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Studying for the LMSW Exam: Unconscious Motivation

What do you need to know about unconscious motivation for the LMSW exam?

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you are all enjoying some delicious food and taking the time to do something special today. I know how hard it can be around the holidays to get studying in, but as Bethany said on Tuesday’s blog, doing a little bit each day can go a long way as you prepare for the LMSW exam. This week we have Freud to thank for our term, unconscious motivation. Let’s get started with a sample question to see how this term may show up on the LMSW exam.

Which of the following BEST defines unconscious motivation?

A. The process of being aware of one’s environment and existence.

B. Hidden, repressed, and unknown desires that control one’s actions.

C. The advantages or benefits one derives from a physical or mental illness, such as attention, freedom from responsibility, and disability benefits.

D. Conscious or unconscious avoidance behavior used by the client to protect oneself from negative feelings.

Freud discusses unconscious motivation in his theory on human behavior. He states that human behavior is the result of desires, impulses and memories that have been repressed into an unconscious state. While these are unconscious memories, they still have a large impact on us and control much of our actions. Freud believed that if we can help client’s bring their unconscious thoughts to a conscious level than we can better assist clients in overcoming various struggles. Maslow looked at it from a similar view by saying that all behaviors can be understood by looking at what basic need it satisfies. This behavior more often than not stems from an unconscious level.

An example to help you remember this term for the LMSW exam is if a woman is constantly moving from one relationship to the next. While she has a strong desire to be in a relationship, she is afraid of rejection or being let down. Therefore, she breaks off the relationships before someone else can reject her. In this example, the woman’s unconscious desires (fear of being rejected) are controlling her behavior (breaking off her relationships).

The Social Work Dictionary defines unconscious motivation as, “A compelling wish or drive that is out of an individuals immediate awareness but that influences him or her to act in a way that would seem contrary to his or her rational objectives” (Barker, 2003).

Answer: The best answer here is (B). (A) better describes conscious motivation which Freud discusses as being the part of our minds that is available for direct observations, and focuses more on problem solving. (C) defines secondary gain, where an individual benefits from a physical or mental illness. Lastly, (D) contains aspects of unconscious motivation, but better defines the term defense mechanism since this is done at either a conscious or unconscious level.

Coming up next week: Values

Think our straightforward, sensible approach could help you PASS your LMSW exam? If you're preparing for the social work exam, check out our LMSW Study Materials. Learn more about our exam prep at the The Therapist Development Center home page.

Looking for more practice questions and some study tips? Check out our new Social Work Exam Study Guide:

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