The history of the Psychodynamic began in 1874, when Sigmund Freud began his studies at the University of Vienna under the tutorage of Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke. The theory on Thermodynamics to the psyche and the Psychodynamic theory was born as he surmised that the laws of heat and energy not only applied to the human body but also the human psyche and with his associate Carl Jung the basis for the first talking therapy Psychoanalysis was born.
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Freud suggested that the Mind is constructed on three different levels – the conscious – the part of the mind that we are aware of, the pre-conscious – not quite aware of but just below the surface – tip of the tongue - and the unconscious - the drive and instincts that we are unaware of – locked away and forgotten. The behaviours we display, the way we act, the way we think comes from our unconscious (a drive theory) and Freud used his iceberg analogy to help with the understanding of the human mind and its three types of consciousness, the mind has a small visible (conscious) area and a large, hidden (unconscious) that guided actions and thoughts. Freud suggested that the way we act and the way we interact with people is as a result of what is in our unconscious and there are different ways for these different things to get into our unconscious – they are locked away. Where Freud spoke of the Oedipus Complex and Alfred Adler spoke of the Inferiority Complex, Jung suggested that complexes populate the personal unconscious: elements that can exert a powerful control over one’s thoughts, emotions and behaviours.
The strengths of Freud’s theory are in the application of therapy – psychoanalysis – the first talking therapy, it explains structured development and abnormalities, it made case studies popular and it should the importance of childhood.
The weaknesses were the case studies were used the generalise – it doesn't mean that explanations about one person’s behaviour is the same for another person. Freud’s theory is unscientific and hard to test specific aspects such as the unconscious and deterministic – he tries to explain everything as a result of the unconscious e.g. Freudian Slips.
Freud suggested that complexes arose die to childhood traumas – Jung was not satisfied with this explanation Jung took things in a different direction as he studied various different cultures where he saw patterns which pointed to an invisible world that suggested that there was a deeper root where complexes resides in a deep level of the psyche – deeper than the personal unconscious level – this he called the collective unconsciousness – Jung discovered this collective unconscious when he analysed his patients dream and fantasy's as well as his studies of similar religions and mythology.
Jung suggested that across various cultures similar patterns appeared which gave similar meaning in different religions. This led Jung to suggest that as well as conscious and the personal unconscious realms of the psyche, he also suggested that there was an additional realm. Jung suggested unique personal experiences were the main components of the collective unconsciousness and that these components are innate in all humans. This revelation is seen a historical milestone in the psychology field.
Social Psychologist Albert Adler took things a little further by developing Psychodynamic Therapy. Anna Freud and Melanie Kien had different interpretations of the human psyche and Adler's interpretation stand out even until today. Adler suggested that the striving for ‘Superiority’ is the driving goal and core motivation for all human beings – this does not necessarily mean to dominate it means rising above what you currently are and striving to live a more perfect and complete life. Adler suggested that humans can live a perfect life and that it is attainable and that humans create their own fictional goals and that these goals are the purpose of life. Adler suggested that if individuals realise these goals you realise your ‘ideal self’ and that individual’s life will hugely be enhanced by achieving these goals and that you achieve the purpose of life. Adler suggested that striving to be the ideal self will bring up feelings of inferiority or not being good enough this he called the Inferiority Complex. Adler did not think it was a bad thing, Adler himself had a lot of personal experience with feeling inferior and he suggests that the feelings of inferiority drive people to become better representations of themselves to help them deal with their world. He suggested that feelings of inferiority influence where you choose to become superior and this he called choosing your lifestyle. For example, if you felt that you were less intelligent than others even from a young age you would then strive to become intelligently more superior, your routines, your habits and interactions would change to achieve that goal of intellectual superiority – you live your life the way that you do because it is important for you and your ideal self.
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Psychodynamic heavily focuses on childhood experiences and family environment as the route to many mental health issues and disorders. Adler developed the ideal of ‘Birth Order’ (and its importance) the position of where you are in your family will influence your inferiority and lifestyle choices: - eldest child is type A, middle child is the rebel and the youngest child is the baby. When you think of this theory it makes you really look at your personal family and the position that you find yourself in and self-evaluate this theory and when you are looking at this theory from a personality point of view it is pretty weak argument as this is a generalisation across the population and there is no scientific proof of this. The psychodynamic theory looks at a person’s social interest – the desire and capacity to co-ordinate and work with other people for the greater good. Where psychoanalysis looks at internal conflict, psychodynamic is more concerned with inter-personal conflicts – Adler suggested that humans were inherently social beings and to be healthy, a person must be involved and invest in society. In childhood, social interest could be nurtured in the family environment of respect, trust, support and understanding or it can be squashed in an environment of competition, mistrust, neglect, domination and abuse. Individuals who are brought up in the later environment are likely to strive for the ideal self at the expense of others through selfish means.
Psychodynamic therapy (face to face) was the first therapy to introduce the empathetic therapist – which is now standard practice in modern counselling. The therapist is not a detached emotionless black slate, the therapeutic relationship is an integral part of treatment. It is fundamental for the client to be comfortable and relaxed this is achieved by the therapist showing focused attention to the clients therapeutic space this could be demonstrated by the care and attention shown with the use of relaxing décor and comfortable chairs as well as the empathetic language used within that space. The first few sessions are about gathering information about the client’s concerns and about building the ‘Therapeutic Relationship’. Through this face to face therapy the unconscious is brought to the surface. The therapist listens to how the individual interacts with their friends and family shedding light of behavior patterns. The counsellor then engages in consciousness raising by sharing insights with the client suddenly the unconscious emotions and desires and relationship patterns become visible to the client and when the client examines themselves, they are more able to make changes in problematic areas and they will see defective perceptions and social values, and this will re-focus motivation. Encouragement to perhaps be creative and let go of certainties – look at meanings to ideas like love and success and the language being used to convey these feelings and perhaps see how defective thinking have led the client to challenges within their life.
There are some limitations of Alder’s approach when applying it to counselling as it may not be suitable for some clients – an individual who is in the middle of a crisis may not be willing to engage in the process of looking at their past and disputes looking at the person’s position within the family can impact on the current crisis and their personal relationships. There may be different cultural backgrounds which have different views on the family and the emphasis on the family being important and may not wish to discuss these relationships within the counselling setting. Clients who may be grief stricken may not benefit from this approach – although it may be used at a later stage of the counselling relationship.
- Adler, A (1999) Individual Psychology, New York, NY, United States; HarperCollins Publishers Inc.
- Adler, A (1922) Understanding Human Nature, New York, New York; Greenburg
- Jung, C.G et al (1964) Man and his Symbols, New York, Anchor Books; Doubleday
- Jung, C.G (1947) On the Nature of the Psyche, London; Ark Paperbacks
- Jung, C.G. (1948) The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairy Tales, The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, 9 (part 1), 207 – 254
- McLeod, J. (2018) An introduction to counselling and psychotherapy. Sixth edition. New York: McGraw-Hill
- Class slides and notes taken
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