Helping Theory

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Dean, R. (2002). TEACHING CONTEMPORARY PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORY FOR CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 73(1), 11-27. Retrieved from SocINDEX with Full Text database.

Smith Studies in Social Work, 73{\), 2002
TEACHING CONTEMPORARY PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORY
FOR CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE
Ruth Grossman Dean, PhD
Abstract
Psychodynamic theories, once an essential part of social work education but recently neglected, have been reinvigorated in recent years through contributions from social constructionism, infant research, and intersubjectivity. These theories, with their emphasis on multiple perspectives, context, and collaborative relationships allow for important considerations of diversity as well as clients' strengths and resilience, and can serve as formats for the broadest forms of change. In its contemporary form, psychodynamic theory offers a complex and rich understanding of human behavior and a direction for practice that is utterly consistent with social work values and interests.

Theories that deal with intrapsychic phenomenon have received less attention in the social work practice literature of the 1990s and the first two years of the twenty-first century. With the advent of collaborative, client-driven problem formulations and solution-focused treatment approaches there is less interest in formulating a client/situation from an intrapsychic perspective. Discussing the "dynamics"—that is to say, the intrapsychic and interpersonal pattems of an individual, family, or group—is considered by some to be pathologizing and disrespectful. Social workers are admonished to eschew authoritative postures often associated with psychodynamic formulations as they assess client/situations. In the material that follows, I argue that contemporary psychodynamic theory is one of the foundational perspectives for social work practice. I begin by defining psychodynamic theory. After considering the importance of conceptualizing clinical situations and developing formulations to guide practice decisions, I offer some reasons why psychodynamic theory is an essential part of the biopsychosocial orientation that is central to social work. This is followed by a discussion of some recent contributions to contemporary psychodynamic theory. A case example is used to show the applicability of these concepts to practice. Finally, I consider the ways that contemporary psychodynamic approaches open the way to considerations of culture and diversity.

12 R. DEAN
DEFINING PSYCHODYNAMIC THEORY
Bcrzoff et al. (1996) define psychodynamic theory as part of a general category of theories that deal with the psychological, intrapsychic factors in human functioning. In psychodynamic theories, "dynamic" refers to the continually shifting and changing energies that motivate and influence behavior (Berzoff et al., p. 4). These forces are shaped by past as well as current experiences. They emphasize internal representations of interpersonal interactions, including the relationship that develops between the clinician and client. Early relationships with primary caregivers are seen as most influential. Psychodynamic theory is interested in the ways that personal history is internalized and then influences ongoing behavior. Theories considered to be "psychodynamic" explain our states of mind, emotions, and behavior as resulting from an evolving and shifting interplay of experiences that operate in interaction with environmental factors and have a biological as well as a psychological component. Traditional divisions between "outer" and "inner" life have recently been viewed as arbitrary, and are being challenged by newer paradigms. Even so, it has been useful to designate systemic theories as focusing primarily on social interactions: ecological theories as encompassing the "external," environmental surround: and psychodynamic theories as being about "internal," emotional, psychological experiences....
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