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Psychodynamic counselling

In my last post, we thought about choosing the right therapist. This post looks at the psychodynamic approach, a direct development of Freudian analysis.

The psychodynamic approach starts with the idea that we all have an ‘inner world’ that has a powerful influence on how we think, feel and behave. Our inner world is comprised of feelings, memories, beliefs and fantasies. It is partly conscious, meaning we have access to it. But it is largely unconscious, meaning that we are unaware of it and do not have access so easily.

Our unconscious mind is not constrained by reality, and is motivated by and demanding of immediate gratification. One of the aims of psychodynamic therapy is to make us more aware of our unconscious motivations so we can moderate our behaviour, have more freedom and choice about how we act.

If we are unaware of what is going on in our unconscious inner world, how can it have an effect on us? The psychodynamic model suggests that it is often unconscious memories, beliefs, feelings and fantasies that have the most profound effect on the way we experience the world around us.

And, importantly, our actions and conscious beliefs are largely driven by our attempts to keep uncomfortable truths from our conscious awareness.

This means we are not totally in charge of our feelings or behaviour which is why we find ourselves repeating destructive behaviours that we promised ourselves we would never do again… our unconscious motivation to repeat this destructive behaviour takes precedence over our conscious motivation not to.

So when we need to find a way of coping with this psychic conflict we make use of psychological defences. We develop defences early in life in order to manage the inherent discomfort of being human. Very often people come for counselling at a time when their defences are no longer serving them well. Their defences are either too rigid and make life difficult, or they may have collapsed altogether.

We need defences to be able to function in the world, so psychodynamic work is not aiming to eliminate these defences, but to enable them to become more flexible so they allow us to respond according to the particular situation we are in, rather than treating all situations as though they were the same.

As I noted in my last post, the relationship with a counsellor is central to change, and this is also the basis of the psychodynamic approach. The inner world of the client becomes revealed in part through the relationship he develops with his counsellor, where the counsellor:

  • provides a safe, contained place with clear boundaries

  • provides consistency, reliability, neutrality, anonymity and abstinence (from a social relationship)

  • builds a warm, trusting relationship.

Exploring the cause of defences and unconscious desires helps increase understanding and awareness of patterns of behaviour, of relating, and ultimately lead to greater freedom of choice and change.

This is the type of counselling and therapy I offer in my practice in North London.

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