What is Psychodynamic Counselling?
Psychodynamic counselling considers the mind or psyche as dynamic, one force working upon another which in turn produces different forces. These psychological dynamics shape our thoughts, our views about the world, which in turn shape the lives we live.
We are continually being affected by the dynamic sensations and reactions we have to people and events. In turn, we are continually affecting people and situations around us.
- We live and shape the world around us through a kind of ongoing dynamic feedback loop.
Psychodynamic counselling, memory and the past
Particular events that we have lived through and experienced leave impressions on us. When these past events are spontaneously brought to mind, perhaps by a smell or a piece of music, or a glimpse of an old photograph, we remember them again. We re-experience certain feelings that we have in relation to the memory of the past events. When we remember things, we often remember feelings that are connected with the people and events concerned. This is what we mean by dynamic memory.
Memories and feelings are dynamic
These dynamic feelings and experiences become part of our identity and part of how we relate to people. In turn, though we may not mean too, though we may not be aware of it, when we meet new people, when we start to develop new relationships, various aspects of these old dynamics are stirred up and activated anew.
- Effectively our past dynamic memories are continually projecting old feelings onto new people and situations. Different people will draw different feelings and dynamics to our mind.
Psychodynamic counselling; understanding how our relationships work
In many instances this may all seem fairly inconsequential, but sometimes, this will work to get in the way of us developing the kind of relationships we would like to have.
So, the relationships we attempt to create with new people will unwittingly be coloured by the things we project onto them.
- One minute you see a new opportunity in front of you. The next you are looking back on another relationship that went wrong the way all your others did.
This can be very hard on us. We might become anxious that we seem to keep going around in circles, that things will go wrong for us again. We may go from anxious to worried to depressed. We might start to sleep badly and gradually feel rather unwell.
Psychodynamic counselling considers that there is more to us than our conscious rational selves.
In the counselling, there is no homework or specific goal other than the attempt to try to speak openly when you are in your counselling sessions. So, you might bring your dreams, your daydreams and chance ideas. Psychodynamic counselling sees these things as an important part of you. And though it might seem random to speak of the chance things that have caught your attention, through paying close attention to the things that engage us, we start to find the keys to unlocking the negative dynamics that shape our lives.
A lot of counselling and therapy (CBT, MCBT) offers techniques to take your mind off the problems that are bothering you. You are advised to focus on new goals, work harder, visualise your goals better. Psychodynamic counselling would consider that this is just increasing the stressful dynamics that you are caught up in.
How psychodynamic counselling helps us solve our problems
You won’t solve your problems repeating the things that create your problems in the first place. Psychodynamic counselling is concerned with helping people to identify and find a way out of making the same mistakes again.
Psychodynamic counselling offers the chance to break the destructive ways of relating that can dominate our lives without us realising it.
How do we stop making the same mistakes again?
Unless we find ways to see the way we live more clearly, it is likely that our lives will repeat the same kinds of patterns, destructive cycles and all. You will likely pick the wrong kind of emotional partner again, and see your relationships break up in the same kinds of ways as they have before.
Psychodynamic counselling is practical and focused on the here and now
In psychodynamic counselling, you have the opportunity to make sense of the way you are relating to your counsellor. Through identifying and breaking the dynamics that glue these patterns together, it becomes possible to break out of the automatic dynamic cycle of projections as they are experienced in the counselling. This means that you get the chance to start again, to develop a new experience within the counselling relationship.
If you can break out of these dynamics in your counselling, then you will be able to do so in other parts of your life.
Why you should consider psychodynamic counselling
Psychodynamic counselling is a modern version of counselling developed from psychoanalysis. It is a form of counselling that enables you to understand the way you relate to people, to the world, and to yourself, and so develop a more satisfying, constructive and sustainable way of living.
Psychodynamic counselling in different ways will incorporate valuable psychoanalytic ideas:
- it is a talking therapy based upon over 100 years of carefully researched work
- understand your developmental history
- understand the way you hold ideas about people from your past in your mind, object relating, and how you project ideas about those former relationships onto people in your life now
- It is interested in understanding how you relate to your counsellor, and to use that insight and information to help you understand how you relate to yourself and other people
- Is interested in your dreams, your day dreams, your spontaneous gestures
- include conscious and unconscious material
- understand the way the past has shaped you and to bring to light the things you may have forgotten or preferred to forget about the past.
- help understand your hopes for how your imagination and creativity might shape your future
Psychodynamic counselling can enable deep personal development
Essentially all the client has to do is turn up, you don’t have to go out of your way to prepare anything. Psychodynamic counselling doesn’t create or rely upon regimes of homework, it doesn’t encourage you to do anything contrived or artificial, it is a therapy that aims to bring more of your creativity and originality to light. Psychodynamic counselling could help you live in a more natural and genuine way. It is a therapy based around talking, a conversation. Predominantly the client talks and the counsellor listens and draws attention to the clients’ material.
There is a strand of psychodynamic work that sees the counsellor as pronouncing important interpretations on the client’s material. To my mind interpreting is of secondary importance to helping the conversation develop. The counsellor is not there to make clever interpretations, they are there to provide a consistent and carefully managed environment in which the client can become comfortable enough to speak with less censorship.
Psychodynamic Counselling and Psychoanalysis
Psychotherapeutic models are easily caricatured, psychoanalysis particularly so. It is often represented as endlessly backward looking, blaming the failures of the past for how your life has turned out like a version of Woody Allen’s character in Annie Hall. So it is represented as being all about sexual desire, particularly childhood sexuality. It is the case that Freud thought deeply about the importance and impact of sexuality on our lives.
Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung
A modern interpretation of Freud might argue that the Oedipus complex refers to how an individual has to come to terms with what it can and cannot have more broadly than as a question of its infantile sexual desire of the mother. Freud’s colleagues, notably Adler and Jung disputed the importance of particular ideas that Freud held as crucial. Jung argued that the the importance of sex in Freud’s developmental theories was overstated.
Jung saw libido as referring to more than sexuality, Jung saw libido as referr
ing to our creative and imaginative energies too. These arguments led to splits within
psychoanalysis, splits which 104 years later are still to heal. One of the reasons we now refer to psychodynamic counselling instead of psychoanalytic counselling is that the term psychodynamic counselling provides some distance from the complexities and arguments that still plague psychoanalysis.
Arguments and divisions
These arguments and divisions have also led to a weakening as to what psychodynamic counselling actually is. In the UK, in the mid to late twentieth century, the main psychoanalytic training organisations, the Institute of Psychoanalysis and the British Psychotherapy Foundation dominated the NHS and it might be said that as they argued over other training organisations right to refer to psychoanalysis, they overlooked the need to communicate effectively with the general public. In the end this contributed to them being marginalised and all their very high quality work becoming eclipsed in government health ministers minds by CBT. This has been regrettable, but if psychoanalysts had been more open as to how they communicated with the public it might have been avoided.
The result as things stand now in 2017, is that psychoanalytic work has fallen from favour particularly in terms of what the NHS is prepared to offer patients. This is one of the reasons why psychodynamic counselling exists, it is in part a rebranding of psychoanalysis.
Where is Psychodynamic Counselling going?
That is hard to say, but the upside of this rebranding is that it has meant that many more people are now able to train in psychodynamic counselling. While that is a good thing it also means that it is hard to evaluate the training courses that have mushroomed to cater for the demand.
Psychoanalytic trainings had high standards and that meant that trainings could be considered to deliver high standards. For anyone embarking on training now it may be harder to know what you are getting. It has always been the case in psychotherapy training that you don’t really know what you are getting until you have signed up for it.
So the downside of this rebranding means that the quality of psychoanalytic work being delivered via psychodynamic counselling may be rather patchy. Time will tell. It is up to those who practice psychodynamic counselling to make sure it is as effective and high quality as possible.
Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often the key to developing a clearer understanding of how we grew up, and finding ways out of these repetitive experiences of failure and disappointment.
By giving yourself a safe space to look at these things you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities, and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of how psychodynamic counselling might offer you the chance to understand the forces get in the way of us living more creative and satisfying lives.
I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years. My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live.
Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.