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Psychological Perspectives on the Etiology of Depression

Written by sshowalter.

Psychodynamic Models- Focuses on unexpressed rage and the inadequate processing of aggression of an individual combined with an overly punitive superego.1 Also focuses on depression as a disturbance of self-esteem in the context of failed interpersonal relationships. These childhood relationships are internalized and reactivated in adulthood with the onset of depression.2

Attachment Theory- Focuses on the role that loss plays in precipitating depression in humans and animals.3

Object Relations Theory- Associates depression with problematic separation-individuation experiences and the failure to develop self-soothing introspection processes.4

Learned Helplessness Model- Depression is seen to emerge when people (or animals) perceive that "No matter what I do, I have no ability to escape or change bad experiences."5

Cognitive Model- Certain life experiences contribute to the development of pervasive cognitive schemas or cognitive distortions-- negative attitudes and expectations that automatically influence ongoing perceptions, conclusions, and predictions about the future.6


  1. Freud, S. (1917). Mourning and melancholia. In vol. 14 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. London: Hogarth Press, 1957.
  2. Gabbard, G. O. (2000). Psychodynamic psychiatry in clinical practice. Washington, D.C: American Psychiatric Press, Inc.
  3. Bowlby, J. (1986). Attachment and loss. New York: Basic Books.
  4. Mahler, M., et al. (1975). The psychological birth of the human infant: Symbiosis and individuation. New York: Basic Books.
  5. Seligman. M. E. P. (1990). Learned optimism. New York: Pocket Books.
  6. Beck, A. T. (1976). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York: International Universities Press.

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