- Psychodynamic Counsellors/Psychotherapists have undertaken extensive training to help people look at how their past experiences link up and impact on things that are causing problems for them today. Your current issue is still the focus but your life-history is also taken into account. It is often easier to understand a problem or pattern of behaviour if you can trace it back to its roots.
Example 1: As an adult you may be frightened of dogs. When you are able to look at your past you might be able to trace this fear back to being bitten by a dog when you were a child. This is a simple example but some difficulties can be rooted in very complex or traumatic experiences. It could be that you experienced the loss of someone through death or divorce as a child and it may have been difficult for you to process this at the time. As an adult you may now be experiencing the death of someone or the breakdown of a relationship. This situation often brings back the unprocessed experience you had as a child alongside your current feelings of loss and sadness from the present. We are often not aware of the different layers to our feelings.
When we experience trauma, particularly as a child, we are often overwhelmed by it. As a result sometimes these experiences are pushed so far away inside ourselves that we forget them or are no longer conscious of them. If this happens then we can experience certain difficulties or have certain behaviour but have no memory or knowledge of why we are doing this.
Example 2: As an adult you might be frightened of dogs, but unlike in Example 1, you have no memory of being bitten by a dog as a child (you are not conscious of it). A Psychodynamic therapist is trained to help bring unconscious elements to your attention. This enables you to have a deeper understanding of your problem, which in turn helps you to make different choices, based on your knowledge of yourself.
You may be wondering about your current problem and thinking that it has no link with your past. It is however, surprising how many of your current thoughts, feelings and behaviours have developed as a direct response to situations you have experienced, both good and bad, in your history.
How you relate to other people has partly been shaped by your early relationships with those around you like your parents, siblings and teachers. As an adult you could continue to relate to people in the same way. Some ways of relating are very helpful and some are not and can begin to cause you problems.
Example 3: As a child you might have felt very anxious at school and found it hard to talk to the teacher. As an adult you might now be feeling very anxious and find it hard to talk to your boss. This is because you have transferred your anxiety from the past about the teacher onto your boss (this is called transference, see below). By spending time dealing with the root of your problems, which stem from the past, you enable yourself to have a different relationship with your boss in your current life and so change things for the better.
The psychodynamic approach is not about blaming people from your past, like your parents, etc. It is about looking at how your experience of these relationships have impacted on your life today, leaving you with both helpful and unhelpful ways of responding to others and yourself.
Transference: Transference is the name given to the way we unconsciously transfer our experience of others onto people in our current life. We all use transference, it’s perfectly normal and we all do it unconsciously, so we are not aware of it. Often our transference experiences are positive, like the way we might transfer the positive experience of being looked after by a caring adult as a child, onto a caring friend that we have in our life today. In this way transference helps us to build trust in our current relationships.
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