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Psychoanalytic Explanation For Mood Disorders (Depression And Bipolar Disorder)

Freud’s explanation of depression focuses on the idea of loss – that the root cause of all depression lies in the loss of something loved, whether it is a person or an object. Lowry (1984) added that this loss can be real or imaginary. However, some may question what separates the overwhelming sadness caused by, say, the death of a loved one, and depression? The psychoanalytic approach fails to answer this.

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In PJ Clayton’s study, widows and widowers were studied for a year after the death of their spouses.

While depression brought about by the death of a loved one is excluded as being a depressive episode by most psychologists, Clayton found that 45% of his subjects fit the criteria for diagnosis of depression. In reaction to the loss, Freud believed the depressive then develops feelings of self hatred, and begins to blame themselves for the loss. Freud also believed feelings of self hatred develop from the depressive’s thoughts about unresolved conflicts which have often been repressed to the unconscious.

Psychoanalytic explanations find it especially difficult to explain the cyclical nature of bipolar disorder, and mood disorders such as SAD and post natal depression; they only seem to have an explanation for depression. Melanie Klein, a post Freudian, claims that whether an individual loses his or her self esteem depends on the quality of the individual’s relationship as an infant with his or her mother during the first year of life.

If an individual doesn’t have positive experiences with his or her mother during the first year of life, then a predisposition of depression may be planted. This also links in with the ideas of theorists such as Bowlby. There is research to back this up, linking adverse early experiences to greater likelihood of developing a mood disorder later in life e. g.

Foltyn et al (1998) who found in a study of Polish medical students that 25% of examined students had depression symptoms and that these students were exposed significantly more frequently to early negative experiences than students without depression. However, the approach has been criticised for being too deterministic. How do we explain how some individuals who have experienced trauma and separation in early childhood don’t develop depression and go on to lead happy, normal lives, as shown in various case studies?

Freud also believed that too many positive experiences during the first year of life (oral stage) could set an individual up for developing depression later on in life. He believed that if a child is nurtured too much – over indulged – as an infant; they could become fixated at the oral stage. The individual may develop problems later in adult life because he or she is used to receiving excessive amounts of attention as a child and perhaps not as much in adult life, so may feel rejected, unloved, and thus become depressed.

A lot of the psychoanalytic explanation is very difficult to test empirically. Freud’s stages of psychosexual development occur at an unconscious level, which makes it difficult to test. Psychoanalytic explanations give insufficient weight to the role of biological factors in the development of mood disorders. The evidence regarding genetic factors, the role of neurochemicals and the effectiveness of anti-depressant drugs, appears to be ignored by psychoanalysts.

A key strength to the psychoanalytic approach is that they claim their therapy targets the underlying causes of the disorder, which other treatments don’t do. They claim that biological treatments, such as drugs and ECT, treat the symptoms not the underlying causes; they simply mask of disguise the underlying problems. Psychoanalytic treatments tackle those problems which are usually rooted in some significant and on going psychological problem which has its origins on early experiences – perhaps making it more effective.