When many of our problems today were

When people think about psychology, many immediately think of Sigmund Freud. But, how good were his ideas? In this lesson, we’ll look at the psychodynamic model of psychology and its strengths and weaknesses.

Psychodynamic Model

Sigmund Freud was a bit of a rebel. Back in the 19th century, psychologists had a lot of ideas about what caused mental illness. From demons to physical illness, many people were searching for the answers to what causes psychological disorders.

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What made Freud different were two ideas that he came up with.First of all, Freud believed that what we consciously think and feel is only a small fraction of our actual thoughts and emotions. To him, the mind was like an iceberg.

There were some things on the surface that we could see and talk about, but there were a whole lot more beneath, in our subconscious.The other thing that set Freud apart was that he believed that many of our problems today were actually caused by things that happened long ago. To other psychologists of the day, it seemed impossible that someone’s childhood could be affecting them as adults, especially if they weren’t even aware of it.But, Freud said that what happened in our childhood could have a profound impact on our subconscious. These two ideas – that we have a subconscious and that we are affected by our past – are the basis for the psychodynamic model of psychology.

In this model, psychological issues are seen as springing from repressed emotions and events. Let’s look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the psychodynamic model of psychology.


Imagine that you like to drink a lot.

You’re often the life of the party, but you also sometimes wake up not remembering what happened the night before. Not only that, but when you don’t drink, you feel sad and lonely.At a friend’s suggestion, you go to see a psychologist. She asks you questions, and you begin to share with her about your life. Slowly, some patterns begin to emerge. She points out that your mother was an alcoholic and that she only showed you love and affection when she had been drinking.

Subconsciously, you’ve come to associate alcohol with your mother’s love.This scenario points out some of the strengths of the psychodynamic approach. First of all, it focuses on how your past, particularly your childhood, can influence your current behavior. Your interactions with your alcoholic mother influenced your drinking behavior as an adult. Before Freud, psychologists didn’t really pay attention to the way that the past affected the present, but for many people, their childhood shapes who they become.Another strength of psychodynamic therapy is that it recognizes that there is a subconscious and that the subconscious has an impact on our behavior. In the drinking scenario, you didn’t think about why you felt sad and lonely when you were sober until your therapist tapped into your subconscious and made the link between your mother’s love and alcohol.

Whereas other types of psychology focus only on the surface behavior or thoughts, psychodynamic therapy looks at the very deepest parts of a person and tries to heal them from the inside out.Finally, some studies have shown that people who go to psychodynamic therapy feel better and continue to come back for more therapy. This might be because the therapy actually works, or it might be because they are encouraged to talk to someone who will not judge them. Either way, it seems to help people feel better.


Despite the strengths, though, there are some weaknesses of the psychodynamic model of psychology.

The first weakness is that it ignores the biological components of some problems. Remember in the scenario above that your mother was an alcoholic, as are you. There are some studies that show there is a biological or genetic predisposition towards addiction.In other words, you might have inherited a gene from your mother that makes you more likely to become an alcoholic. Other mental illnesses, from depression to schizophrenia, also have biological or genetic components. Unfortunately, the psychodynamic model does not acknowledge or address biology or genetics.Another problem with the psychodynamic model is that it depends on therapist interpretation.

For example, perhaps your mother was an alcoholic, but maybe her behavior didn’t influence you as much as the fact that you like the taste of beer or the peer pressure you get from your friends. Because the therapist has to make inferences, or guesses, about what the root of the problem is, there are many chances for the therapist to be wrong.Along the same lines, some therapists are so focused on the past that they do not address current issues. What if you have a job where you entertain clients a lot and have to drink as part of your job? What if your current roommate is encouraging you to drink with her and if you don’t, she gets upset? A good therapist will help you deal with these life situations, but some therapists are so focused on issues from your childhood that they don’t address the things going on in their patient’s current lives.Finally, psychodynamic theory is not proven or provable using the scientific method. While many approaches to psychology are tested and have many studies done to verify the science behind them, the psychodynamic approach is inherently untestable.

How do you measure someone’s subconscious? There are no tools available to look inside a person’s mind and see their subconscious thoughts.

Lesson Summary

The psychodynamic model of psychology was based on Sigmund Freud’s ideas about the subconscious and the importance of childhood experiences on adult behaviors, among other things. There are several strengths of the psychodynamic model, including addressing a patient’s subconscious issues, childhood traumas and the fact that people enjoy it. However, there are also some weaknesses, including the fact that it ignores the biological and genetic component of some mental illnesses, it depends on therapist interpretation, it can be too focused on the past and it is not scientifically provable.

Learning Outcomes

After viewing this lesson, you’ll be able to:

  • Recount the tenets of the psychodynamic model of psychology
  • Make mention of Sigmund Freud’s contributions to the psychodynamic model
  • Spotlight the strengths and weaknesses of this psychological model

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