Considering psychoanalysis and behavioral psychology, how would one answer the following questions: 1. A 4-year-old becomes frightened of the dark and refuses to go to sleep at night. How would a...

Considering psychoanalysis and behavioral psychology, how would one answer the following questions:

1. A 4-year-old becomes frightened of the dark and refuses to go to sleep at night. How would a psychoanalyst and a behaviorist differ in their views of how this problem developed?

2. Imagine if you were the parent of a down syndrome child. What factors, within and beyond the family, could help you support your child's development?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As we are limited in space, below are a few ideas to help get you started.

In such a situation, a psychoanalyst would judge the 4-year-old's fear of the dark based on Sigmund Freud's psychoanalytic theories and techniques. Freud theorized that all phobias are a direct result of unresolved conflicts between the id and the superego. The id is the part of our brains that acts solely based on emotions, while the superego is our conscience, the part of our brain that acts based on value judgements; acting contrarily to the judgements of the superego will create a sense of guilt, and that sense of guilt can lead to unwanted behavior, like phobic behavior ("Phobia Treatment Options: Psychoanalysis"). More specifically, Freud theorized that phobias result from the superego repressing the desires of the id, and one of the most common repressions is the desire, especially for a boy, to have sexual relations one's mother. Freud traced all kinds of seemingly unrelated phobias to the desire for sexual relations with one's mother. One of the most famous cases involved a 5-year-old boy called Little Hans who had a debilitating fear of horses that developed the day he witnessed a horse collapse in a street. Freud connected the phobia to the boy's unconscious wish it had been his father who had collapsed so that the boy could be alone with his mother ("The Psychoanalytic Account of Phobias"). The boy's unconscious wish the collapsed horse had been his father was the wish of his id, while the phobia resulted from the boy's sense of guilt derived from the fact that his superego judged the boy's unconscious wish to be wrong. Hence, a psychoanalyst might reach the conclusion that the 4-year-old in the case in question is afraid of the dark because he subconsciously knows it is at night his parents will be sleeping in bed together, which makes him feel jealous of his father and afraid of that taking place.

A psychoanalyst would use both free association and dream analysis to expose the conflict between the id and the superego. Free association is a technique also invented by Freud in which the psychoanalyst encourages the patient to freely say whatever comes to his or her mind. The theory is that unconscious thoughts will surface in the form of repeated words and ideas when the mind is set free to wander (Jones, "About the Free Associations Method"). A psychoanalyst would also use dream analysis based on Freud's theory stating dreams are made up of a compilation of symbols that communicate messages to and about the dreamer. More specifically, Freud theorized that all dreams, even nightmares, are actually a wish fulfillment ("Sigmund Freud's Theories of Dreams"). A psychoanalyst would analyze the dream to find out what it is the patient's id desires that the superego disapproves of, causing inner conflict resulting in phobias.

In contrast to psychoanalysts, behaviorists operate under the premise that phobic behaviors are a reflex response to legitimate fears which become associated with non-harmful environmental factors as well. For example, a natural fear of poisonous snakes can become associated with non-poisonous snakes, resulting in a phobic reaction to all snakes ("Treatment for Phobias"). Hence, unlike psychoanalysts, behaviorists focus more on individuals' responses to their environment, not on internal conflict. Since behaviorists focus on environmental responses, the treatment method they use is called classic conditioning, and there are several different types of classic conditioning treatments. One type of classic conditioning treatment is called exposure treatment, and using this technique, the behavioral psychologist will expose the phobic patient to whatever stimulates fear; however, the behavioral psychologist will do so in a safe and controlled environment ("Treatment for Phobias"). For example, a behaviorist treating a snake phobia will keep exposing the patient to non-poisonous snakes to show they are harmless until the fear fades away. One specific type of exposure treatment is called flooding in which the patient is flooded with exposures to whatever stimulates fear until the fear reflex fades ("Treatment for Phobias"). If we were to apply exposure treatment and flooding to our case with the 4-year-old who is afraid of the dark, the behaviorist would expose the 4-year-old to darkness until the child lost his fear reflex; the child could be exposed to darkness either physically or just by asking him to imagine darkness.

Another classical conditioning treatment is called counter-conditioning. Using this method, the behaviorist will teach the patient to substitute his/her fear reflex for a "relaxation response" instead. Through teaching the patient a series of relaxation techniques, the theory holds that the patient will eventually become desensitized to whatever triggers the fear reflex ("Treatment for Phobias").