Psychodynamic Approach


      Is the major influence in the understanding of human behaviour (pioneered by Sigmund Freud).

      Freud’s views continue to influence contemporary psychology.

      Some approaches extend, modifies its concepts and procedures or reacts against it.

      Original term was Psychoanalysis which refers to Freud’s original ideas.

      The term ‘psychodynamic’ is used to include both Freud theories and those of his followers such as Carl Jung (1964), Alfred Adler (1927) and Erik Erikson (1950).

      Two major theories are psychosexual and psychosocial theories by Freud and Erikson respectively.


 Principles of the theory refer to key ideas which explain the nature (motivation) of human behaviour

1. Human behavior and feelings are influenced by unconscious inborn drives/motivations or irrational forces called instincts. 

      Two major instinctual drives which motivate human behaviour are:

    Libido: life instincts such as eros (the sex drive) and all pleasurable acts. The goal of much of life is gaining pleasure and avoiding pain.

2. Human behavior and feelings are influenced by unconscious inborn drives/motivations or irrational forces called instincts. 

      Two major instinctual drives which motivate human behaviour are:

   Thanatos: aggressive drive to deal with unpleasant experiences such pain and death. Managing this aggressive drive is a major challenge to the human race.

2. Adult behavior and feelings (including problem behaviours) are determined in the first six years of life. 

    ‘the child is the parent of an adult’ meaning that early childhood experiences build foundation for adult behaviour.

3. Human behavior is determined and therefore can be predicted if the unconscious derive are analyzed. 

   The meaning, all behaviours are not confined to individual experiences but are indeed ‘generalizable’ to the wider population.


Structure of Personality

      Freud conceived the human personality as structured into three parts the id, ego and superego, all developing at different stages in our lives.

      Each part is unique but makes a relative contribution to an individual's behavior (interact to form a whole)

      Parts of the unconscious mind (the id and superego) are in constant conflict with the conscious part of the mind (the ego).

      This conflict creates anxiety, which could be dealt with by the ego’s use of defensive mechanisms.

      Human personality is shaped as the instinctual drives are modified by different conflicts at different times in childhood.

The Id (or It)

      Primitive and instinctive component of personality.

      Consists of all the inherited (i.e. biological) components of personality present at birth, including the sex (life) instinct – Eros and the aggressive (death) instinct - Thanatos.

      The id is the impulsive (and unconscious) part of our psyche (responds directly and immediately to the instincts)

      Is infantile (not in touch with the external world) and is not affected by reality, logic or the everyday world.

      Demands immediate satisfaction and when this happens we experience pleasure, when it is denied we experience ‘unpleasure’ or tension.

      The id is selfish and does not consider the needs of others (survival strategy)

The Ego (or I)

      Ego (as used by Freud) is the decision making component of the personality which mediates between the unrealistic id and the external real world.

      Tries to satisfy the demand of the id by what is called reality principle.

      Like id, the ego seeks pleasure (feeling good) but does reality testing to devise the appropriate way to fulfill the selfish needs of the id realistically.

      Reality refers to social norms or other people’s expectation which forms a framework against which members of the society should/ought to behave.

      The ego has no concept of right or wrong.

      If the ego fails in its attempt to use the reality principle anxiety is experienced.

      Anxiety results into defense mechanisms which are strategies to deal with unpleasant feelings (i.e. anxiety) and therefore make us feel better.

      The contemporary psychology, however, describes ego as conscious part of human personality which constitutes the identity, the ‘self’ (nafsi) or self image.

      The ego maintains the feeling of self worthiness/importance by reflecting how individuals think, feel or behave in the presence or imagined presence of other people.

      Ego involves the extent to which an individual perceives and values themselves (self esteem) in relationship to their self image (how others see them).

      Indeed, our “selves” exist within how we present ourselves in public.

The Super Ego (or We)

      Incorporates the values and morals of society which are learned since childhood from our parents and significant others.

      According to Freud, superego develops around the age of 3 – 5 during the phallic stage of psychosexual development.

      The superego's function is to control the id's impulses, especially those which society forbids, such as sex and aggression.

      It also has the function of persuading the ego to turn to moralistic goals rather than simply realistic ones and to strive for perfection.

Levels of Consciousness

      Consciousness and Unconscious: are the keys to understanding behavior and the problems of personality.

      The unconscious cannot be studied directly but is inferred from behavior. This includes

    dreams – symbolic representations of unconscious needs, wishes, and conflicts

    slips of the tongue and forgetting, for example, a familiar name

      Larger part of the mind exists below the surface of awareness.

      The unconscious stores all experiences, memories, and repressed material.

      Needs and motivations that are inaccessible or out of our awareness, are also outside the sphere of conscious control.

      Most psychological functioning exists in the out-of-awareness realm.

      Conscious mind is the portion of the behaviour that we are fully aware of.

      Subconsciousnes represents the part of the behaviour that we are vaguely aware of (we are not fully aware of) such as imaginations and wishes.

      Ego psychology concerns itself with the development, structuring, and functioning of the ego and how one’s self image affects who they display social interactions.


      Anxiety is a state of tension that motivates us to do something.

      Anxiety develops out of a conflict among the id, ego, and superego over control of available psychic energy.

      The function of anxiety is to warn of impending danger.

Reality anxiety: fear of danger from the external world

Neurotic anxiety: fear that the instincts will get out of hand and cause one to do something for which one will be punished.

Moral anxiety: fear of one’s own conscious. People with a well developed conscious tend to feel guilty when they do something contrary to their moral code.

      Neurotic and moral anxieties are evoked by threats to the “balance of power” within the person.

      They signal to the ego that unless appropriate measures are taken, the danger may increase until the ego is overthrown.

      When the ego cannot control anxiety by rational and direct methods, it relies on indirect ones – ego-defense behavior.

Ego –Defensive Mechanisms

      Help the individual cope with anxiety and prevent the ego from being overwhelmed.

      Ego defenses are normal behaviors that can have adaptive value provided they do not become a style of life that enables the individual to avoid facing reality.

      The specific ego-defenses employed depend on the individual’s level of development and degree of anxiety.

      Defense mechanisms have two characteristics in common:

   (1) they either deny or distort reality; and

   (2) they operate on an unconscious level (we are not aware when we practice them).



      Threatening or painful thoughts and feelings are excluded from awareness.

      Repression is an involuntary removal of something from consciousness.


      Denial generally operates at preconscious and conscious levels.

      Denial of reality is a way of distorting what the individual thinks, feels, or perceives in a traumatic situation.

Reaction formation:

      A defense against a threatening impulse by actively expressing the opposite impulse.

      It involves developing conscious attitudes and behaviors that are diametrically opposed to disturbing desires.

      In this way people do not have to face the anxiety


      Attributing to others one’s own unacceptable desires and impulses.

      Lustful, aggressive, or other impulses are seen as being possessed by “those people out there, but not by me.”


      The redirection of an impulse (usually aggression) onto a powerless substitute target. 


      The target can be a person or an object that can serve as a symbolic substitute. 


      This is similar to displacement, but takes place when we manage to displace our emotions into a constructive rather than destructive activity. 


      This is a movement back in psychological time when one is faced with stress. 

      When we are troubled or frightened, our behaviors often become more childish or primitive. 


      Rationalization is the cognitive distortion of "the facts" to make an event or an impulse less threatening. 

      We do it often enough on a fairly conscious level when we provide ourselves with excuses. 

Development of Personality

      Provides the counselor with the conceptual tools for understanding key developmental tasks characteristic of the various stages of life.

      According to the Freudian psychoanalytic view, first six years of life are vital in forming the personality.

      Three areas of personal and social development are:

      love and trust

      dealing with negative feelings, and

      developing a positive acceptance of sexuality.

Psychosexual Stages

Oral stage (1st Year)

      Infant needs basic nurturing or later feelings of greediness and acquisitiveness may develop.

      Oral fixations result from deprivation of oral gratification.

      Later personality problems can include mistrust of others, rejecting others; love, and fear of or inability to form intimate relationships.

Anal stage (1-3 Years)

      Developmental tasks include learning independence, accepting personal power, and learning to express negative feelings such as rage and aggression.

       Parental discipline patterns and attitudes have significant consequences for child’s later personality development

Phallic stage (3-6 Years)

      Basic conflict centers on unconscious incestuous desires that the child develops for parent of opposite sex.

      These desires are threatening and therefore repressed

      Boys experience the Oedipus complex – mother is love object for boys.

      Girls experience the Electra complex – strive to win father’s love and approval.

      Both have impact on sexual attitudes and feelings that the child later develops.

Latency stage (6-12 Years)

      Sexual interest are replaced by interests in school, playmates, sports, and a range of new activities.

      This is a time of socialization and forming relationships with others.

Genital stage (12-18 Years)

      Themes of phallic stage are revived. This stage begins with puberty and lasts until senility sets in.

      Adolescents learn to deal with sexual energy by investing it in various socially acceptable activities such as friendships, engaging in art or sports, and preparing for a career.


       Freud was an id psychologist (emphasizing the conflict between the id and the superego)

      Erikson was an ego psychologist emphasizing the role of our sense of self worthy in determining how we behave in social contexts.

      He emphasized the role of culture and society (socialization) and the conflicts that can take place within the ego itself (to form the sense of self)

      According to Erikson, the ego develops as it successfully resolves eight social crises that are distinctly social in nature.

      These involve establishing a sense of trust in others, developing a sense of identity in society, and helping the next generation prepare for the future.

      Erikson proposed a lifespan model of development, taking in five stages up to the age of 18 years and three further stages beyond, well into adulthood.

      Erikson puts a great deal of emphasis on the adolescent period, feeling it was a crucial stage for developing a person’s identity.

      Like Freud and many others, Erik Erikson maintained that personality develops in a predetermined order, and builds upon each previous stage.

      This is called the epigenic principle.

Psychosocial Stages

      Erikson’s (1959) theory of psychosocial development has eight distinct stages.

      For Erikson (1963), these crises are of a psychosocial nature because they involve psychological needs of the individual (i.e. psycho) conflicting with the needs of society (i.e. social).

      Successful completion of each stage results in a healthy personality and the acquisition of basic virtues.

      Failure to successfully complete a stage can result in a reduced ability to complete further stages and therefore a more unhealthy personality and sense of self. 

Infancy: Trust vs. Mistrust (0 – 12 months)

      The main question here is: Is the world a safe place or is it full of unpredictable events and accidents waiting to happen?

      The infant is uncertain about the world in which they live.

      To resolve these feelings of uncertainty the infant looks towards their primary caregiver for stability and consistency of care

      Consistent, predictable and reliable caregiving develops a sense of trust in a child which will carry with them to other relationships (feeling secure)

      Success leads to the virtue of hope (feeling the possibility that other people will be there are a source of support.

      Harsh or inconsistent, unpredictable and unreliable develops a sense of mistrust (lack of confidence in the world around them or in their abilities to influence events.

      Basic sense of mistrust are carried to other relationships resulting in anxiety, heightened insecurities, and an over feeling of mistrust in the world around them.

Early Childhood: Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt (18 months – 3 years)

      The child is developing physically and becoming more mobile to assert independence.

      The child is discovering that they have many skills and abilities, such as putting on clothes and shoes, playing with toys, etc.

      Such skills illustrate the child's growing sense of independence and autonomy.

      Erikson states it is critical that parents allow their children to explore the limits of their abilities within an encouraging environment which is tolerant of failure.

      The aim has to be “self control without a loss of self-esteem” (Gross, 1992).

      Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of will.

      If children in this stage are encouraged and supported in their increased independence, they become more confident and secure in their own ability to survive in the world.

      If children are criticized, overly controlled, or not given the opportunity to assert themselves, they begin to feel inadequate (feel a sense of shame or doubt in their own abilities)

Pre-school Years: Initiative vs. Guilt (3 – 6 years)

      Central to this stage is play, as it provides children with the opportunity to explore their interpersonal skills through initiating activities.

      Children begin to plan activities, make up games, and initiate activities with others.

       If given this opportunity, children develop a sense of initiative, and feel secure in their ability to lead others and make decisions.

      Conversely, if this tendency is squelched, either through criticism or control, children develop a sense of guilt.

      They may feel like a nuisance to others and will therefore remain followers, lacking in self-initiative.

      A healthy balance between initiative and guilt is important. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of purpose.

School Age: Industry (competence) vs. Inferiority (aged 5 to 12 yrs)

      Children are at the stage where they will be learning to read and write, basic arithmetic, to do things on their own.

      The child now feels the need to win approval by demonstrating specific competencies that are valued by society, and begin to develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments.

      If children are encouraged and reinforced for their initiative, they begin to feel industrious and feel confident in their ability to achieve goals.

      If this initiative is not encouraged the child begins to feel inferior, doubting his own abilities and therefore may not reach his or her potential.

      A balance between competence and modesty is necessary. Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of competence.

Adolescence: Identity vs. Role Confusion (age 12 to 18 yrs)

      Children are becoming more independent and want to belong to a society and fit in.

      It is during this stage that the adolescent will re-examine his identity and try to find out exactly who he or she is.

      Erikson suggests that two identities are involved: the sexual and the occupational.

      Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of fidelity.

      Fidelity involves being able to commit one's self to others on the basis of accepting others, even when there may be ideological differences.

Young Adulthood: Intimacy vs. Isolation (ages 18 to 40 yrs)

      Occurring in young adulthood we begin to share ourselves more intimately with others.

      We explore relationships leading toward longer term commitments with someone other than a family member.

      Psychological maturity during this stage is tested in the ability to form close relationship which entails self disclosure and self less interests.

      Avoiding intimacy, fearing commitment and relationships for the fear of rejection can lead to isolation, loneliness, and sometimes depression.

      Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of love.

Middle Age: Generativity vs. Stagnation (ages 40 to 65 yrs)

      During middle adulthood we establish our careers, settle down within a relationship, begin our own families and develop a sense of being a part of the bigger picture.

      We give back to society through raising our children, being productive at work, and becoming involved in community activities and organizations.

      Attempts to leave a legacy through meaningful social contribution are made (virtue of care)

      We also deal with discrepancy between dreams and what we have hoped for and reality.

      By failing to achieve these objectives, we become stagnant and feel unproductive.

Later Life: Ego Integrity vs. Despair (65+ yrs)

      Time to contemplate r accomplishments to develop integrity

      If we see our lives as unproductive, feel guilt about our past, or feel that we did not accomplish our life goals, we become dissatisfied with life and develop despair

      Success in this stage will lead to the virtue of wisdom.

      Wisdom enables a person to look back on their life with a sense of closure and completeness, and also accept death without fear.


   Compare and contrast Psychosexual and Psychosocial Development

   -what are the common concepts?

   -how do they differ?


Psychodynamic Counselling Goal

      To make the unconscious conscious i.e bringing out unconscious material where childhood experiences are reconstructed, discussed, interpreted and analyzed.

      To strengthen the ego so that behavior is based more on reality and less on instinctual cravings or irrational guilt.


      Assist clients in achieving self-awareness, honesty, and more effective personal relationships, dealing with anxiety in a realistic way, and gaining control over impulsive and irrational behavior.

      Maintain a sense of neutrality in order to foster a transference relationship where clients will make projections onto them.

      Establish a working relationship with the client and they do a lot of listening and interpreting

      Pay attention to the client’s resistances and make appropriate interpretations and listen for gaps and inconsistencies in the client’s story

Client’s Experience

      Clients must commit to an intensive and long-term therapy process.

      After some face-to-face sessions with the analyst, clients lie on a couch and free-associate (saying whatever comes to mind without self-censorship).

      Clients report their feelings, experiences, associations, memories and fantasies to the analyst.

      Lying on the couch encourages deep, uncensored reflections and reduces the stimuli that might interfere with getting in touch with internal conflicts.

Counsellor/Client Relationship

Transference: client’s unconscious shifting to the analyst of feelings and fantasies that are reactions to significant others in the client’s past.

Counter transference: reactions counsellors have toward their clients that may interfere with their objectivity.





Free association –clients flow with any feelings or thoughts by reporting them immediately without censorship (open the doors to unconscious wishes, fantasies, conflicts, and motivations.)

Interpretation –explaining and even teaching the client the meanings of behavior that is manifested in dreams, free association, resistances, and the counselling relationship itself.

Dream Analysis –uncovering unconscious material and giving the client insight into some areas of unresolved problems.

Dreams have two levels: latent content and manifest content.

Latent content consists of hidden, symbolic, and unconscious motives, wishes, and fears.

Manifest content is the dream as it appears to the dreamer   

 Analysis and Interpretation of Resistance – Resistance refers to any idea, attitude, feeling, or action (conscious or unconscious) that fosters the status quo and gets in the way of change. Resistance defends against anxiety.

Exploring unconscious material and defenses primarily originating in early childhood. Working through is achieved by repeating interpretations and by exploring forms of resistance.



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