The Psychodynamic Model and Abnormal Functioning

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  • 0:05 Abnormality
  • 2:32 The Psychodynamic Model
  • 4:34 Benefits & Drawbacks
  • 6:01 Abnormal Psychology
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

There are many ways to view the causes and treatments of psychological disorders. In this lesson, we'll look closer at the psychodynamic model of psychology and its benefits and drawbacks.


Taylor has a problem. He wants to find a nice woman and settle down, but he keeps messing things up. Every time he meets someone, he has such high hopes, and when those hopes are dashed, he ends up hating her and himself. He feels depressed and despondent and isn't sure what to do.

Kara's problem is very different from Taylor's. Though she'd like to get married someday, right now that's not her focus. She's in law school and under a lot of pressure. Lately, she's found it really comforting to skip meals and eat as little as possible. Sometimes, she'll go days at a time without food. Somehow, that makes her feel better.

What makes someone normal? Is Taylor abnormal because he gets depressed after a breakup? Is Kara's skipping meals just a normal reaction to stress? If you ask those questions to many different people, you might get many different answers. Abnormal psychology is the branch of psychology that deals with abnormal thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. Specifically, abnormal psychology looks at mental illness and psychological disorders and the best way to diagnose and treat them.

Despite the differing opinions of people on the street, both Taylor and Kara are considered to be abnormal by psychological standards. Taylor's depression is a psychological disorder, as is Kara's eating disorder, and so they are both considered to be abnormal.

Note that abnormality, like many other psychological concepts, is not absolute. Instead, you can think of abnormality as a spectrum. If Taylor felt a little blue after a breakup, he might be closer to the normal end of the spectrum. If he felt so depressed that he wasn't able to get out of bed, though, he might be nearer to the abnormal end of the spectrum.

There are many ways to approach abnormal psychology. Some people blame abnormality on biological or neurological issues and others blame it on bad thought and behavior patterns. Still others see psychological problems as stemming from a reaction to trauma. Let's look closer at one approach to abnormal psychology, the psychodynamic model.

Psychodynamic Model

Remember Taylor? He's in a pattern where he starts dating someone, he has really high expectations, and then becomes very depressed when it doesn't work out. What's causing his relationship problems and the despondency he feels after a breakup? The psychodynamic model of abnormal psychology sees psychological issues as springing from repressed emotions, particularly those related to childhood trauma.

For example, maybe Taylor's mom died when giving birth to him. His father told Taylor all sorts of great stories about his mother, and growing up, Taylor developed an idealized version of his mother and her relationship with his father. He never heard about her flaws or the arguments that his parents had. As a result, he looks for perfection in his partners and in his relationships. When he doesn't get it, Taylor falls into a deep depression.

The psychodynamic model looks at Taylor's childhood and its role in his current situation. Taylor doesn't consciously compare his girlfriends to the vision he has of his mother, but that ideal is getting in his way just the same.

Kara, meanwhile, is struggling with an eating disorder. For her, it's a way to deal with the stress of school. But, when she sees a psychologist, she begins to remember how she was sexually abused as a child. The stress of her current situation is stirring up emotions related to the suppressed memory of abuse. Starving herself is an attempt by her to starve the emotions in an effort to be rid of them.

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