According to the psychodynamic approach, abnormality is caused when trauma from unresolved conflict between the id, ego, and superego is repressed into the unconscious and this causes regression to an earlier stage of psychosexual development. (see A2 Level Psychology pages 397–399 for a more detailed review of the psychosexual stages and fixation and regression).
Fixation and regression mean that the ego is not fully developed and so the individual may be dominated by the id or the superego, and because the ego is weak the individual will lack a sound basis in reality. The psychodynamic explanation suggests most schizophrenics experienced very harsh childhood environments, often because their parents were very cold and unsupportive. This leads to fixation or regression to early stages of psychosexual development. In particular, schizophrenia is linked to an early part of the oral stage called primary narcissism during which the ego has not separated from the id. The ego is the rational part of the mind and so the person ceases to operate on the basis of the reality principle, therefore losing touch with reality. This explains some of the symptoms of schizophrenia.
Evaluation of the psychodynamic explanation
• Accounts for loss of contact with reality. Freud’s theory accounts for this with the assumption that people with schizophrenia regress to a period of early childhood during which infants have no proper notion of reality.
• Accounts for some symptoms. For example, delusions of grandeur, neologisms.
• Can’t be tested. The theory is speculative because it is impossible to test empirically concepts such as the unconscious, ego, regression, etc., and so there is lack of research evidence. Whist there is some face validity in assuming that the schizophrenic experiences inner turmoil, this may not necessarily be due to primary narcissism or strong sexual impulses. The fact the theory cannot be tested means it cannot be falsified and so it lacks scientific validity.
• Sample bias. Freud used his own patients, upper-class Viennese hysterical women, as the sample and so population validity may be low.
• Ignores current problems. The psychodynamic emphasis on the past means current problems are often neglected.
• Schizophrenics do not resemble young children. The comparison between schizophrenics and children is unfair on children. The lack of motivation and emotional blunting bear no resemblance to children’s natural enthusiasm and motivation.
• Mothers of schizophrenics. Waring and Ricks (1965, see A2 Level Psychology page 399) contradict the account of the mothers of schizophrenics as harsh and withholding. Instead they found they tended to be anxious, shy, withdrawn, and incoherent. It can also be argued that there is no difference between parents of schizophrenics and those of non-schizophrenics and that any differences in family interactions are an effect of having a relative with schizophrenia rather than a cause.
• Doesn’t explain onset of schizophrenia. The theory suggests the problems begin in childhood, which doesn’t explain why schizophrenia does not develop until late adolescence or early adulthood.
• Psychodynamic therapy. Has generally proved to be unsuccessful (Comer, 2001, see A2 Level Psychology page 399).
According to this approach, the cognitive impairments shown by people with schizophrenia (e.g. poor attentional control; language deficits; disorganised thinking) play an important role in the development and maintenance of schizophrenia. McKenna (1996, see A2 Level Psychology page 399) suggests schizophrenia may be due to a defect in selective attention and so the symptoms depend in part on the poor ability of a person with schizophrenia to concentrate.
Recent research suggests that schizophrenic symptoms may be due to a lack of self-monitoring, and consequently thoughts and ideas are attributed to external sources such as