How can a Psychodynamic Approach Help Couples?
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Lesley Braithwaite
31st October, 2010
Psychodynamic counselling takes as a given that we are all subject to unconscious motivations which result in our behaving and feeling in ways which can feel inexplicable to us consciously. We sometimes find ourselves repeating patterns of behaviour and making choices which are not helpful to us. By having the space to reflect upon our actions and feelings with someone who tries to tune into the underlying messages, we can try to bring to our consciousness some of these deeply buried experiences and feelings so they can be exposed to light and thought and lose some of their power to control our actions against our ‘better judgement’. This does not mean gratuitously exploring at length one's childhood and past, bringing unhelpfully to the surface matters that are not having an impact in the here and now. The focus of the work is in the present, but what we try to do is to become aware of and try to understand the effect of past experience on behaviour and feelings that seem to make no sense in the present.
When we fall in love part of what is going on is the unconscious recognition of some of these hidden needs in the other, so while of course we choose our partners for many reasons of which we are entirely conscious, there are also unconscious elements at work. It may be that partners have similar personal histories and shared unconscious beliefs about relationships and how they work, which will in some way be ‘re-enacted’ in their own relationship. In the literature this is called ‘couple fit’. At some level we recognise each other – which at its best gives us the capacity for empathy and connectedness. This means that we can think of the relationship as ‘psychological container’ for each partner. The unconscious hope is that through the relationship we will find a psychological space within which we can process not only our individual emotional experience of the past, sometimes as far back as early childhood, but also understand the impact on our current relationships and behaviour and modify them.
The relationship between counsellor and client offers a confidential and safe space in which to explore problems and anxieties. It is probably the most important tool in the work they undertake together, acting as a mirror between the past and the present and opening up a route to better understanding. This can make it easier to move away from unhelpful or unwanted behaviour patterns and to make different choices. In psycho-dynamic couple work it is the relationship which becomes the primary client, as the couple and counsellor try to think about what each partner brings to the conscious and unconscious relationship and by being able to consider, reflect upon and think about them with someone whose job it is to focus both consciously and unconsciously on the interactions in the counselling room, find ways of understanding more effectively what is going on within the relationship and between the individuals.
Very often this increased understanding, bringing to the light of consciousness and thought hidden feelings, is enough to make sense of the here and now and improves the way in which couples can manage their relationship in the present and future.
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