Psychodynamic Counselling

The central idea of psychodynamic counselling is that the unconscious is important.

When we look at the unconscious process of couple attraction we look at the choice of partner each individual makes (without being consciously aware of what led to that choice).

The unconscious is central to the understanding of the people we now are and the patterns that affect our relationships. Early relationships and interactions in life will influence our "here and now" or adult interactions.

Much of our energy is spent in pursuing the positive experiences and avoiding the negative ones.

A realistic view of the world involves being conscious with both negative and positive emotions.

Living fully consciously means coping with ambivalence - the co-existence of opposite emotions and the discomfort this causes.

In stressful situations we can "split off" the negative and remain only conscious of our positive feelings, for example, when someone dies and we are only conscious of the positive and suppress the negative we may be "not speaking ill of the dead".

The process of displacing unwanted feelings onto others is called "projection".

In couple relationships we can project unwanted feelings onto each other.

When two people become locked into responding to the denied and projected emotions of the other and regarding this as their own in this is called "projective identification". This happens easily in couple relationships so couple dynamics can be the mirror to the unconscious.

Psychodynamic relationship work is based on work of Freud, Klein and Winnicott.

It focuses on those early relationships with attachment figures, notably, Mother.

As "good enough" a parent is able to give enough nourishment and support so the child can tolerate living in the emotional world as it really is, good and bad.

We carry ideas of "good enough" or "not good enough" into our adult lives, about self and other.

With this way of working I support the you just enough so you can be helped to re-integrate the positive and negative in your conscious world, and rework those early struggles.

Klein believed it was the quality of the relationship that the child experienced with human objects in the first year that sets a pattern of relating to others in adult life.

Marital therapist Henry Dicks suggested choice of partner is made on 3 levels:

  1. Social pressures: Public or socio-cultural level we choose and are chosen by partners from the circles in which we move-similar neighbourhood, similar background, values and priorities for example - Class, religion, education, money, housing, race or culture.
  2. Conscious personal choice: We choose and are chosen by partners with shared aspirations/ interests and we pick someone with qualities we might admire in a potential mate. We know we are picking a partner for these reasons.
  3. Unconscious attraction: Choice or chemistry: we are not aware of it.

At an unconscious level we often pick and are picked out by a partner who has had similar earlier life experiences.

They may have dealt with these experiences in an opposite way.

Unconscious choice of a partner is based on similarity. It may feel that you "complete each other" or have found your "other half".

We choose partners and are chosen by partners at both conscious and conscious levels.

Counselling may explore the idea of "chemistry" between two people: how two people who "fit" together to form a "whole".

This mutually collusive projective identification is known as the couple "fit". Problems may arise later as the fit changes.

The fit works when the couple are positioned on the continuum where it feels comfortable to both.

It does not work when they become polarised - i.e. splitting.

When we choose a partner we are able to project risky and conflictual elements of self onto our partner who will express it for us so that we can continue to be in touch with a disowned part of self.

Why do partners choose each other?

When couples unconsciously choose each other it may be as a second chance to play out old conflicts (from childhood) which were not successfully managed the first time around.

The couple relationship can be "defensive" - internal psychic conflict from the past can be repeated in the present and reinforced.

Or the past can be re-worked by doing the unfinished business of childhood by working in the relationship currently, it can create the opportunity to resolve psychodynamic conflicts.

Unconscious choices are about:

  • Hopes - of healing the past and
  • Fears - of repeating the past.

Counselling works to make sense of the links between past and present.

Counselling may use the relationship between past and present, and internal parts of self as well as relationships with others.

These can be explored in the relationship between counsellor and client, and between clients themselves.

This theory of "between" is very helpful in couple work, in understanding "how come" each has chosen the other, and "why" it no longer works for example.

Source: Jacobs, Psychodynamic Counselling in Action

Source: Dicks, Marital Tensions

Source: Scarff, Intimate Partners

Source: Skinner, Families and How to Survive them

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