What is psychodynamic counselling?

The psychodynamic counselling has direct links with Freudian ideas such as the concept of the unconscious, the use of dreams and the concepts of transference and countertransference.

The word psychodynamic derives from the Greek word "psyche" which relates to therapy (combination of the mind, spirit and soul) and the word "dynamic" which relates to the interactions of these three parts both internally and externally. 

Freud was fascinated by the hidden processes of the human mind and refers to the processes such as ID, ego and superego.

ID = This is the unconscious part of the mind that contains instinctual drives and impulses that motivate our behaviour. The ID can be thought of as the child part of the unconscious.

The Ego = This is the rationale part of the mind which makes decisions and interacts with the external world. The ego can be related to the more grown up side of the mind, it takes care of us and telling us we are doing fine.

The Superego = This part is the conscientious side of the mind and contains parental and societal rules and taboos.

Nowadays, the relationship between the client and the therapist is a crucial aspect of the counselling process and this concept is embraced by nearly every school of counselling. The counselling relationship needs to be more than a good working relationship and it requires particular qualities in the counsellor if the right conditions are present in which the client can change psychologically.

What might make a differences between the psychodynamic and other counselling approaches is the use of transference and countertransference feelings.

Transference = To some extent transference happens in all relationships. All of us transfer unresolved ways of relating to other people around us, especially those who we are in close relationships with. If a person had a domineering father then as adults they might view people in authority as having these characteristics and they might regress to a way of relating to them that resemble the childhood relationships with their fathers, which might include resentment, anxiety and anger. In the counselling setting transference can bring old conflict alive and these can be worked out with the assistance of the counsellor. The transference offers the client the opportunity to experience a different response to the original cause of conflict. 

Countertransference = This can be understood as the feelings and attitudes that the counsellor has in relation to the client. As for the example above the countertransference response will be if the counsellor began to feel omnipotent or critical towards the client. Countertransference can be a powerful tool as it provides the counsellor with an insight into the problem of the client that perhaps would go unrecognised. 

Finally a central aim of the psychodynamic approach is to help the client to become more aware and to bring unconscious feelings into consciousness. The counsellor's role is to help clients to gain understanding and insights into aspects of the self previously unknown. This is achieved by bringing unconscious processes, resistances, defences, conflicts and feelings to the surface.

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Written by Gherardo Della Marta MBACP counsellor in London WC1B, NW1 and Bedford MK40

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As a counsellor, I offer a non judgemental space where you can discuss issues, concerns and feelings you may experience. I can help you to clarify choices you are about to make and to allow you to develop a deeper understanding of any aspects of your life you might find problematic or confusing.
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Written by Gherardo Della Marta MBACP counsellor in London WC1B, NW1 and Bedford MK40

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