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What is Psychodynamic Therapy? Definition, Uses and Techniques

Whether it is because of school subjects, because we once did therapy or because of the concepts we repeat on a daily basis, almost everyone knows what psychoanalysis is about and who Freud is. However, not everyone knows what psychodynamic therapy is all about.

As a publication in the American Journal of Psychiatry explains, this form of therapy is used in the treatment of some mental disorders. But what exactly does it consist of and when is it indicated? Here is a detailed explanation.

Psychodynamic therapy: what does it consist of and what is its origin

The term “psychodynamic therapy” can be found in the interaction and interplay between the conscious and the subconscious mind. That is, some of the symptoms and causes of people’s discomfort are not on the surface, but on a deeper level.

In turn, as its name indicates, the emphasis is on movement or fluctuation. This indicates that people, in their struggle to achieve their goals, find themselves between tensions; gratification and dissatisfaction, autonomy and dependence, among other opposing pairs.

Main bases

Psychodynamic therapy consists of a set of theories, whose best known referents are Freud, Erikson and Carl Jung. Some of its central premises are the following:

  • Existence of the unconscious: there are contents and processes that we cannot easily access, that are latent there and that influence our lives. There is a meaning to be unraveled.
  • Psychic conflicts: they arise from fears, desires, fantasies, among others. In the face of these, defense mechanisms often appear, such as repression.
  • The experience of childhood has a great impact throughout our lives. Many learnings and conflicts originate there. That is why, from these theories, they “go back and forth” again and again to early childhood. At that time, the personality is shaped in an influential way, especially in contact with primary caregiving figures.
  • Another key to psychodynamic therapy has to do with the relationship between analyst and client. Here the concepts of transference and countertransference are key to exemplify what happens. From this link that is established in the encounters, patterns, relationships or clues that shed light on past experiences may be identified. That is to say, certain aspects of previous relationships or models are re-actualized in the current relationship.
  • The symptoms are compromise solutions. That is, an agreement between what we desire and what we can do. For example, between desires and what the unconscious wants versus what the superego indicates to us as correct.

Stages or highlights of psychodynamic theories

The contributions of Freudian psychoanalytic theory were extended to other theories. Some of them are the following:

  • Psychology of the ego.
  • Object relations theory.
  • Attachment theory.
  • Psychology of the self.
  • Interpersonal psychology.
  • Relational psychoanalysis.

As a summary, we detail some of them and their keys to understanding the set of theories that make up psychodynamic therapy.

Psychoanalytic therapy

On the one hand, we have a Freud -with psychoanalytic therapy- who worked at different times, with models that he enriched and surpassed. Thus, within the topographical model, he proposed the existence of unconscious versus conscious forces.

He then proposed the structural model, in which he posits the “it”, the “I” and the “superego” as three different instances.

  • The “id” contains unconscious aspects, since it is the reservoir of all impulses and drives.
  • The “superego” is the authority, rules and moral values.
  • Finally, the “I” is characterized by its mediating role between the two previous instances, by providing that “quota of reality” and execution.

This is a model that coexisted with the structural model, since the “it” has unconscious elements, while the “superego” and the “I” have both components.

Psychotherapy of the “I”

Later on, “psychotherapy of the “I” emerged with greater force with the aim of favoring this instance and providing it with resources for the resolution of conflicts. Here we find figures such as Erikson, who deepens the psychosexual theory of development; he does not stop at childhood but incorporates the life cycle.

He also proposes achievements for development. The individual must overcome certain challenges or tasks as he moves from one stage to the next. In addition, the author gave enormous importance to the influence of context and society as variables that influence the psychic life of individuals.

On the other hand, we find Anna Freud, for whom conflicts were due to the use of primitive defenses in place of mature defenses. She also identified more defense mechanisms than those proposed by Freud.

Object relations theory

The object relations theory suggests that personality development is influenced by the quality of the relationships the person has with his or her “object” of affection or love. These can be external or internal (internalized images of external objects). Here we find figures such as Melanie Klein or Winnicott.

Attachment theories

These theories were recreated from attachment theories, whose main representative is J. Bowlby. Here the personality is also shaped by the relationship with the primary caregiver. He defined the following types of attachment:

  • Ambivalent.
  • Secure.
  • Insecure.

Methods and goals of psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy has different methods, depending on the theories it works with. The most commonly used are the following:

  • Free association: consists in the patient revealing the first thing that comes to mind, in a relaxed and calm environment of the session. The basis of this technique is that the person will gradually arrive at the issue that is troubling him/her.
  • Transference and countertransference: refer to the relationship between the therapist and the patient, a link in which aspects of other relationships are repeated or re-edited, especially those from childhood.
  • Working with resistances: in the course of therapy, obstacles arise to “unblock” some situations. The therapist “demands” or “presses” the patient a little more to work on these blockages and get to the core.

When to choose psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapies focus on working on different themes. Some of them are as follows:

  • Promote self-knowledge, starting from understanding how we are and how we behave in order to understand the origin of many of our limitations. It allows us to shed light on the present while addressing the past.
  • Learn to establish quality bonds.
  • To know our emotions.
  • Avoid repeating patterns of behavior that are dysfunctional or detrimental to our daily functioning.
  • Reduce our internal conflicts and learn to manage them.

The important thing is to feel at ease

Beyond the existence of multiple approaches and work tools, the important thing at the time of starting therapy has to do with being at ease in that space.

For that, it is convenient to ask in advance how each therapist works and be attentive to how we feel. Sometimes it is necessary to ask for a referral or look for another professional. Not all people experience the same therapies in the same way. That is why a search is advisable.

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