The 7 Main Psychodynamic Theories

From the ideas proposed by Sigmund Freud other conceptions of the human mind emerged.

Symbol of a brain.

If we think of psychotherapy, the image that probably comes to mind is that of an individual lying on a couch explaining his problems to a psychologist sitting behind him while he takes notes and asks questions. However, this image does not necessarily correspond to reality: there are multiple schools and currents of thought in psychology, some being more appropriate than others depending on the specific case being treated.

One of the first great currents of thought to emerge was Freud’s psychoanalysis. But Freud’s students and those followers who decided to break with him due to discrepancies in some elements of his theory also continued to generate content and add new theories and aspects to psychoanalytic therapy. These are the so-called psychodynamic approaches. And with them, different therapies emerged. In this article we will see the main psychodynamic models and theories.

Psychodynamic theories

The concept of psychodynamic theory may seem unique and unitary, but the truth is that it includes a wide number of ways of understanding the human mind. When speaking of psychodynamic theories, we are therefore speaking of a heterogeneous set of perspectives that have their origin in conceptions of mental processes derived from psychoanalysis.

In this sense, all of them share with Freudian theory the idea that there are intrapsychic conflicts between the conscious and the unconscious, one of the main goals of therapy being to help make the patient capable of understanding and managing the unconscious content ( bringing it to consciousness).

In addition, psychodynamic theories also consider the existence of defense strategies and mechanisms used by the psyche to minimize the suffering generated by these conflicts, and they agree that the psychic structure and personality are formed during childhood from satisfaction or dissatisfaction of needs. Children’s experience is very relevant to this current, as well as the interpretation of these experiences and the transfers. They also consider that the interaction with the therapist will make the patient relive repressed experiences and representations, turning to the professional.

These psychodynamic models and theories differ from psychoanalysis, among other things, in that they focus more on the reason for consultation identified by the patient and not on a complete personality restructuring. The therapies are not as long and are more widely spaced, in addition to being open to a large number of mental disorders and problems and not just neuroses and hysteria. There are other differences, but these will largely depend on the specific psychodynamic model that is observed.

Some of the main therapies and models

As we have mentioned, there are many psychodynamic theories and therapies. Some of the best known are listed below.

Adler’s individual psychology

One of the main neo-Freudian models is that of Adler, one of the authors who separated from Freud due to multiple discrepancies with some aspects of psychoanalytic theory.

This author considered that libido was not the main motor of the psyche, but rather the search for acceptance and belonging, which will generate anxieties that, if not supplied, will provoke feelings of inferiority. He also considered the human being a unitary being, understandable on a holistic level, who is not a passive being but has the ability to choose. This author considers the lifestyle as one of the most relevant aspects to work together with the desire for power derived from the feeling of inferiority and the objectives and goals of the subject.

His psychotherapy is understood as a process that seeks to confront and change the subject’s way of facing life tasks, trying to make explicit the guiding line of the subject’s performance to promote his self-efficacy and self-confidence.

From this psychodynamic theory, the establishment of a relationship of trust and recognition between therapist and patient is proposed in the first place , trying to bring the objectives of both closer to achieving the recovery of the latter. Subsequently, the problems in question are explored and the observation of the strengths and competencies of the patient who will end up using to solve them is favored.

The lifestyle and the decisions taken are analyzed, after which the focus will be turned to working on the beliefs, goals and vital objectives of the subject so that he can self-understand his own internal logic. Finally, we work together with the patient to develop habits and behaviors that allow the reorientation of behavior towards the tasks and objectives of the subject.

Jung’s analytical theory

Jung’s model is another of the main neo-Freudian models, being one of Freud’s followers who decided to break with him due to various discrepancies. From this model we work with aspects such as dreams, artistic expressions, complexes (unconscious organizations of unrecognized emotional experiences) and archetypes (inherited images that make up our collective unconscious).

The objective of this therapy is to achieve the development of an integrated identity, trying to help the subject to take into account what Jung interpreted as unconscious forces. In the first place, the subject is confronted with his person (the part of himself that he recognizes as his own and that expresses the outside world) and with his shadow (the part of our being that we do not express and that we usually project onto others), trying that through the treatment is achieved.

After that, the anima and animus archetypes are worked on, the archetypes that represent the feminine and the masculine and how they are worked and projected in social relationships. Later, in a third stage, the aim is to work on the archetypes corresponding to wisdom and synchronicity with the universe through the analysis of dreams and artistic elaborations (which are analyzed, among other methods, through the use of association in particular elements of dreams). We work collaboratively with the patient and try to integrate the different facets of being.

Sullivan’s interpersonal perspective

Sullivan considered that the main element that explains our psychic structure are interpersonal relationships and how they are lived, configuring our personality based on personifications (ways of interpreting the world), dynamisms (energies and needs) and the elaboration of a system of the self. .

At the level of therapy, this is understood as a form of interpersonal relationship that provides security and facilitates learning. This should generate changes in the person and situation, working the therapist actively and directive without increasing the anguish of the subject.

Mainly it is proposed to work from obtaining information and correcting that which is erroneous, modifying dysfunctional evaluation systems, working on the subject’s personal distance with people and situations, correcting phenomena such as interacting with others believing that they are going to relate with us like other significant others, seek and reintegrate the patient’s inhibited elements and seek that he is able to communicate and express logical thoughts and the search for satisfaction while reducing the need for security and experiential avoidance.

The theory of object relations

Melanie Klein is perhaps one of the greatest figures in the psychoanalytic tradition of the Ego, followers of Freud who followed his theoretical line by adding new content and fields of study. Where appropriate, study and focus on minors.

One of its most relevant theories is the theory of object relations, in which it is proposed that individuals relate to the environment based on the link we make between subject and object, the unconscious fantasy generated by the object being especially relevant. time to explain the behavior.

When working with children, special importance is given to symbolic play as a method for working and externalizing unconscious fantasies, to later try to clarify the anxieties that derive from them and introduce modifications both through play and by other means such as creative visualization, storytelling, drawing, dance, or role play.

Other more recent psychodynamic theories

There are many approaches, models and theories that have been developed throughout history from the psychodynamic approach. In addition to the above, there are some relatively recent psychodynamic therapies and theories, very focused on the practice and day-to-day life of therapy, and not so much towards systematic explanations of the structure of mental processes.

Brief dynamic psychotherapy theory

This perspective is based on the idea that therapeutic work should focus on a specific area that generates greater difficulties and that further explains the specific problem of the patient. Its main characteristics are its brevity and the high level of definition of the element to be worked on and the objectives to be achieved.

In addition to this, a high level of directivity by the therapist and the expression of optimism regarding the patient’s improvement is also common. It seeks to attack the resistances to later work on the anxiety that this attack generates and later make conscious the feelings that these defenses and discomfort have generated.

Within this type of psychotherapy we can find different techniques, such as brief psychotherapy with provocation of anguish or deactivation of the unconscious.

Transfer-based therapy

Proposed by Kernberg, it is a type of therapy of great importance in the treatment of subjects with personality disorders such as borderline. The theory behind it is based on the theory of object relations to propose a model in which there is a focus on both the internal and external world of the patient and that focuses on working from the transfer of internal difficulties to the therapist . In people with severe personality disorders, the experience of frustration and the inability to regulate it prevail, with what finally the psyche becomes split in such a way that a diffusion of identity occurs.

It seeks to promote the integration of the mental structures of patients, reorganizing them and seeking to generate modifications that allow stable mental functioning in which subjective experience, perception and behavior go hand in hand. The context, the therapeutic relationship and the analysis of the object relationships are fundamental, analyzing the feelings generated by the relationship with them (including the therapeutic relationship) and the unconscious fantasy that this relationship generates, helping to understand them.

Mentalization-based therapy

Bateman and Fonagy developed a model and a type of therapy based on the concept of mentalization. It is understood as such the ability to interpret one’s own and other people’s actions and reactions based on the existence of emotions and thoughts, recognizing these as a mental state.

Highly influential and largely based on Bowlby’s attachment theory, it attempts to explain mental disorder (especially borderline personality disorder) as a consequence of the difficulty in attributing mental states to what they do or feel. The therapy linked to this model seeks congruence, favor the connection between feeling and thought, develop the ability to mentalize and try to understand one’s own emotions and those of others, improving interpersonal relationships.

Bibliographic references:

  • Almendro, MT (2012). Psychotherapies. CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Bateman, AW, & Fonagy, P. (2004). Psychotherapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: Mentalization Based Treatment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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