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Freud’s theory of Psychosexual Development Essay

I will begin my essay by outlining Freud’s theory of Psychosexual Development and I will then go on to evaluate how far this help us to understand a client’s presenting issue. Freud’s theory of psychosexual development begins with the belief that human beings are purely driven by biology, in the form of the libido or sexual energy. The driving force of the libido is divided into five stages, he argues, and our early experiences during childhood are responsible for the development of a healthy personality, or if any individual were to experience trauma during these stages then it would result in disruption in the child’s personal development and the child may become stuck in this stage, resulting in neurosis. This five stages of sexual libido are:

The Oral Stage – from birth to about 18 months – is where the child directs all its attention to the mouth in the form of sucking, eating and drinking. If stuck in this stage the client may still like to use their mouth a lot, resulting in the client presenting with overeating, drinking, smoking or talking The Anal Stage – from about 18 months to three years – is where the child directs their attention to the elimination of waste, and of the feelings experienced by the expelling of waste. This is also the stage where the child first experiences an element of control over themselves, as to where they excrete or and indeed whether or not they excrete their waste product. The child learns that he can use his bodily functions to elicit attention from his carer by excreting on the floor rather than in the potty. Clients stuck in the anal stage may be either anally retentive or expulsive in personality. Those that are anally retentive individuals are controlling and like to have everything in order – they may suffer from OCD and have quick outbursts of anger. Anally expulsive individuals tend to be untidy and disorganised.

The Phallic Stage – from about three to five years – is where children become aware of their genital regions. This is the stage where the child starts to become aware of the differences between male and female genitalia, and their energy is spent undressing themselves, and perhaps others, in order to explore these differences. It is also the stage of manipulating the genitals and the discovery of pleasure in doing so. It is during this stage that the Oedipus conflict arises; the belief that a boy has incestuous cravings for his mother and views his father as a rival for this affection. The boy also fears his father, as his father is bigger than him in all ways including his penis. Freud argued that the boy feels castration anxiety at this stage as a result of repressed sexual desire for his mother. If the boy has the correct parenting at this stage, then the boy identifies with the father and comes to have harmless affection for the mother. The Electra complex is the female counterpart. It is based on the view that each girl wants to possess her father and replace her mother. A phallic fixation can lead to an individual with a narcissistic, homosexual, egotistical or overly sexualised personality that may lead to serial marriage, polygamy or polyandry.

The phallic fixation tends to use sex to discharge emotional tension and will often have sexual relationships that are superficial and lacking in love and affection The Latency Stage – from five years to adolescence. In this stage, sexual motivated needs subside as the child focuses their attention on developing other skills needed for their survival. A child stuck in this stage may have issues forming sexual relationships and have trouble expressing themselves sexually, leaving themselves and or their partners sexually unfulfilled. The Genital Stage – from adolescence to adulthood. During the onset of adolescence, the child moves from self-love or narcissistic love to diverting this love to others. It is argued by psychotherapists that are advocates of this theory that individuals disrupted during the ‘Genital stage’ may result in sexual disorders such as fetishes and paedophilia. According to Freud, only symptoms can be modified, and not the behaviour of the client – this can be done in two ways: 1. Lessening of the intensity of the unconscious urges, by bringing them to the consciousness or by strengthening the defences against them.

An example of lessening the client’s behaviour is by encouraging a client to leave a job where aggressive urges were continually being aroused by an oppressive boss. 2. Alternatively the client can act out their urges in a more acceptable and symbolic way. An example being that anal urges can be expressed through pottery, as an alternative to faecal play. Feminists would argue that Freud’s theory concentrates on male sexual development, and provides little in understanding female sexuality. Freud’s work has also been criticised for over emphasising sex drive and little else in order to assess a client’s presenting issue. Carl Jung and Fromm, two students of Freud, agreed with this statement, but used Freud’s work to develop their own theories, which I outline below. Carl Jung (1875 -1961) believed that that the libido was not just sexual energy, but instead generalised psychic energy. The purpose of this psychic energy was to motivate the individual in a number of ways, including spiritually, intellectually, and creatively. It was an individual’s source for seeking pleasure as well as reducing conflict. Jung placed greater emphasis on the unconscious than Freud; he argued that the psyche was composed of three components.

Firstly, he believed that the ego is conscious, because people are aware of their own thoughts, memories and emotions. The unconscious mind, Jung believed, was split into two parts (the remaining two components): The personal unconscious, which is the same as Freud’s belief, in that it consists of repressed memories. Jung explained an important feature of the personal unconscious called ‘complexes’. A complex is a collection of thoughts, feelings, attitudes and memories, which focus on a single concept. The more elements attached to the ‘complex’ the greater its influence on the individual. The second deeper level is the Collective consciousness. This level of unconscious is shared with other members of the human species, comprising of latent memories from our ancestral and evolutionary past (‘The form of the world into which a person is born is already inborn in him, as a virtual image’ Jung, 1953). Jung called the ancestral memories and images ‘archetypes’. For Jung, our primitive past becomes the basis of the human psyche, directing and influencing present behaviour.

Important archetypes include: the persona, or our social mask, just like an actor in a play; Anima/Animus, or our male and female sides – this comes from living side by side with the opposite sex for centuries; the shadow, similar to Freud’s ID, comprised of our animal urges or survival and reproduction. Jung argued that the psychological development of both sexes was undermined as the development of western society has led to the devaluation of feminine qualities over the predominance of the persona, leading to insecurity. Jung agreed with Freud that a person’s past and childhood experiences determined future behaviour, but he also believed that we are shaped by our future aspirations too. Erich Fromm (1900 – 1980) differed with the Freudian emphasis on unconscious drives. Fromm argues that a person’s drives were not purely biological – he believed that man had free choice to decide on whatever action he felt appropriate and therefore guided their own destiny. Fromm saw conflict arising within the individual, when they had to weigh up the freedom of choice with the fear of uncertainty, when making these decisions. As a sociologist and psychologist, his theories integrated both psychology and Marxist Historical Materialism.

Fromm argued that each socioeconomic class fosters a particular character, governed by ideas and concepts that justify and maintain the socioeconomic system. Fromm believed that the unique character of human existence gives rises to eight basic needs. Firstly Unity, as human beings have lost their original oneness with nature, they need to relate in order to overcome their isolation. Secondly their relatedness with others, care, respect and knowledge. Thirdly humans need to transcend their own nature, as well as their passivity and randomness of existence, which can be accomplished either positively, by loving and creating, or negatively, through hatred and destruction. Fourthly the individual also requires a sense of rootedness or belonging, in order to gain a feeling of security, and sense of identity. Fifthly the sense of identity which is expressed non-productively as conformity to a group and productively as an individual. Sixthly is need is for orientation understanding the world and our place in it. Seventhly is excitation and stimulation or actively striving for a goal rather than simply responding.

Eighthly is effectiveness the need to feel accomplished. This Orientation can be achieved either through assimilation (relating to things) or socialisation (relating to people). Fromm identified several character Orientations in Western Society. Authoritarianism – when an individual cannot come to terms with this freedom, he could avoid his responsibilities by withdrawing beneath the protection of someone or something else. Examples of this include God, a specific political leader of party, an institution of even one’s carer. Receptive Orientation – this is common in a society which encourages exploitation of the individual, who then seeks solace in affection and related comforts, such as eating, where the individual can only take and not give. Exploitative Orientation – the defence being the aggressive possession of goods, usually those of others.

Examples being the plundering of goods in historical times, or in more modern times, those nations that seek the territories and chattels of others. Productive Orientation – which donates love and tolerance towards others, and an acceptance of their freedom, with the ability to use this orientation to their advantage, without harming others. Hoarding Orientation – the ‘I want – I need’ society, based on material wealth. If one owns objects, then the individual can be seen, at least in his eyes, as clever and powerful. These individuals are threatened by the outside world and cannot share. Marketing Orientation – this is people copying or being influenced by the media and advertising by wearing the latest fashions. Individual personal qualities are redundant over what looks good. The individual sees themselves as a commodity to be bought and sold. Fromm added two further states:

Necrophilous character- attracted to death
Biophilous character – drawn to life.

According to Fromm, gaining independence from one’s parents leads to a profound sense of loneliness and isolation, which the individual attempts to escape by establishing some type of bond with society through social conformity and submission to authority. By relating both Jung and Fromm’s work to our clients, they have made us aware of the client’s wider world or heritage into which he or she is born. Jung would argue that a Muslim woman may have low self-esteem and isolate herself from others, but these presenting issues are more down to the client’s collective consciousness than their childhood. In this case, Jung helps us as therapist to understand that the client’s neurosis may not arise from bad parenting, but from something primal based upon evolution within the individual. Fromm’s Socio- economic theories also provide us with insight of the client’s wider world, and how neurosis can arise due to external economic forces that drive the client’s neurosis in an exploitative and materialistic society that values things over the human existence. Both would argue that it is our environment rather than biology that constrains us, in the form of society and culture.

For Jung and Fromm, in order to understand the client’s presenting issue, we must also understand their culture and the way in which they relate to the economic society into which they are born. An alternative view to Freud’s psychosexual development is that of the Behaviourist approach. Behaviourists believe that what is learned can be unlearned. Skinner built upon the work of Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiments (1927) and his use of dogs as subjects, and the Little Albert experiments of Watson and Rayner (1920). To further these experiments, Skinner (1938) designed a Puzzle box and, by using rats, he showed that by using both positive and negative reinforcements, he could change the behaviour of the rats, as their behaviour is affected by consequences. He called this Operant Conditioning to which he identified three responses: Neutral Operants: responses from the environment that neither increase nor decrease the probability of a behaviour repeated. Reinforces: responses from the environment that increase the probability of a behaviour being repeated – this can be ether positive or negative Punishers: Responses from the environment that decrease the probability of a behaviour being repeated.

Punishment weakens behaviour. Skinner concluded that there was a Law of Effect, and that by using reinforcement, behaviour tends to be repeated, while behaviour which is not reinforced tends to die out. As human beings, we often respond to verbal Operants by taking advice, listening to the warnings of others and by obeying given rules and laws. This helps us understand the development of children, as the feelings associated with behaviour are controlled by conditioning. If the child has been positively rewarded, then the child is more likely to repeat those behaviours happily and willingly, feeling that they are doing what they want to be doing. If on the other hand the child avoids these behaviours due to negative reinforcement, they will be inclined to feel that their freedoms are being repressed, resulting in feelings of negativity, which could led to depression or anxiety. The work of Skinner, Pavlov, Watson and Rayner has led to the development of different treatments, such as Cognitive behavioural therapy and talking therapy that will help you manage your problems by changing the way you think and behave, commonly used to treat anxiety, depression and phobias but can be useful for other mental and physical health problems.

In conclusion, Freud’s work on psychosexual development does help us in part to understand a client’s presenting issue, by understanding that their behaviour may very well stem from how their parents handled the child’s psychosexual development. By accepting this assertion, it also helps us to understand that what we, as society, view as very disturbing or deviant behaviour can arise from childhood trauma. This allows the therapist, and society, to be more compassionate to such clients. An example of this is that Freud stated that homosexuality is neither a sinful nor a criminal act, but rather a condition that arose from childhood biological and psychological factors, and was just a ‘variation of the sexual function’, and because of this is could not be treated by punishment or therapy, but should just be accepted. Freud’s work, as already discussed, is limited in understanding the client’s total world, however we must understand that Freud’s work was the first of its kind in understanding human psychological development, and was written at a time when most adults probably were sexually repressed, as well as viewing homosexuality as sinful.

The later work of others, including Jung and Fromm, built upon his work, to help us understand the client’s presenting issue in a wider context. They widened our worldly view of the client by demonstrating how neurosis of the individual may also arise due to internal factors of the collective consciousness, arising from cultural and social heritage, or by external factors, such as how the client relates to the economic environment into which they are born. The work of the behaviourists also helps us to understand that any negative social conditioning also plays its part in understanding the client’s presenting issue.

As a final note, we must remember that it is the job of the therapist to use the work of others as a tool to understanding the client’s own world in order to get enough understanding of the client’s perspective in relation to their own presenting issue. This understanding helps facilitate the client in coming to their own conclusions as to how best to tackle their own presenting issue, either by managing their condition from the Freudian perspective, or helping them change their own perspective and/or behaviour, as argued by the behaviourists.

What Freud Really Said – David Stafford-Clark (1996)
1935 – Freud’s letter response to a mother asking him to treat her homosexual son. (1935) Handbook of Individual Therapy – Edited by Windy Dryden (1990) Counselling for Toads – Robert De Board (1998)

McLeod, S.A (2008)

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