Psychodynamic Counselling Concept

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In this essay I mainly discuss the theory and concepts behind psychodynamic counselling, followed by brief discussions of the practice and skills involved in working as a psychodynamic counsellor, and the client’s experience of counselling.


Psychodynamic counselling is mainly concerned with unconscious processes; it takes for granted that humans possess a largely unconscious inner world. Freud argued that while the conscious mind is governed by logic, the unconscious mind is not, and functions in a very literal way, motivated only to experience pleasure, unable to delay gratification. Although Psychodynamic counselling works with the conscious mind, it mainly focuses on unconscious processes.

We have key figures in our lives – e.g. parents, carers, and partners - are referred to as ‘objects’, and relationships with them termed ‘object relationships’. The phrase ‘object’ refers to the Freudian concept of the target, or object of the instinct. Object relationships embody not only actual relationships but also the ways that the conscious mind distorts them. The unconscious is viewed as dynamic and purposeful, having huge impact on emotions and behaviour. Psychodynamic theory posits that humans are driven by a need to remain unaware of uncomfortable truths that emerge from the unconscious, experiencing many conflicting needs and demands, e.g. between one’s own wishes and those of others.

To deal with conflicts people develop ‘defences’, these include ‘repression’, a form of forgetting, ‘denial’, claiming that something is not upsetting when really it is, and ‘rationalisation’, where a story is created to account for that which feels uncomfortable. ‘Projection’ involves attributing to others characteristics unacceptable to the self, making assumptions about them based on the need to avoid threat. Psychodynamic counselling encourages the client to recognise and accept the troubling attribute, a process called ‘reintrojection’. To engage in projection a defence mechanism called, ‘splitting’, is used when one is finding it too threatening to accept two opposing traits, such as being capable of both love and hate. It is natural to develop defences, but problems come with their overuse, e.g. using denial so often that problems are not faced. Applying defences too rigidly causes difficulties, and it’s when they start to disintegrate that individuals might seek counselling. Psychodynamic counselling holds that psychological symptoms emerge from the inner world. e.g., developmental problems or conflict may lead to anxiety or self-harm. The psychodynamic approach seeks to address these issues at their roots, as well as alleviating symptoms.

Psychodynamic counselling is based on developmental theory, and asserts that childhood experiences affect adult personality. It is understood that episodic memory is physically unavailable to children under three, but that implicit memory and body memory function from an earlier age. Neuroscience now supports the concept that early emotional experiences influence brain development; the psychodynamic approach posits that the client-counsellor relationship is crucial to the process of change. This is considered in terms of three concepts, the first being transference: “All those impulses experienced by the patient in relation with the analyst which are not newly created by the objective analytic situation but have their source in early – indeed, the very earliest – object relations...”. The counsellor may become aware of feelings in him/herself indicating issues that the client is unable to express; this is ‘counter transference’. The ‘real relationship’ is that which is free of the previous two dynamics. Within the client-counsellor relationship, elements of the client’s inner world can be revealed and become available for healing (Howard, 2011, p.22-25)


Psychodynamic counselling employs a number of basic skills that are common to other approaches....
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