Psychoanalytic Schools Approach to Psychopathology Theory

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  • 0:02 Psychoanalytic
  • 2:14 Psychodynamic
  • 3:17 Psychopathology
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Here, we will explore the basic tenants of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic theories as they relate to psychopathology. Two techniques for treatment are also explored briefly.


Isn't it funny how things become generic? Terms like Kleenex and Q-tip are actually brand names, not products. I bring this up because psychology has undergone a similar process where one of the oldest forms of psychotherapy has become known as the general way that psychotherapy is done.

What I mean is, when lay people think about psychology, they have generalized psychoanalytic schools to be representative of all psychology and that does a disservice to the history of psychoanalytic as well as all of psychology. Let's look at some of the basics of psychoanalysis and the schools of thought that branched out from it, then we will look at how psychopathology, or mental illness, is viewed.

Psychoanalytic means the Freudian school of thought, involving unconscious processes, psychosexual development, and defense mechanisms. It is a little tough to boil down a massive theory that has been around for nearly 100 years into a single statement. Basically, psychoanalysis is based on the teachings and writings of Sigmund Freud, who believed that the mind was driven and influenced by primarily unconscious processes. Let's look at an iceberg diagram, which sums up the main ideas behind psychoanalysis.

The iceberg diagram shows how Freud envisioned the human mind working. Above the waters is our conscious thought, or what we are aware of going on in our mind. At the water level is our preconscious thought and is typically where memories and other such things are held. Effectively, they are not conscious, but they are not totally unconscious.

The last part, the majority of it, is the unconscious mind, which is the place buried deep in our mind that is difficult to access. In fact, a lot of psychoanalysis is based on the idea that our unconscious is unknowable to ourselves, and we must look for ways that it manifests itself, like in dreams, free association between words, and fantasies.


It is also worth mentioning here the other schools of psychoanalytic, which are called psychodynamic. Basically, when we say, psychodynamic, or neo-Freudian, we mean psychoanalytic-based sub-schools that utilize their own ideas as well as some, but not all, of the ideas of psychoanalysis. Here, we have things like Carl Jung and the various ways he divided up the conscious and unconscious, as well as John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth and their attachment theories.

One thing to note about the psychodynamics is that they typically rely on the idea of unconscious processes. That is to say, there are processes occurring that influence thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs that we are not aware of. This is still a hotly debated topic because it lacks a vital component of the scientific method: falsifiability. One cannot prove or disprove the existence of an unconscious process.


Psychopathology is a study of mental and social disorders and is also a synonym for mental illness. Since the beginning, people have tried to differentiate between what is mentally ill and what is mentally healthy. One of the first structured ways of doing this was by the psychoanalytic schools, which used their own model of the mind and explained why some people had mental illnesses, while others, even those in the same household, did not.

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