Similarities and Differences between the psychoanalytic and cognitive approaches


Various similarities can be drawn from the cognitive and psychoanalytic approaches. First of these is the existence of a task that presents a crisis to the individual. For psychoanalytic processes these tasks are identified in terms of ages, where at infancy for instance the challenge is developing trust. A similar convergence of the theories is in the need for increasing complexity of the challenges being experienced. Whereas in the cognitive theory the need for increasing complexities for cognitive development to occur is explicitly stated, for the psychoanalytic theory such can be implied. For instance when a child reaches the school-going age, he is presented with a more complex world that does not involve establishing relationships with the family members but with other members and phenomena outside the family environment. Similarly adulthood brings along new perspectives according to which self identity is sought.

Secondly the theories emphasize the role of environmental interactions in personality development. According to the psychoanalytic theory the outcome of a crisis is dependent on the input from the surrounding. For instance, when quality maternal relationship is provided, the child would develop a sense of trust; when that is not provided a sense of mistrust develops. Similarly when protection from repeated loss of self control is not provided e.g. through excessive parental restraint, the child could develop a sense of doubt and a feeling of shame but when such is substituted with reassuring control from others, a sense of autonomy develops (Atalay, 2007). The cognitive approach agrees with these environmental influences through its contention of the importance role of social interactions as a means through which culture brings about cognitive development (Louis, 2009). Such association also leads to another convergence of the theories, the existence of an independent party – who influences the outcomes of the search for self identity. Though the psychoanalytic approach does not refer to such a party as a more knowledgeable individual as the cognitive approach does, the role that persons such as parents could play to influence whether the child develops mistrust or trust, or shame or autonomy; is synonymous to the contention of having an individual who directs learners towards the necessary interactions for optimal cognitive development.


The differences of the two theories primarily arise out of the methodologies for achieving self identity. The cognitive approach presents a learned way of doing tasks, e.g. after receiving help from more knowledgeable person, one learns to do the task and in the process cognitive developments takes place. The knowledge to do the process is thus a learned process, the precision of which is achieved through repetition (practice) but further learning would only be through a new (more complex) task. Psychoanalytic approach on the other hand subscribes to existence of unconscious abilities in the individual that needs to be motivated for the crisis (task) to be completed. As such if the ability to deal with the crisis presented in the previous developmental period is not brought out, the crises in subsequent periods will appear more complex. The psychoanalytic approach thus places more emphasis on the past events as they have shaped the present occurrences.

The similarities in the approaches may thus be arguably more pronounced than the differences. Most of the differences between these theories arise out of the way that their perspectives are applied in education or treatment. Depending on the approach the methods used could differ in such ways as the session structure and intensity of application of active techniques. Despite these differences, basic concepts such as increasing complexity of tasks remain unchanged for both approaches.


Atalay, M. (2007). Psychology of crisis: An overall account of the psychology of Erikson. Ekev Academic Review, 11(33), 15-34.

Louis, G.W. (2009). Using Glasser’s choice theory to understand Vygotsky. International Journal of Reality Therapy, 28(2), 20-23.

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