Oh, if only I had a £1 for every time I was asked this!
Let’s start with what the word itself means:
The word psychodynamic combines two meanings in one form.
The first part, ‘psycho’, originates from the Greek work ‘psykhe’. It referred originally to Psykhe, the goddess of the soul in Greek mythology, who is purified by searching for passion and overcoming misfortunes to be prepared for true happiness and love. Freud used the word ‘psyche’ in general to refer to the soul, focussing on the human spirit or mind and in particular the conscious and unconscious processes that fulfil or frustrate how we become a person in relation to ourselves and others.
The second part, ‘dynamic’, refers to constant activity and the flux of movement and time in the psyche.
When you fuse these two ideas together to form ‘psychodynamic’ it conveys the meaning of interrelationship and activity between different aspects of the psyche.
Psychodynamic counselling is an in-depth form of talking therapy focussing on building insight into relationships with yourself, with others, and with the external world. It focusses on exploring unconscious motivations, early life experiences and patterns in relationships. It examines the past and how that influences the present. By understanding these links between past and present, and identifying patterns and bringing awareness to unconscious aspects of yourself you can make better sense of your current experience and find new ways of perceiving yourself, your relationships and the world around you.
The work of psychodynamic counselling is to get to the root of the problem. It’s a bottom-up approach, if you like, looking at what’s behind your struggles or difficulties and addressing those. This creates long-lasting change, growth and healing. The image of an iceberg is always useful when thinking about the psychodynamic approach – we can get hold of the feelings and patterns and behaviours that are above surface level (the part of the iceberg that you can see above the water level), but our work is to look at what’s beneath the surface level – the larger portion of the iceberg below the water.
So, what do we actually do in psychodynamic counselling?
Well, we explore the unconscious mind by thinking carefully about what is playing out in the relationship cultivated between us as counsellor and client, by analysing dream content, thoughts, feelings and experiences.
We think about current struggles and difficulties – perhaps you feel isolated and lonely in your relationship – and we explore how your previous relationship patterns might be influencing this feeling in the present day. We think together about how previous experiences and relationships might have shaped you as a person and how they might, unconsciously, be influencing your current patterns, behaviours, thoughts and feelings.
We work with empathy, kindness and compassion. We hang judgements up at the door – the counselling space is genuinely a place to be heard and seen without the burden of judgement. our aim is to discover, nourish and develop your authentic sense of self.
We acknowledge and respect defences and boundaries – these behaviours have developed for a reason, and are part of you for a reason – but that’s not to mean that we can’t think carefully about how they once served you, and whether they continue to serve you well currently. We recognise and name emotions, in their multitude of colours and shades.
We explore the unknown, together, with the hope of creating meaning, understanding and a sense of aliveness where there was none before.
Freud described it as a process of Remembering (recalling the past), Repeating (discovering the past in the present) and Working Through (finding new ways of relating to the past) so that we can become more fully alive, and more fully ourselves.
Now this brings me to what we don’t do in psychodynamic counselling. As a counsellor, I will never advise or tell you what to do. I am not a mind-reader either, and cannot tell you anything which doesn’t come from yourself initially. I can certainly help you to find your own answers, but it is important that they are yours and come from you.
If you’re looking for more information on what psychodynamic counselling is, and what it entails, and if it’s right for you, feel free to contact me to explore it further.
You can also find more information about psychodynamic counselling from our professional body – the BACP: https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/types-of-therapy/psychodynamic-therapy/