Psychodynamic psychotherapy makes three major assumptions. These include:
- The notion of a dynamic unconscious. This is the idea that we are driven by thoughts and feelings that are outside of our conscious awareness.
- A belief that people can grow and change throughout their lives.
- The belief that every individual is unique.
Each will be addressed in turn.
(1) The notion of a dynamic unconscious.
The idea, here, is that we are driven by thoughts and feelings that outside of our awareness; this is called the unconscious. When our thoughts and feelings are unbearable to us, we (unknowingly) push them out of our awareness. For this reason, we don’t always know what drives our behavior.
Take for example, the outstanding college student who allows his father to choose his major. As he approaches graduation, he finds himself too anxious to study and begins to fail his courses. He may be unaware of how frightened he is of being on his own and growing up. And, he likely does not recognize how angry he is at his parents for undermining his sense of his own capacities.
Thus, his symptoms serve dual functions: they allow him to avoid adulthood and they let him express, albeit indirectly, his anger and resentment toward his parents.
In this situation, the psychologist’s or psychoanalyst’s task is to, “make the unconscious conscious”. That is, the psychologist helps the person to become more aware of his own thoughts and feelings.
As psychoanalysts and psychodynamic therapists we want to help people to access those thoughts and feelings that are buried. We want to learn about what the person doesn’t know. For this reason, psychodynamic therapists discourage homework or preparation for therapy. Instead, we encourage the individual to come as they are and to talk about whatever is in their minds. We ask people to report day dreams, “flash thoughts” and fantasies. Also, we invite people to report their dreams.
Dreams, which Freud called, “the royal road to the unconscious” provide access to forces that are outside the individual’s awareness in his waking life.
As psychoanalyst’s or psychoanalytic psychologists our role is to listen and to collaborate with the individual, so that, together, we can decipher the person’s hidden struggle. As the person comes to understand his feelings, he can make decisions about his life with greater clarity and comfort.
(2) A focus on human growth and development
As human beings we are always growing and developing throughout our lives. Therefore, psychoanalytic psychologists believe that there is always a possibility of change.
(3) A belief that every individual is unique
Psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic therapists prize the uniqueness of every person. Each individual is understood in the context of their unique history and current situation. The past influences the present. Today’s psychoanalytic (psychodynamic) psychotherapists place a heavy emphasis on the relationship between the individual and their psychotherapist. While the role of the importance of early childhood experience remains central in understanding the individual’s strengths, the “here and now” is viewed as equally important.
Finally, because of the emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual, psychoanalysts and psychologists are devoted to developing a deep understanding of each individual. For this reason, your psychoanalytic psychologist or psychoanalyst will want to get to know you very well and will encourage frequent sessions.