The psychodynamic perspective refers to diverse theories that share some basic commonalities in the practice of psychotherapy and the greater vision of viewing the individual. It is almost impossible to discuss this perspective, since there are now so many of them at use in the modern practice of therapy. They do have common aspects, however, which can be outlined, and as a whole, they share a basic principle that most of the reasons people do things lie in unconscious motivation. Sigmund Freud first explored this principle, although many contributors have added other elements that can be contradictory to his original ideas.
In the simplest terms, a psychodynamic perspective speaks to the belief that experiences, often in childhood, shape who people are and how they think today. Most times, people either don’t remember those experiences or they wouldn’t connect the dots between past and present. In fact, motivation for doing something now is often unconscious, and needs to be revealed through therapy.
Freud came up with the model of the three-part self, made up of an ego, superego and id. These aspects of the mind form in very early childhood, he suggested, with the ego as the conscious self. Usually, the superego and id wrestled with each other below the surface, and the results of this might be seen in various neuroses presented within the ego. Freud worked on these theories for many years, first suggesting that very early experiences, unconsciously stored, were the predictor and reason for most human behavior. There are some today, like Control Mastery theorists, who support this thinking.
Later, Freud gave a much more sexual-based explanation for behavior, attributing much of it to people’s unexpressed sexual desire for their parents. To some, such theories were of great use, although others felt that this perspective was incorrect. One theorist who countered Freud was Carl Jung, who suggested that the self included many more parts, and that underlying it all was collective unconscious, shared by all people, no matter where or how they lived.
Other theorists, like Heinz Kohut, came up with forms of the psychodynamic perspective like Object Relations, similar to Freud’s work. Kohut also insisted on the empathic nature of the therapist, which was a diversion from the standard psychoanalysis as was practiced by Jung or Freud. In fact, the traditional distance between client and analyst has been discarded in many forms of psychotherapy, and today there are fewer psychoanalysts and many more therapists who espouse some form of psychodynamic thinking.
In therapy, the psychodynamic therapist listens to the client to see if, together, they can uncover hidden motivations for behaviors that confuse the person today. Whether these are viewed as repressed sexuality, some form of parental rejection, or some other reason tends to be dependent on the particular school of psychodynamic thought. Given the wide range of schools that are called psychodynamic, therapy may be conducted in slightly different ways and it may incorporate other schools of thought. Many therapists use cognitive behavioral therapy too, where it seems appropriate.