Psychodynamic therapy (or Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy as it is sometimes called) is a general name for therapeutic approaches which try to get the patient to bring to the surface their true feelings, so that they can experience them and understand them. Like Psychoanalysis, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy uses the basic assumption that everyone has an unconscious mind (this is sometimes called the subconscious), and that feelings held in the unconscious mind are often too painful to be faced. Thus we come up with defences to protect us knowing about these painful feelings. An example of one of these defences is called denial, which you may have already come across.
Psychodynamic therapy assumes that these defences have gone wrong and are causing more harm than good, that is why you have needed to seek help. It tries to unravel them, as once again, it is assumed that once you are aware of what is really going on in your mind the feelings will not be as painful.
Psychodynamic therapy takes as its roots the work of Freud (who most people have heard of) and Melanie Klien (who developed the work with children) and Jung (who was a pupil of Freud's yet broke away to develop his own theories)
Psychodynamics takes the approach that our pasts effects our presents. Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, and this is the same for an individual. Though we may repress our very early experiences (thus we don't remember them) the theory is that the "ID" never forgets the experiences. If a child was always rewarded with sweets we may not know why we reach for the tub of ice cream whenever we are depressed and we want cheering up.
Psychodynamic therapists are taught many theories of child development (Oral stage, anal stage, latency period etc). The theory here is that if an adult has not properly progressed through all the child development stages, the therapist may identify the particular stage(s) that are missing.
If we go back to our own beginnings, we will see that all of us develop ways of relating to others based on experiences with those who cared for us in our formative years. This is something that everybody knows but rarely thinks about. Rather like the apple that fell to the ground causing Newton to ask why, Freud noticed that his patients seemed to develop particularly strong feelings towards him, and he too asked the question why. This was the beginning of his understanding of how, in the therapeutic setting, the therapist becomes a figure of overwhelming importance. Not because of any intrinsic wisdom or innate charm on his/her part but because, Freud realized, feelings previously felt in connection with parents or significant others were being transferred from the past into the present: the transference.
Why should this he so? Before I attempt to answer this question it is important to point out that all our relationships have an element of transference in them: into each new meeting both participants bring expectations and assumptions based on previous encounters. However, in most situations, particularly social ones, there is inter-action: exchange of opinion, agreement, argument, attraction, flirtation, aggression, repulsion, and so on. In this way, through interaction, our expectations and assumptions are either confirmed, contradicted or modified. We all know that after meeting someone for the first time we make a decision as to whether we will see that person again. Sometimes, consciously or unconsciously, we decide that we do not want to take the relationship further; on other occasions we seek every opportunity to renew the acquaintance.
If we move from social relations to professional ones we will again see how we bring expectations based on past experiences to these meetings. But now because there is less interaction there will not he so much room for maneuver, not so much scope for our assumptions to he altered. Two examples spring to mind:…