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Psychodynamic And Sociocultural Explanations For Depression

Updated on October 15, 2013

Psychodynamic Explanations

In 1917 Freud proposed a psychodynamic approach to depression that was based on bereavement and mourning.

Freud believed that everyone has some negative emotions and feelings towards the people that they love. When an individual loses a loved one (through death, separation or withdrawal of affection) those feelings are turned upon themselves and thus they feel negatively about themselves.

Freud's psychodynamic theory of depression stated that when a loved one is lost (through death, separation or withdrawal of affection) the individual will go through a mourning period then after a while they will return to a normal state. Freud suggested that this is not the case for all people though and that some people will constantly stay in the 'mourning' phase and continue to exist in a state of permanent 'melancholia' (what we now refer to as depression). It was thought that mourning is a natural process whereas melancholia was a pathological illness caused by mourning occurring for a long period of time.

Sociocultural Explanations

Kendler et al (1995) found that the highest levels of depression were in women who were genetically vulnerable to depression and had experienced recent life events. Hammen (1997) then suggested that the presence of a diathesis attributional style in an individual will make the individual more predisposed to interpret the life event in a negative way and in a way that facilitates depression. This means that even minor events can trigger a person to become depressed if they are subjected to cognitive vunerability.

Studies that support/oppose the psychodynamic explanation

  • Shah and Waller (2000)

Found that many people who suffer from depression have described their parents as 'affectionless'. This supports Freud's theory that 'withdrawal of affection' can be a factor in the development of depression.

  • Barnes and Prosen (1985)

Found that males who's fathers had died in their childhood scored higher on a depression scale compared to a control group of males whose fathers had not died. This supports Freud's suggestion that the loss of a loved one may play a role in the development of depression as an adult. It has been argued however that it was the lack of care that they received during their childhood because of the death of their father was the cause for the depression rather than the loss itself.

  • Paykel and Cooper (1992)

Found that only 10% of people who experience a loss of a loved one during childhood will develop depression in later life. This suggests that it could only play a small part (if any) in the development of depression.

Studies that support/oppose the sociocultural explanation

  • Brown and Harris

Suggested that the study into sociocultural factors in depression was invalid because it only took into account the life events and depression of British women. The results therefore may only be able to be applied to this group of people.

  • Frydenberg and Lewis (1993)

Suggested that women rely on social support more than men do and therefore may be more negatively effected if they lost that social support compared to men. Therefore using a group of participants that are all female may be less valid than using a group of both males and females because life events that involve losing social support may affect women more negatively than it would affect men.

  • Hammen (1997)

Found that it's not only stress that causes depression but also depression that causes stress. This could mean that a person will experience stress and develop depression and then become more stressed because of the depression and therefore become more depressed. This may lead to a spiralling depressive state.

  • Cole (1990)

Found that children in primary school with low social competence were more likely to develop depression in later life compared to their peers who had high social competence. This shows the role of social skills in the development of depression.


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    • Dr PsyTech profile image

      Travis S Patterson PhD 

      4 years ago from San Antonio, TX

      The main issue with Psychodynamic theory is that Freud did not have a diverse population to study. Mainly, his theories are based from a clinical perspective, where patients are utilized as case studies. Unfortunately, Freud's clients were predominantly wealthy women in Europe. This lack of diverse case studies and additional methods of triangulation in this qualitative en devour would lead many to believe his popularity is not necessarily based on the objective, diversely based case studies as evidence, but perhaps its an innate postulate that we all hold naturally inside. Yes, Freud did pave the way for many psychologists, psychiatrists, scholars, researchers, etc... to expand and further the field, but as a 'theory' Freud might fall within a more 'Pseudo-scientific' realm in our modern age. Just a thought and still stumped on this one! Great Hub!

    • teflindo profile image

      Wayne Duplessis 

      5 years ago from Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia

      Whichever school of thought the reader follows this is an interesting discussion. Thank you


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