thinkers of the 20th century and their work continues to influence psychologists to this day. However, Rogers humanistic approach is more progressive and therefore, making this approach the most evolving out of the two psychological theories used today.


CROOKS, R. L & STEIN, J (1988) Psychology Science, Behaviour and Life. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc.

DAVIDSON, G.C & NEALE, J.M (1998) Abnormal Psychology, Seventh Ed. New York: Wiley & Sons, Inc.

EYSENCK, M (1998) Psychology an Integrated Approach. Harlow: Pearson Education LTD.

FREUD, S (1936) The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defence. London: Chatto & Windus.

FREUD, S (1961 [1923]) The Ego and the Id, Standard Ed, Vol.19. London: Hogarth Press.

FREUD, S (2003 [1949]) An Outline of Psychoanalysis. London: Penguin.

GARDNER, H (1982) Developmental Psychology, Second ed. Canada: Little, Brown & Company Ltd.

GROSS, R (2005) Psychology The Science and Mind of Behaviour, (Fifth Edition). London: Hodder Arnold.

KIRSCHENBAUM, H (2007) The Life and Works of Carl Rogers. Hertfordshire: PCCS Books.

ROGERS, C.R (1951) Client-Cantered Therapy. London: Constable & Company Ltd.

ROGERS, C, R (1967) A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable & Company Ltd.

ROGERS, C. R (1977) Carl Rogers on Personal Power. New York: Delacorte.

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