Psycho-dynamic Therapy

Freudian Psychodynamic theory

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian psychologist who is seen as a godfather of western psychology. He contributed a collection of ideas still accepted now by many and, while lots of these ideas have been further developed and/or reconsidered, are practiced widely by psychotherapists. He discovered so many psychological axioms that many of his terms are now in common language i.e. the conscious and subconscious, libido, oedipal complex etc.

Conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind

Freud described three levels of awareness within the human mind. These levels are the conscious, subconscious and unconscious. Together they create our perceived reality. The conscious mind functions to direct focus and to actively imagine that which is created with the mind. It will store information either in the unconscious or the subconscious, or pre-conscious mind. The subconscious mind is for storage of information, memories, needed for quick recall, such as recurring thoughts, behaviour patterns and habits. The unconscious hold all of our memories and past experiences including, memories that have been repressed or conscious forgotten. From these memories our beliefs, habits and behaviours are formed. Proportionally only 10% of our mind’s work is through conscious activity.

Id Ego Super Ego – Models of self

Freud described three elements of self, naming them the Id, the Ego and the Super-ego. As a model, it aims to describe how our reasoning and rational self, the ego, works to balance our inner desires and urges, the Id, and our developed sense of morality and perfection, the super-ego. These components of personality are said to be in conflict with one another as person goes through life and if the conflicts are not resolved this will lead to anxiety and stress contained within the ego.

Freudian Drive theory

Freudian drive theory aims to understand how people are driven into their actions or behaviours. Freud employed two symbols, Eros and Thanatos of Greek mythology, to describe certain energies that motivate people. Eros, the god of love in Greek mythology, describes the drive towards life, of sexuality, love and creativity. Eros comes from the Greek for ‘desire’. Eros in psychodynamic thinking symbolises the building of tension of desire, such as sexual desire or the desire to self-actualise in some way.  Eros works with the pleasure principle; the guiding force of the Id. Thanatos is a personification of death in Greek mythology and is used in psychodynamic theory as a drive towards death and self-destruction. Originally termed by Freud as the ‘Death instinct’, Thanatos is self-destructive drive that works against the pleasure principle. It seeks to return life to its inert, inanimate state, a place of no suffering or pleasure, of death. This death drive is a way that the body mind will aim to achieve homeostasis through the release of anxiety or death, which can symbolise an end of the present to allow for the new. The death instinct was the driving factor for people reliving traumatic experiences, engaging in risky and self-defeating behaviours and for being aggressive with others

The drives are fuelled by the libido. Libido, in Freudian psychology, is a life energy that fuels our actions. It is a sexual energy that is stored in the Id. In the psychosexual stages of development, the libido will fixate on certain sexual areas in the body, known as erogenous zones. Libido will motivate someone to seek sex. However, if someone is unable to achieve this, this desire can be repressed (pushed down and out of awareness) or sublimated (channelled into other activity). Libido is affected by a range of hormones of neurotransmitters including testosterone, oxytocin, oestrogen and serotonin. In women, libido will be affected by the menstrual cycle. It an also be affected by several physical and psychological variables.

Post-Freudian Psychodynamic Theory

Freud developed a very successful and well received theory of psychology. He went on to teach his methods and theories to other psychologist and so his ideas were used by others in the pursuit of psychotherapy and the understanding of the human mind and its development. The theory has since had others develop some of his ideas into other theories that move away from Freud’s original ideas. Some of those others include Melanie Klein, Erik Erickson and William McDougall.

Object Relations

One way that psychodynamic therapy was changed and adapted was in the moving away from Freud’s focus on the sexual and aggressive aspects of his developmental models. Object relations theorists moved to the focus of importance of relationships between our selves and others, or objects.

Object relationships are intrapsychic structures that relate the self to others. The term object was coined by Freud to mean other people. In Id psychology, objects serve to provide instinctual gratification through the pleasure principle. The theory has a strong focus on the early relationships in childhood. The theory holds that we are relationship seeking, rather than pleasure seeking. For example, Kohut (1971) put it forth that children have a need to be mirrored and will seek relationships for idealisation and the creation of role models.

The development of self is different to psychosexual model of development proposed in id and ego psychology. Margaret Mahler (1968), an influential object relations theorist describes the first stage of an infant’s development as normal autism. In this stage, the child has no concept of self and other. Through the process of attachment, the child enters the stage of normal symbiosis. In this stage, the child is attached to their experience but is still confused with what is their self and the other, as they are perceived as one and the same. The child will then enter the process of differentiation where the child will explore with individuation from significant others and relationships. This process will normally take about two year before the child begins to integrate both their separate nature and their relationship between themselves and others. The task of development is to integrate these elements and to develop a sense of identity. Children will do this by expressing different parts of themselves and the process of splitting, which is when a subject will choose from two contradicting elements of character or personality. Another process in identity development is introjection. Through introjection, the subject brings the experienced forms of objects into the mind. While having their autonomy, a subject can this way have a sense of community. As the subject begins to relate to objects, these begin to develop their identity.

Objects relations therapy uses Projective identification as a means of communicating felt experience of the counsellor relating the clients object relations. For example, if the counsellor would have a feeling of anxiety when the client mentions their father, the counsellor may share this and enquire into any significance. It is thought that this is felt from a counsellor’s attempt to mirror their client and that these feelings may be related to something the client is feeling.

Erik Erickson’s stages of developments

A follower of Freudian psychology, Erik Erickson focused a lot on the development of people as they go through life. While having several distinctions, Erickson’s model is similar to Freud’s psychosexual model of development. One primary distinction Erickson’s theory had was that development does not stop once adulthood is reached and that life has a variety of development ‘tasks’ that an individual must face as they mature. These tasks will decide whether the person will err to one of two opposites

The stages outlined by Erickson are as follows

  • The Oral Stage / Trust vs. Mistrust – This stage occurs in early infancy, between birth and the age of 12-18 months. This is when the infant feeds from their mother. Here the infant will develop trust while maintaining an appropriate capacity for mistrust if necessary. The child needs consistency and a sense of safety for this to develop properly. If not, for example, if the child is neglected, the child will go on to have a sense of mistrust towards others. This will affect a child’s ability to develop relationships
  • The Muscular or Anal stage / Autonomy vs. Shame/doubt – This stages spans between 18 months – 3 years of age. Here the infant explores their self through muscular control, including acts such as walking, grasping and the control of their anus in toilet training. They will here begin to explore their environment and their ability to control and manipulate elements of it. When allowed free expression, the child will develop a sense of autonomy and in turn gain some self-esteem. If the child is hindered in this through excessive control, the child may develop a sense of doubt in their independence and socially this can lead to shame and low self-esteem
  • The Locomotor Stage / Initiative vs. Guilt – This stage occurs during the ages of 3-6 years. A child here will start to become more assertive and to take their own initiative towards their responsibilities. Here a child will start to become aware that their choices and actions have consequences and will begin to take responsibility for those. This responsibility will bring the capacity to feel guilt if their actions are deemed wrong or unfavourable by themselves or others.
  • The Latency Stage / Industriousness vs. inferiority – This stage occurs between the ages of 6-12 years. Here the child will usually have begun school and a process of socialisation. Through school they will begin to see how they are perceived socially, their level of competency in school and capabilities. Failure of tasks can lead to a sense of inferiority and inadequacy.
  • The Adolescent Stage / Identity vs. Identity confusion – This stage occurs during adolescence between the ages of 12-18. Here an individual will develop a sense of how they fit into society and the roles that they will take on. This will involve finding strengths and weaknesses, gauging social standing and the development of social, political and religious views. For the adolescent, there should be clear social and cultural rites of passage to signify the becoming of a powerful and responsible adult. If the adolescent struggles with finding their place socially or what it means to be an adult, they will experience identity confusion.
  • The Young Adult Stage / Intimacy vs. Isolation – This stage happens between the ages of 18-30/40. This stage is becoming longer now that the age that people are starting families is getting later in life. This stage is concerned with development of intimate sexual relationships. The individual will explore how to coexist in partnerships and how they relate to their significant other. This will lead to the development of love and devotion to a partner and the intimacy that comes with this mutual adoration. Failure here may lead to fractured relationships and a difficulty with love and commitment
  • The Middle Adult Stage / Generativity vs. Stagnation – This middle adult stage tasks the individual supporting future generations. They will provide some meaningful contribution to something ‘bigger than themselves’ and involving some expression of love that isn’t necessarily reflected directly. This involves raising children, teaching, writing, creating music and art. Success here will give the individual for the ability for caring and compassion throughout their life
  • The Late Adult Stage / Ego Integrity vs. Despair – Here the adult will reflect on their life and either be secure in themselves and their lives, decisions and experiences, or will reflect with regret and, in the inability to accept this will fight their upcoming mortality.

The success made in each stage will lead to an increased likelihood of the next stages being secured. However, the result of the tasks in the stage are not permanent and can be changed in the future.

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