Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling


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Skip to main content. You're using an out-of-date version of Internet Explorer. By using our site, you agree to our collection of information through the use of cookies. To learn more, view our Privacy Policy. Log In Sign Up. Michael Toller. Demonstrate in particular your understanding of transference and counter-transference, and illustrate with an example from your own experience.

Noonan, , p In saying this, she sums up the fact that psychodynamic theories are hugely varied, often contradictory and inevitably written in a way that makes them difficult to get to grips with. In part, this is due to the fact that even in the relatively short time since Freud began to develop his theories of the mind, the amount of new thought in the field has been huge. When reading about these ideas, it is easy to forget that they exist to help us understand behaviour and feelings in real people.

Jacobs draws attention to this when he says: The love and the hate between a parent and a child, and within each of them, are just as significant as orality, anality and sexuality Hence the appeal of [the term] object relations theory In this essay, I will summarise some of the theories that make up psychodynamic thought, focusing on the work of Freud, Klein and Winnicott.

Then, I will look at the key concepts of transference and counter-transference and their importance in psychodynamic theory and practice. Often, our experiences in childhood, and particularly our early relationships, lie at the very heart of much psychodynamic thinking. As such, these theories are known as developmental theories Spurling, , p Freud Freud believed that the mind is split into several parts, which he named the conscious and unconscious, respectively the part of our mind that we can access, and that which we cannot.

As a child grows and begins to interact, the different parts of the psyche come into conflict with one another for example, the id may desire gratification that the ego will not allow it, based on demands placed on it by the super-ego. Freud identified defences used by the mind to protect itself against these such tensions, for example the repression of unacceptable feelings into the unconscious. Freud believed that repressed feelings did not actually disappear, but were prone to resurface in the form of seemingly unrelated symptoms or other behaviours, including the displacement or projection of feelings onto other objects or people, idealization, self-blame or phobias Spurling, , p He termed them the oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital stages Freud, Freud believed that normal development involved the successful negotiation of these stages, and that unsuccessful resolution of a particular stage could lead to the repression of related anxieties.

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Freud suggested that the unconscious could later be explored through free association, dream analysis or by examining the transference between the client and the therapist, and that by uncovering the underlying anxiety, the defence mechanisms could be removed and the presenting symptoms alleviated. Freud called this relationship constellation the Oedipus complex, and it represents a key point in development according to psychodynamic thinking: this is the time at which a child begins to establish an identity in its own mind and is able to separate itself from its parents as an individual for the first time.

It is not coincidental that this stage of development coincides with the time many children start school and begin to form their first autonomous relationships outside the family unit.

What to Expect

The infant then realises that the breast is sometimes there to feed it when it is hungry, and sometimes not. This part of development is described by Klein as the paranoid-schizoid position, a stage at which relations to objects are experienced only as either good or bad. Problems with development at this stage can lead to patterns of behaviour in later life that relate to this position, and are accordingly called paranoid-schizoid anxieties Klein, Using again the example of the breast, this means that the infant realises that the good and bad breast are in fact the same object and that these previously introjected part-objects actually exist as whole objects in the external world, for example, in realising that the internal breast is actually part of a real external mother.

Episode 75 Psychodynamic Approach

She therefore called this stage the depressive-position and the related negative feelings as depressive anxieties Klein, In theory, anxieties felt during both stages are an important part of emotional growth, as are the new relationships explored in the Oedipal situation, and by working through them, a child is learning important relational and behavioural lessons that will help it navigate the complexities of social interaction.

Both represent periods at which an exploration of relationships with other people take on a central role in development. If our growth as social creatures is about our ability to build relationships, then this is the point in both models at which the child begins not only to discern the difference relationships between internal and external objects, but also realises that its behaviour has an effect on these objects. In my opinion, these represent the same phenomena. In the same way, negotiating the depressive position involves making the link that our behaviour directly affects the relationships we are in.

Winnicott takes the importance of the use of illusion in this process further, saying that the capacity to share illusory experiences as a child is something we carry with us into adult life where it is expressed through art, religion or similar shared experiences. In other words, if we fail to see this kind of illusion in object-relations as being just that, then we are viewed by others as mad Winnicott, Freud believed that normal development involved the successful negotiation of these stages, and that unsuccessful resolution of a particular stage could lead to the repression of related anxieties.

Freud suggested that the unconscious could later be explored through free association, dream analysis or by examining the transference between the client and the therapist, and that by uncovering the underlying anxiety, the defence mechanisms could be removed and the presenting symptoms alleviated. Freud called this relationship constellation the Oedipus complex, and it represents a key point in development according to psychodynamic thinking: this is the time at which a child begins to establish an identity in its own mind and is able to separate itself from its parents as an individual for the first time.

It is not coincidental that this stage of development coincides with the time many children start school and begin to form their first autonomous relationships outside the family unit. The infant then realises that the breast is sometimes there to feed it when it is hungry, and sometimes not. This part of development is described by Klein as the paranoid-schizoid position, a stage at which relations to objects are experienced only as either good or bad.

Problems with development at this stage can lead to patterns of behaviour in later life that relate to this position, and are accordingly called paranoid-schizoid anxieties Klein, Using again the example of the breast, this means that the infant realises that the good and bad breast are in fact the same object and that these previously introjected part-objects actually exist as whole objects in the external world, for example, in realising that the internal breast is actually part of a real external mother.

She therefore called this stage the depressive-position and the related negative feelings as depressive anxieties Klein, In theory, anxieties felt during both stages are an important part of emotional growth, as are the new relationships explored in the Oedipal situation, and by working through them, a child is learning important relational and behavioural lessons that will help it navigate the complexities of social interaction.

Both represent periods at which an exploration of relationships with other people take on a central role in development. If our growth as social creatures is about our ability to build relationships, then this is the point in both models at which the child begins not only to discern the difference relationships between internal and external objects, but also realises that its behaviour has an effect on these objects. In my opinion, these represent the same phenomena. In the same way, negotiating the depressive position involves making the link that our behaviour directly affects the relationships we are in.

Winnicott takes the importance of the use of illusion in this process further, saying that the capacity to share illusory experiences as a child is something we carry with us into adult life where it is expressed through art, religion or similar shared experiences. In other words, if we fail to see this kind of illusion in object-relations as being just that, then we are viewed by others as mad Winnicott, Again, there is a similarity here with the Oedipal situation, in which the child is confronted with the implications of relationships between other people independently from its own position in the family.


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Klein, Freud and Winnicott all realised that the feelings and behaviour linked to early stages of development are carried over into adult life, and that unsuccessful or partial negotiation of various stages might not only cause psychological problems later in life, but also determine the manner in which these problems might present themselves. For example, a child unable to fully make the transition from the paranoid-schizoid to the depressive stage might revert to paranoid-schizoid patterns of behaviour when faced with anxiety or tension and this explains why childhood is often a theme of psychodynamic thinking as well as being the basis for exploration of feelings in therapy.


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By extension, counter-transference is the term used to describe the feelings in the therapist brought about by the feelings and behaviour of the client. It could be said that transference exists to some extent in every relationship, but it is only within the context of a therapeutic setting that a therapist is able to use and interpret it in order help a client understand their feelings and behaviour.

As Spurling points out, the transference and counter-transference between a client and therapist are themselves object relations, but of a unique kind Spurling, , p This is what makes the relationship between a client and therapist so special. In this way, it simultaneously represents both what is being examined and the means by which it is examined. We can best understand this by looking at an example of the way in which an examination of transference provides a link to development and the way this can affect feelings and behaviour in later life.

Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling: Chapter 5

When referred to a therapist, John begins to describe a problematic marital situation in which he feels impotent, followed in later sessions by a depiction of a childhood dominated by a mother who recruited his support in undermining her own turbulent relationship with his father. His mother also figures in a dream in which she is linked to his wife, who is later suspected by the therapist of having an affair, about which John is in denial Howard, To some extent, his relationship with his wife mirrors the way in which he sought to please his mother as a child, and this is reflected in the transference with his therapist: he is always on time for their meetings, but is afraid to show how important their work together is to him.

These are all examples of the way in which the transference between John and his therapist relate to earlier experiences and patterns of behaviour. In the same way, the case study shows several incidences of a counter-transference.

Major Themes & Assumptions of Psychoanalytic Theory

Importantly though, the therapist does not run from John in the face of his rejection, but is able to recognise that it exists only as a function of his transferred feelings. Conclusion Psychodynamic thinking uses various developmental theories to explain how we relate to objects, people and experiences, both internally, in the way the conscious and unconscious parts of our mind determine feelings and behaviour, and externally, as we create identities for ourselves in relation to others.

These patterns of behaviour help us negotiate relationships throughout our lives, but can also lead to problems as we face times of anxiety. In such cases, psychodynamic theories offer an approach to understanding these feelings, based on an understanding of early development, and also by means of the special relationship established between a therapist and client.

However far-reaching or insightful a theory is though, we must remember that in the end, it is only as good as its use to a real person in helping them understand their feelings.

2.2 Psychodynamic Psychology

Experiences, like people, are unique, and while theory can contain clues to help us explore feelings and behaviour, they can act only as a guide. In the same way that we learn about ourselves in the context of real-life relationships, we should be careful not to lose sight of the fact that approaches based on theory are only as useful as they are found to be in the real-life setting of a therapeutic encounter, as experienced by the people involved in that particular relationship.

Strachey, London: Imago.

Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling
Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling
Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling
Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling
Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling
Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling
Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling
Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling Chap: Themes And Issues In The Psychodynamic Approach To Counselling

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