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Cognitive and psychodynamic approach to psychology

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Education
Wordcount: 1452 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The Difference Between The Cognitive Approach And The Psychodynamic Approach To Psychology

Psychologists introduced a number of diverse approaches in order to understand human nature and behaviour. There are different ways of explaining phenomena, which is why there are different approaches. These different approaches include Cognitive and Psychodynamic.

The Cognitive approach began to revolutionise psychology in the late 1950s and early 1960s.Piaget is the best known cognitive development researcher who suggested that, thinking progressed through qualitative changes due to the increasing maturity of brain. He is remembered for his studies of cognitive development in children (1896-1980). The internet site, quotes.net quotes Jean Piaget as saying “The principal goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done” Cognitive psychologists are interested in how people understand, diagnose and solve problems. Cognitive research mainly focuses on how our brains process information and the research tends to take place in the laboratory than in real-life settings. The cognitive approach states that cognitive disorders have been learned, and so can be unlearned.

According to Albert Ellis, when we think positively and make decisions based on reasons, we behave rationally, and as a result we are happy, competent and effective. On the other hand, prolonged irrational thinking can lead to psychological problems and abnormal behaviour.

Attribution theory suggests that when we are disguised with someone’s behaviour, we try to work out in our minds why the person is acting weird. According to Kelley (1967, 1973), when we are making these attributions, we work out in stages, Firstly, we try to decide whether the individual is to be blamed for his actions, secondly, whether someone else is responsible and thirdly, whether the situation itself  has influenced the person to behave in such a way.

Unlike cognitive approach, the psychodynamic approach focuses on the three parts of mind which are conscious, unconscious and preconscious and the three components of personality which are id, ego and superego.

Conscious are thoughts and perceptions while unconscious are wishes and desires formed in childhood.  It was mainly initiated by Sigmund Freud, a Viennese doctor who specialised in neurology. All psychodynamic theories stem from psychoanalysis. Freud first developed the basic idea that understanding behaviour requires insight into the thoughts and feelings which influence our actions. Hill (2001 p.72) quotes Sigmund Freud as saying “I set myself the task of bringing to light what human beings keep hidden within them”. Freud’s understanding of the mind was largely based on interpretive methods.

Freud argued that, childhood experiences play a crucial part in adult development including the development of adult personality. Every child must pass through the so-called psycho-sexual stages; how a child experiences these stages plays a crucial role in the development of his/her personality.

Methods Of Investigation

Cognitive developmental psychologists have used methods such as observation eg Piaget daily observation of children playing and experimentation eg experiments comparing the ability of two different age groups to pass conservation tests. Piaget was looking at the kind of mistakes that children of different age group make. Piaget’s theory provides detailed description of development but does not really explain properly. By focusing on the child’s mistakes, he might have overlooked more important abilities that children do possess.

Psychodynamic psychologists however used clinical case studies, dream analysis and free association to research their theory. Freud used to investigate his patients in detail and deeply analyse and interpreted all they said and did.

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was the first favourite disciple of Freud.

Jung disagreed with Freud that dreams are always disguised wish fulfilment resulting from the past circumstances instead Jung suggested that dreams reflect current pre-occupations.

Strengths And Weaknesses Of Psychodynamic Approach


Psychodynamic approach reminds us that, early childhood experience can have an impact on people throughout their live without them being aware that it is happening. Therefore, the approach accepts that everyone can suffer mental illness through no fault of their own. It also offers a ‘cure’ for abnormality through psychoanalysis by explaining the underlying causes in the unconscious, making them conscious, and releasing the patient from the emotional pain caused by the childhood trauma.

Many people would agree that, unconscious processes do have an effect on human behaviour, and Freud’s work on how defence mechanisms protect the ego is especially useful.

Freud case studies like `Little Hans` and `Anna O` detailed collection of data provided scientific support for his theory and psychoanalysis has enormous explanatory power and has something to say on a huge variety of important topics.

The weaknesses of psychodynamic approach are that, it cannot be scientifically observed or tested. In fact, it has never been disproved by any test. There is no way of demonstrating if the unconscious actually exists and verify if a repressed memory is a real or false memory unless independent evidence is available, in that context, most of psychodynamic theories are taken on faith. Freud over emphasised sexual causes and according to Breuer, Freud was prone to “excessive generalisation”.

A therapist must analyse and interpret any evidence recovered by a psychoanalyst from a patient, this leaves open the possibility of serious misinterpretation or bias because two therapists may interpret the same evidence in entirely different ways.

Finally, the psychodynamic approach ignores possible explanation of abnormal behaviour by other psychological approaches.

As for the cognitive approach, it concentrates on current information-processing by the brain, it does not depend on the past history of the client, and for example, recovering repressed memories from the unconscious. It also had practical applications and implications for the society. Cognitive researchers usually conduct scientific and objective research to support their theories, however, it has been accused that the cognitive psychologists ignored the huge complexity of human functioning by comparing to computer functioning. It also ignores the emotional life of humans.

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The psychodynamic approach states that, behaviour is not learned but caused by forces in the unconscious unlike the cognitive approach which states that behaviour is learned as we process information and mental changes in important ways over time. Psychodynamic approach considers behaviour as predetermined. They point out that different parts of the mind are in constant dynamic struggle with each other, so individuals have no control over their behaviour but the cognitive approach regard behaviour as not predetermined. It states that we always have power to change cognition. Psychodynamic approach is regarded as unscientific because it cannot be measured or manipulated, whereas cognitive approach is regarded as scientific since it considers the brain is similar to a computer where information can be manipulated. Unlike cognitive approach, psychodynamic approach mainly focuses on early childhood behaviours.

The main differences are the approach in which each theory takes in determining the cause of mental illness or mal adjusted behaviour eg psychodynamic perspective focuses more so on unconscious process while cognitive perspective focuses more so on mental processes.


Each theory is used to define the mentality of men, explain mental illness and determine a way to control if necessary. Each theory on its own way focuses on the human mind and its reaction to its environment.

They both have difficulty in confirming their research.


· Hill G. 2001 As Level Psychology through Diagrams Oxford University press.




“Jean Piaget.” Quotes.net. STANDS4 LLC, 2009. 14 November. 2009. http://www.quotes.net/quote/16376


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