Mental Health Theories


There are numerous theories that take varying approaches to explain factors that influence the status of mental health of humans. Among the key theories that focus on the issue are psychoanalytic and attachment theories. There are some similarities as well as differences in the explanations given by the two theories regarding the factors that influence mental health. Although there are some limitations in the elements of the theories, they are quite applicable in nursing practice. This paper analyzes similarities and differences in the explanations of two theories, their applicability in nursing practice and areas of critique.


Sigmund Freud was the original founder of psychoanalytic theory. He laid the framework of the theory in 1890s. However, the theory has been refined by succeeding scholars, although they have retained the key concepts. According to the theory, an individual’s status of mental health is influenced by his or her personality (Insel & Wang, 2010). At the same time, personality is influenced by id, ego and superego. In aIDition, the theory suggests that the status of mental health of a human being is influenced by the implications of psycho-sexual development, which consists of five phases that were suggested by Freud. They are genital stage, latency stage, phallic stage, anal stage and oral stage. According to Freud, the level of gratification received during any of the stages influences an individual’s status of mental health directly; too much gratification is likely to cause mental disorders later in life since an individual is likely going to be always fixated to that stage. Too little or lack of gratification implies that an individual may spend too much time seeking for gratification during adulthood. The theory is applied in explaining the causes of personality attributes such as aggressiveness, sexual desires and unconscious drives (Insel & Wang, 2010).

On the other hand, attachment theory was initially formulated by John Bowlby between 1960s and 1980s. The theory focuses on the implications of the relationship between a caregiver and a child on the latter’s behavior later in life (Insel & Wang, 2010). The theory posits that depending on the nature of the relationship, an individual can develop disorganized attachment, avoidant attachment, secure attachment or ambivalent attachment. For instance, an individual who develops secure attachment is likely to develop healthy relationships with other people and trust them during adulthood. The opposite is likely to occur in the case of insecure attachment. The theory is mainly applied in explaining the causes of anxiety, mistrust and other forms of attachment among children and adults (Insel & Wang, 2010).

One evident similarity between the two theories is that they both focus on how an adult’s behavior and status of mental health is shaped by childhood encounters. Also, the two theories recognize that an individual’s behavior and mental status is influenced by relationship with other members of the society during childhood. However, they have several differences (Insel & Wang, 2010). Psychoanalytic theory focuses more on the influence of innate factors and developmental stages, while attachment theory emphasizes on the influence of social attachment. Further, psychoanalytic theory emphasizes on the need for sexual gratification, while the attachment theory emphasizes on the need for bending (Insel & Wang, 2010).

Psychoanalytic theory can be applied in the nursing practice in offering advice to parents regarding how they should respond to a child’s need for gratification in order to ensure that it is balanced. In the same vein, the attachment theory can be applied in the nursing practice in the process of offering advice to parents on how they should bond with their children to ensure that they develop normal form of attachment. A key limitation of psychoanalytic theory is that it ignores the influence of environmental factors on mental health. At the same time, the attachment theory fails to give adequate consideration to innate factors that influence mental health.


Overall, psychoanalytic and attachment theories offer important explanations of the causes of the status of mental health of human beings. There are several differences and similarities between them. They have been modified over time since their formulation and have significant implications to the nursing practice, irrespective of the fact that they have some limitations.


Insel, T. R. & Wang, P. S. (2010). Rethinking mental illness. JAMA, 303(19), 1970–1971.


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