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Psychodynamic psychotherapy some key concepts

Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy focuses on the past, the present, and the future. From this point of view biographical experience is important because patterns of feelings, behaviours, and relationships which we live out now often have their roots in previous experience. The psychotherapist encourages the client to look for parallels in emotional and relational patterns across time - this is usually a very useful way to identify dynamics which may not initially be clear to us.


Psychoanalytic psychotherapy also emphasises that an important part of our psychological experience is not immediately apparent to our conscious mind. This is not to say that it is hidden from us, but rather to emphasise that because of how much information we process and the complexity of memory and so so on, it is not possible to consider all the dynamics which may influence us all of the time. This is part of the rationale of psychotherapy from this point of view - by talking through experience with the psychotherapist it is possible to expand on aspects of it which had not been fully apparent to us before and which may give us insight and / or help us to process things we have not been able to recognise at the time.


Association is another key concept in psychodynamic or psychoanalytic psychotherapy - this is the idea that our memories, emotions, experiences and so on are related to one another via association. So, we might connect a certain place with a certain feeling, a certain emotion with a whole complex of other feelings or thoughts, types of people with people we’ve known before etc... From the psychologist's perspective, this is seen as an organisational property of memory and experience. It should be clear how this is connected to the concept of not being fully aware at all times of what may be influencing feelings, thoughts etc.


Defence mechanisms are another important idea in this school of therapy. Just as in nature animals need to defend themselves for survival, psychologically people need to have ways of maintaining self-esteem, facing uncertainty and fear, coping with other people and perceived judgements of others etc etc. This is normal and is an important part of healthy psychological life which allows us to be functional creatures rather than breaking down weeping all the time! However, sometimes a defence mechanism does not help or is part of the dynamic of aggravating a difficulty. So for instance, denial is a defence mechanism - it’s value living in a hard world is obvious - but if it came to be the case that we relied on it too heavily or every time we encountered a certain phenomena it’s clear that it could lead to unhealthy attempts to avoid reality which might have negative secondary repercussions... The psychologist or psychotherapist's role is not in aiding the person in getting rid of defence mechanisms - these are important - but rather in being more aware of them especially when they become obstacles rather than benefits. 


So, here is a brief list of a few of the key concepts in psychodynamic or psychoanalytic psychotherapy - it’s not exhaustive but I hope it serves to give a bit of an idea of the type of model the method uses.

Donald Winnicott | Psychologist Barcelona | Sean BCN Therapy
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