The Origins Of Psychodynamic Counselling

The psychodynamic approach to counselling is a form of counselling that is usually associated with psychotherapy and involves a much longer period of training for the analyst than other branches of counselling. Psychotherapy sessions with a client are usually more numerous, taken over a longer period of time and are more expensive than other types of counselling. Psychodynamic counselling has its roots in the theories of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his writings in the late 19th and early 20th century in Vienna. Freud invented his theory of psychoanalysis, which placed mental illness in relation to unconscious drives that people can repress because they could contravene societies morals and laws. Psychoanalysis uses various methods such as free-association and the analysis of dreams to bring to the surface the latent and manifest content of the unconscious mind.

How Therapy Works

Psychoanalysis focuses on the client as being the source of emotional disorder. The analyst will focus on the unconscious experience of the client and look for deep-rooted motivations that are linked to childhood patterns. The client will re-live traumatic periods of their past life and try to come to terms with them. The analyst supplies interpretations of irrational behaviour. The aim is to provide the individual with a ‘fuller and more conflict-free experience of himself and his relationships by deepening and extending his contact with alienated parts of himself’. Primitive drives get regressed as we try to interact with the environment. The instincts of individuals in society will always be in conflict in psychoanalytic thought unless there is some release by catharsis or sublimation. Psychoanalysis has made some valid contributions to everyday life and although seen as unscientific it has helped shed some subjective insight on neurosis such as mourning, depression, anxiety and aggression, also in linking the individual with the pressures of modern society.

One major aspect of psychoanalysis is the unconscious material that is released in a transference reaction to the analyst. Transference was originally defined as the process by which a patient attributes to his analyst attitudes and ideas that derive from previous figures in his life but in modern counselling now includes the total emotional attitude towards the analyst. Counter-transference is feelings produced by the analyst in response to the client’s feelings. Therapy involves the analyst being able to self-monitor their own feelings and usually analysts have to undergo extensive and regular counselling themselves to help them achieve this.

Developmental Stages

Freud also theorised a developmental programme labelled psychosexual stages that every child has to pass through successfully otherwise personality can be affected later on in life. In Freudian theory, experiences during the development sequence affect the final outcomes in terms of individual personality differences’. These stages are the oral, anal, phallic, latency and the genital phase. Freud also used classical mythology such as the stories of Narcissus and Oedipus to explain human emotions and behaviour. Freud believed that instincts were shaped by contact with the external world and he constructed this in his structural model of the mind consisting of the Id, ego and superego. The client can use various defence mechanisms, which are unrealistic methods for dealing with the environment. It is up to the therapist to uncover these and find the root of emotional problems and attempt to strengthen the ego.

Other Psychodynamic Theories

Freud’s theories have been heavily criticised for their focus on childhood sexuality but have been a theoretical source for much further research into the unconscious processes that occur in humans. Post-Freudian developments in psychoanalysis include the object relation’s schools started in the 1940’s that were less individualistic and placed more emphasis on the relationships between the child and others. Post-Freudian developments focuses on the physical relations between human beings rather that the inner world of the individual subject alone.’ Attachment theory, pioneered by John Bowlby in the latter half of the twentieth century is an influential concept that springs from psychoanalysis and also focuses on early childhood bonds with caregivers as being very important for future mental health, but differs from object relations in being a more biologically based reaction, which can be clinically observed.