Psychodynamic Therapies

 Psychodynamic Therapy:

Psycho suggests “of the mind” and dynamic suggests” movement”; Therefore, Psychodynamic therapies are those that use the movement of data held in the mind to bring about relief for the client’s presenting issue. This movement of data memory, sometimes repressed, usually involves moving memory of unresolved issue(s) from the subconscious to the conscious mind.  The psychodynamic family of therapies derive from the work of the “father of psychoanalysis”, Sigmund Freud. Freudian theory has as its central concept, the belief that neurotic symptoms (obsessions, compulsions, fears, phobias and physical psychosomatic afflictions i.e.: stuttering, nail biting unwanted habits, sexual problems etc.) are present as a result of the repressed memories of issues from our (usually childhood) pasts. Using free association, linking spontaneous thoughts from within the subconscious mind, he sought to take the client back to the memory and to revivify the source of the original traumatising event (also referred to as the I.S.E.- initial sensitising event ), thus bringing it back to conscious awareness. Now, the adult mind would be better able to deal with the memory of the event, the unresolved issue. With the repression released the accompanying symptom would be resolved and cease. It is often stated that Freud was a poor hypnotist who abandoned hypnosis due to its capricious and unreliable nature. However, even a brief study of his work reveals that in fact Freud continued, throughout his time as a therapist, to have his clients relax and close their eyes while reclining in a comfortable chair, using dim lighting and a quiet environment. He talked to them in a soft monotone while guiding them back on a journey through their memory to early childhood, prompting them to recall events held within the subconscious, linking and connecting thoughts. It is very hard to imagine that under these conditions, most if not all of his clients were not in a state of hypnosis.

Jung and Adler added to Freud’s theories, and more modern hypno-analysis techniques further add to the psychodynamic school of therapy. Ego state therapy is firmly in this school, accepting that early trauma can cause neurotic reactions in later life and because the therapy involves the moving of information from the unconscious to the conscious mind. Emmerson states “Ego state theorists accept Freud’s contention that previously experienced, unprocessed trauma affect adulthood responses, but they differ greatly from psychoanalysts in the therapeutic interventions for the resolution of the unwanted responses.”  (Emmerson P.19) Differences include: 1. The reduced reliance on transference due to the relative shortness of time the client will spend in therapy: 2. In ego state therapy, the unconscious is viewed as ego states that are not currently in the executive, as opposed to Freud’s view of a “vast and mysterious” subconscious: 3. Ego state therapists do not interpret to the client, preferring instead to allow the client to gain insights into the issue through experiencing the emotion of those insights in therapy and then “bridging” to the original cause of those emotions to achieve a resolution.

In comparing Ego state therapy with the cognitive behavioural stream of therapies there are many fundamental differences in style and approach. Cognitive behaviorists focus on the future ahead of the client, and consider that there is little to be gained by studying the past events. CBT is about our thought processes and about how we might have the client think her way out of her problems by firstly identifying unhelpful thought patterns, challenging these unhelpful thought patterns and then establishing and reinforcing new, more helpful patterns and beliefs. Unlike Ego state, CBT makes no attempt at resolving issues from the clients past. It relies on providing better coping systems to address the issue(s) going forward. Eriksson may be regarded as a proponent of this style in many regards.

In making comparisons with the phenomenologist streams of therapy, here again the past is regarded as best left in the past. Phenomenologists consider each client too unique and dynamic to be pigeonholed. Change comes from the therapy rather than from training or interpretation. Person Centered therapists believe we are naturally healthy and that we can regain that healthiness by regaining the right environment. As Epicitus stated around 100 A.D. “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them”. We gain our views from the way the mind interprets information “things” from the senses. Gestalt theory talks about “foreground and background” information, where foreground is that information brought by the subconscious to conscious awareness and background being all other available information that the senses have, but has not been selected for our awareness. Vitally, this background can still be responded to by our subconscious.  Gestalt therapy has some very similar techniques to Ego state, clients may be asked to talk to another part of himself, or to a significant player in the client’s life, but whereas in Ego state we may get a client to talk from a child state about a past occurrence, this is contrary to the Gestalt principles of the “here and now”.



Emmerson, Gordon (author) Ego State Therapy (Crown House Publishing LTD Carmarthen 2010).

Sylvester, Trevor (author) Wordweaving Vol 1 (The Quest Institute publishing, Burwell 2009).

Freud, Sigmund (author) Introductory lectures on Psychoanalysis (Pelican books, London 1986).