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Psychodynamic and Humanistic Theories Essay


The world has been characterized by many psychologists. They strive towards explaining and solving issues associated with human behavior and personality. Psychologists owe much allegiance to several people. Sigmund Freud, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers have contributed significantly to the growth of psychology (Capuzzi, 2004). Several theories such as Psychodynamic, Humanistic and Existential, Dispositional, or Learning are common. This paper gives an analysis of the Psychodynamic and Humanistic theories.

Psychodynamic Theory

Psychodynamic Theory correlates human behavior and relations to conscious and unconscious influences. Today, the role of social factors in development is also considered in psychodynamics (Capuzzi, 2004). Psychodynamic therapy places emphasis on unconscious processes revealed in ones present behavior.

Psychodynamic therapy aims at understanding the influence of the past on present behavior. In addition, a client’s self-awareness is vitally important. Past dysfunctional relationships contribute to unresolved conflicts and symptoms. The manifestation of such is important to a psychotherapist.

Psychoanalytic theory is the genesis of the psychodynamic theory. The Freudian, Ego Psychology, Object Relations and Self Psychology theories are four schools of psychoanalytic theory that influence psychodynamic theory. According to Freud, self (or ego) regulates between the id and external reality (Capuzzi, 2004). The importance of early childhood experiences, internal psychological processes and existence of unconscious motivation, ego and defense mechanisms are the major concepts in this theory.

Psychic equilibrium is maintained through defense mechanisms. The latter minimizes any pain suffered. The superego aims at regulating drives through guilt. Ego psychology focuses on promoting ego function that is in line with the demands of reality. Individual’s capacity for defense, adaptation and reality testing are emphasized in great depth (Capuzzi, 2004). Object Relations psychology asserts that the surrounding shapes human beings.

The fact that most time is spent maintaining relations and differentiating ourselves from others are reminiscent of this theory. Childhood representations of self manifest themselves in adult relations. The mastery of old relationships is achieved. This makes it possible to be freed from such relationships. Self psychology is concerned with the impact of presence or lack of a sense of self-esteem. The establishment of boundaries and differentiation of self is emphasized (Bernstein, 2010).

Psychodynamic psychotherapy incorporates Freud’s ideas of psychosexual development, free association, defense mechanisms and therapeutic techniques of interpretation. The long term goals of psychodynamic psychotherapy are symptom and personality change. Early life conflicts, non-psychotic and personality disorders are addressed.

Psychodynamic therapies conducted to treat depressed persons resolve the patient’s conflicted feelings. Their duration of the therapies is until when depressive symptoms improve (Bernstein, 2010). Psychodynamic counseling is concerned with how past experiences impact on the development of current behavior. Unconscious mediation is through unconscious processes.

The fact that past experiences always leave lasting traces influences self-esteem. Maladaptive patterns of behavior may consequently follow. Therapists make interpretations in regards to patient’s words and behaviors based on what the patient talks about. Dream interpretation and cognitive-behavioral techniques may be applicable in special cases. Free association and dreams are vitally important in the understanding of the unconscious aspects.

Patients are usually enlightened through interpretation. However, therapists face objection produced by individuals’ defense mechanisms. Therapists, therefore, do not aim at eliminating these defense mechanisms. Rather, they replace unhealthy ones with more adaptive and functional systems (Bernstein, 2010). The patients are also made aware of their psychological needs and drives.

Humanistic Theory

Humanistic theory asserts that ongoing determining forces influence individual’s mind. The society also plays a part in influencing the human mind. Humanistic theories enjoy a rich history that spans from the 1950s. Humanistic theories are concerned with the basic goodness of human beings.

Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are the greatest human theorists (Capuzzi, 2004). The development of the theory came as a reaction towards the criticized psychoanalysis and behaviorism. Whereas psychoanalysis was concerned with how unconscious motivations drove behavior, behaviorism focused on conditioning processes that yielded behavior. The two theories were considered too pessimistic, by virtue of neglecting personal choice and emphasizing on most tragic of emotions (Bernstein, 2010).

Individual’s potential, importance of growth and self actualization are the major focus areas of humanistic theories. It is believed that people’s goodness is innate. Mental and social problems are produced once deviations from this natural tendency are encountered. Abraham Maslow considers human psychology as the ‘third force’ in psychology after behaviorism and psychoanalysis.

Humanistic therapy is greatly concerned with growth and fulfillment of the self. Self-mastery, self-examination and creative expression all influence self-actualization. Freedom of choice influences one’s experiences, making it the core consideration in human psychology.

Self-determination and influences of unconscious and the society are considered. According to this theory, each person is free to choose his/her own behavior regardless of the environmental stimuli and reinforcers available. Self esteem, self-fulfillment and needs are important parameters addressed under the theory.

The facilitation of personal development is the major focus. Humanistic therapy aims at ensuring that human beings are held with constructive view and substantial capacity of self determination. A humanistic therapists bears several ideal qualities among them; being genuine, non-judgmental, emphatic, reflective listener, use of open-ended responses. Tentative interpretation is also paramount in the promotion of a client’s self-understanding, acceptance and actualization (Bernstein, 2010).

Humanistic Theory versus Psychodynamic Theory

The fact that human behavior is influenced by some environmental conditions is worthwhile. Humanistic theory asserts that a person has the free will to either do good or bad.

The environment provides different contrasting options for humans. This explains why criminals opt for evil deeds in a society dominated by responsible people. Psychodynamics therapy focuses on the analysis of defense mechanisms that crop after an experience (Bernstein, 2010). The environment at the time of the experience may be good or bad hence the observed defense mechanisms.

Humanistic theory is concerned with human positivity and goodness. Psychodynamic theory on the other hand is concerned with the influence of past experiences on human behavior. Lack of self control in the latter theory is highly criticized by humanistic theorists. They insist that individuals are powerful to influence their own behavior (Weiten, 2002). Humanistic theory is criticized for being too general. The lack of specific approaches to treatment of specific problems is evident.

The free-will notion of the theory makes innovation of treatment techniques complicated. In addition, the humanistic therapy fails to address serious cases such as schizophrenia (Bernstein, 2010). Psychodynamic theory, on the other hand, is a useful tool for examining and addressing serious personality and mental health disorders. The theory is specific in scope because much emphasis is placed on the influence of past experiences on present behavior.

Humanistic theory is subjective as compared to psychodynamic theory. It is usually difficult to ascertain whether a person is self actualized or not. The theory does not provide standards used to measure the levels of human determination, esteem and achievements. Individual assessment of self and achievement is therefore relied upon.

The findings and conclusions obtained may therefore be a false reelection of the reality. Contrary, Psychodynamic theory is relatively les subjective. The effect of past experiences usually impact on one’s life. The manifestation of such experiences in future is used by the therapist to understand the behavior (Weiten, 2002).

Humanistic theory is applied in most key sectors such as education, healthcare and business. The Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is used for motivation in most organizations. The inculcation of zeal and desire to grow academically, economically and social creates a favorable ground for personal development (Weiten, 2002).

The theory encourages people to be good. The success of prominent persons is considered the fruit of human determination. Psychodynamic theory is not widely used. However, it is applied in the healthcare sector in addressing mental disorders.


It is important to appreciate the good work that psychological theorists have done. The understanding of human behavior is not only important to psychologists but also human beings who need to have an insight of how ego and the environment impact on their behavior. Psychodynamic theory is concerned with how past experiences influence the behavior of persons in later stages of life.

Humanistic theory on the other hand asserts that, though the environment influences experiences, free will governs human behavior. It is therefore important to know the limits to which the environment influences human behavior. The fact that both theories support environmental influence on human behavior makes them similar.

However, generalization and subjectivity associated with Humanistic theory makes it different from the psychodynamic theory. Humanistic theory may be widespread in nearly all major sectors. However, it is important to appreciate the role played by other theories in the demystification of human behavior. Psychodynamic theory should not be overlooked since it helps solve serious mental and social disorders.


Bernstein, D. (2010). Essentials of Psychology. Wadsworth Plc.

Capuzzi, D. (2004). Counseling and Psychotherapy: Theories and Interventions. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Weiten, W. (2002). Psychology: Themes and Variations. Belmont: Wadsworth Plc.

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