The first thing every psychology student is made aware of, and something that we all need to set right at the back of our head, are the 5 current perspectives or schools of psychology. The best way to explain these schools of thought would be to pick a situation and look at it how any individual subscribing to any one of these perspectives would. So here it goes!
Situation: Angela has problems in social situations. She had experienced a highly stressful event in her childhood and she finds it really difficult and stressful to use public transportation or stand in line to purchase a good. She also gets anxious while in closed spaces like a theatre or a store, since she feels completely helpless. She is only 21, its normal for people of her age to socialise and make friends, but she cannot get herself to do that because of extreme fear of social situations. Finally, being unable to cope with the anxiety and stress, she locks herself in her room and doesn’t get out for days.
Angela’s situation can be analysed and treated in different ways depending on the school/ perspective of Psychology. Currently, there are five major schools of Psychology and I will be analysing and interpreting Angela’s situation according to all five of them.
Behavioural perspective: This school of thought believes that the observable behaviour should be the main component of study in Psychology- not one’s thoughts or beliefs. It focuses on overt behaviour i.e the behaviour that can be seen or observed. The behavioural school of thought emphasises on the role of learning (classical conditioning, operant conditioning, observational learning, trial and error, etc) in one’s life; and that the attitudes and beliefs that one holds are all learnt and can also be unlearnt. Abnormal behaviour, according to this perspective, is a result of faulty ways of learning.
In Angela’s case, the behavioural school of thought might diagnose her as an agoraphobic, i.e a person who suffers from agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder, specifically a phobia where the individual is scared of social situations which include open or public places, from where escape is impossible. This disorder of hers will be seen as a learnt response during her early years and the psychologist will encourage her to ‘unlearn’ this behaviour by using reward, punishment and reconditioning processes. The behavioural psychologists will see it as a result of faulty learning and might suggest her with therapies. Therapies can be used to treat the disorder and bring the client back to normal social functioning. Behaviour therapy is initiated through behavioural analysis which involves interviewing the client and family members about the causes of such behaviour and depending on the results, a suitable treatment (for example: token economy, systematic desensitization or cognitive behavioural therapy) can be given.
Biological/ Neuroscience perspective: This school of Psychology focuses on biological basis of all behaviour. While the behavioural school of Psychology focuses on the ‘nurture’ (environment), the biological/ neuroscience school emphasises on the role of ‘nature’ (heredity), whereas both nature and nurture contribute largely to the behaviour and functioning of the individual. This perspective emphasises on the involuntary aspects of human behaviour (especially hereditary and evolution), like the secretions of hormones by different glands in the body, the different parts of the brain that perform different functions, how hereditary and inheritance of certain characteristics from our ancestors influences our behaviour, etc and the effects of these on the behaviour of the individual.
If Angela approaches a psychologist from the neuroscience perspective, she is most likely to be prescribed certain drugs- mostly antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications- to control her anxiety and fear during social situations. Agoraphobia is also connected to Panic disorder and can develop as a reaction to Panic disorder. If Angela has had episodes of panic attack before, she is most likely to avoid social situations in the fear that it will happen again. The biological school can find causes to the panic attacks as a natural fight or flight response triggered wrongly during certain situations, or imbalance in the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain that influence emotions, or even that her brain is wired differently from most of the individuals.
Psychodynamic perspective: This perspective of Psychology focuses on the inner forces and conflicts which we have no control over. It focuses on the intrapsychic conflicts relating to the structure of the psyche- Id, Ego and Superego- and defense mechanisms. There is also a focus on the unconscious- a part of the mind that the individual is completely unaware of, and where all the repressed childhood traumas and incidents are stored and that these incidents may have led to the problem behaviour later on in life. It is also believed that slips, or accidents, have an inner or an unconscious hidden motive.A psychologist from the psychodynamic perspective might view Angela’s condition as a result a childhood trauma that is pushed into the unconscious, away from her awareness. Possibly, Angela was abused in her childhood- sexually, verbally or physically- and it’s causing her to behave this way. Not specific to abuse, any traumatic incident, like the death of a parent or a loved one could have led to the problem. In this case, the psychologist would use free association or dream analysis to identify the problem and to gain a clear understanding of the relationship between her mental distress and unresolved issues. The psychologist would then analyse the resistance and help her deal with the problems in a realistic manner. The development of transference by Angela towards her therapist will also play a huge role in the treatment process. Finally, the therapist will explain to her the causes of her problems and help her get over them.
Cognitive perspective: According to this school of Psychology, the way the individual perceives the world has huge effects on his/her behaviour. It mainly focuses on mental processes like thinking, decision making, memory, perception, etc. Many a times, our mental processes or thinking is compared to the working of a computer which also involves taking in information, analysing the information, storing it, and then retrieving the information. It is also believed that differences in information processing can lead to differences in behaviour. This school of thought believes that as the individual grows, thoughts that are faulty and beliefs that are wrong start to create problems in behaviour.Therefore, in Angela’s case, her thoughts and beliefs about the world and the way she perceives all social situations will be questioned. Maybe Angela has wrong beliefs about people, which she developed when she was younger, and now these thoughts and beliefs are causing her problems and are preventing her from looking at social situations in a positive way. A cognitive psychologist might advise her Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which clubs two principles- cognitive and behavioural- and aims at changing the thinking pattern of the individual by removing the distress that has both cognitive and behavioural causes. Also, Rational Emotive Therapy, which attempts to change the faulty belief system of the individual into a rationalistic one; and Beck’s Cognitive Therapy that aims at changing the illogical thoughts of an individual towards the world, self and the future, can be provided to Angela along with relaxation techniques
Humanistic perspective: The humanistic perspective of Psychology mainly came up as a rejection to all other perspectives of Psychology. Accordingly, this school of thought believes that an individual always aspires to reach self-actualisation, and have the capacity to reach fulfilment. It believes in free will, and the fact that every individual has a choice in each and every situation, and everything that is happening to them is their own choice and their own responsibility, and when an individual is unable to achieve self-actualisation, it leads to distress and problem behaviour. This perspective believes in helping people to complete their goals and reach the stage of self-actualisation.A humanistic psychologist will look at Angela’s condition as a result of failed attempt to reach self-fulfilment or self-actualisation and that whatever Angela is going through, it’s because of her own free will and choice and she is herself responsible for that behaviour. Therefore, the psychologist might conclude that Angela needs to be given a suitable environment and opportunity so she can reach her goal to eliminate the problem behaviour for which, a Client Centered Therapy can be used where the client is given unconditional positive regard. Also, the humanistic psychologist might be interested in knowing the effects of this behaviour on Angela and work on reducing them. The humanistic psychologist might suggest her methods that she can use to reduce the anxiety and fear that she is facing during social situations.
Therefore, one single problem can be looked at differently from different perspectives of Psychology. Depending on the condition and the situation of the individual, one perspective might be preferred more over the other and a suitable treatment (medication or psychotherapy) might be given.