What are Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic Approaches?

Sigmund Freud, a monumental figure in psychology, is primarily associated with the Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic approaches. These theories, often tightly aligned with Freud’s perspective, offer a layered understanding of the human psyche (Day, 2007). Freud proposed a developmental model consisting of five stages that children traverse: Oral (0-18 months), Anal (18-36 months), Phallic (3-6 years), Latency (6 years to puberty), and Genital (puberty onward).

According to Freud, the most critical developmental period is between the ages of three and six—the Phallic stage. During this phase, he postulated that children experience an intense desire to monopolize their opposite-sex parent’s attention, precipitating feelings of jealousy and resentment towards their same-sex parent. However, these intense emotions were believed to lead to a sense of guilt and a subsequent bond with the same-sex parent. Freud theorized that this dynamic underpins the child’s later attraction to an opposite-sex partner and their desire to establish a family.

While Freud’s theories offer certain insights, some practitioners, like those at Northstar Counseling & Therapy – Megan Corrieri, express reservations about their applicability and comfort levels for both therapist and client. The exploration of these concerns and a deeper understanding of Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic approaches form the heart of our discussion.

What are Freuds 3 Structures of Approach

Sigmund Freud’s legacy also rests upon his articulation of three distinct psychological structures governing our thoughts, feelings, and actions—these being the id, the superego, and the ego.

The id represents our instinctual drives and the pursuit of gratification, encompassing all aspects of human nature that crave indulgence, and potentially, excess. It’s the source of our most basic impulses and seeks immediate satisfaction.

In contrast, the superego, akin to our conscience, aspires to perfection and moral rectitude. It sets lofty standards and expects strict adherence to them, often clashing with the hedonistic urges of the id.

Situated between these two extremes is the ego, the mediator of the id’s demands and the superego’s expectations. Its role is to find a balance, negotiating between these divergent forces to achieve a state of happiness.

The constant tug-of-war between the id and the superego often results in anxiety—an integral concept in Freudian and other psychodynamic theories (Day, 2007). Freud’s daughter, Anna Freud, further examined the role of the ego, exploring its use of defense mechanisms to mitigate internal conflict. Her seminal work, ‘The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense’ (1936), introduced mechanisms such as Rationalization, Reaction Formation, Projection, Fantasy, Repression, Emotional Insulation, Displacement, Denial, Sublimation, Regression, and Identification (Day, 2007).

While Freudian theories offer intriguing insights into the human mind’s inner workings, they have also sparked debate and critique within the therapeutic community, including institutions like Northstar Counseling & Therapy – Megan Corrieri. The conversation continues in this exploration of Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic approaches.

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About Megan Corrieri


Therapist | Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor | Nationally Certified Counselor

I personally get uncomfortable with these approaches and I do not find myself but partially relating to them.  I also feel like some of the theories and aspects of those theories are outdated and dry.  I personally have a hard time applying them to my own counseling style which is very warm, caring and inviting of change.

Northstar Counseling and Therapy doesn’t necessarily consider Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic theories as the best approaches. While certain elements can be useful and relevant, most aspects could be uncomfortable for the therapist and client.

Basic Goal of Psychoanalytical Thought

The core objective of Psychoanalysis, according to Freud, is to illuminate the unconscious, enabling individuals to become fully aware of their hidden feelings. As these previously obscured emotions come to light, individuals gain the tools for introspection and potential change.

Alongside Freud’s theories, the Psychoanalytical framework includes several other theories, such as Attachment Theory and Self Psychology.

Attachment Theory suggests that infants form a unique bond with their primary caregivers. This connection arises from reciprocal interactions—cuddling, gazing, smiling, babbling—which capture the caregiver’s attention and, ideally, elicit a mirrored response. This mutual engagement fosters an enduring attachment bond (Day, 2007).

Self Psychology, another dimension of this framework, concerns our sense of self. Pine (1998) identified three aspects of an individual’s self: an optimistic or pessimistic orientation, a clear or unclear sense of individuality, and a relaxed or worried disposition (Day, 2007). It’s widely held that this sense of self crystallizes during the first three years of life, an age range recurrently emphasized in Psychoanalytical Theory.

Megan Corrieri, MS, LPC, LPCC, NBCC, NCC, is a proponent of Self Psychology. She underscores the importance of self-knowledge, asserting that a deeper understanding of oneself leads to improved quality of life and healthier interpersonal relationships. This sentiment underscores her belief in the value of fostering self-awareness in all clients. Through this exploration of Psychoanalytical and Psychodynamic approaches, we aim to uncover the multifaceted nature of these theories and their practical implications in therapy.

How does this relate to psychodynamic theory?

Psychoanalytic theory, as established by Freud, is the bedrock upon which Psychodynamic theory stands. These two approaches share common roots but diverge in their subsequent developments—psychodynamic theory widened the lens to incorporate a more varied array of perspectives and adaptations of Freud’s foundational concepts.

Both theories underscore the critical influence of the unconscious mind on behavior, feelings, and personal identity, assigning early childhood experiences a central role in personality formation. They also spotlight defense mechanisms as essential tools in managing psychological conflicts and uphold Freud’s triadic model of the human psyche, comprising the id, ego, and superego.

However, psychodynamic theory extends beyond Freud’s focus on sexual and aggressive drives, acknowledging a broader spectrum of motivational forces. It integrates social and environmental factors into its purview and portrays a more nuanced, positive image of human nature. Moreover, psychodynamic theory tends to shift focus away from psychosexual stages of development towards a lifelong journey of self-evolution.

Attachment theory and self-psychology are integral components of the psychodynamic paradigm. Developed by John Bowlby, Attachment theory accentuates the pivotal role of early caregiver relationships in shaping our capacity to form future interpersonal bonds. Self-psychology, conceived by Heinz Kohut, centers on self-development and how disruptions in this process might precipitate psychological issues.

In essence, psychodynamic theory represents a diverse, evolving field that harmonizes the intellectual contributions of numerous theorists, including Freud. It continually assimilates fresh perspectives and research findings, maintaining the shared psychoanalytic goal of assisting individuals in gaining profound insights into their unconscious motivations and patterns. This objective aims to enhance their self-understanding and overall psychological health.

The Evolution of Psychoanalytic Theory

From its genesis with Sigmund Freud, psychoanalytic theory has seen many transformations. Scholars like Carl Jung and Alfred Adler refined and expanded upon Freud’s groundwork, adding their unique perspectives. These adaptations have broadened the scope of psychoanalysis, enabling it to stay relevant in the ever-evolving field of psychology. However, its historical emphasis on sexual and aggressive drives, as well as its heavily deterministic nature, has also drawn criticism.

Criticisms and Controversies

Despite its profound influence, psychoanalytic theory has faced its fair share of critique. Critics often point to its lack of scientific verifiability, heavy reliance on the unconscious, and strong emphasis on early life experiences. Furthermore, some argue that its deterministic nature undermines the importance of personal agency and free will. On the other hand, supporters contend that its focus on in-depth, individual psychological exploration is one of its most valuable strengths.

Psychoanalysis in Practice

In therapeutic settings, psychoanalytic approaches employ techniques like free association, dream analysis, and the interpretation of resistance and transference. These methods aim to expose the hidden layers of the unconscious mind, fostering deeper self-understanding. However, critics argue that these techniques can be subjective and lack empirical support, thereby limiting their widespread applicability.

Modern Adaptations

Modern variations of psychoanalysis, such as Object Relations Theory, Interpersonal Psychoanalysis, and Relational Psychoanalysis, have evolved to address criticisms and broaden the theories’ scope. They integrate social and relational factors, providing a more holistic understanding of human psyche. These adaptations demonstrate the resilience of psychoanalytic thought, yet also underscore its need to evolve in response to contemporary psychological understanding.

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is evidence to support the effectiveness of psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies, particularly in treating anxiety disorders, depression, and certain personality disorders. These methods offer individuals deep insights into their unconscious motivations, leading to potentially lasting change. However, more empirical research is required to establish their effectiveness across a wider range of psychological conditions.

Personal Testimonials

Many individuals credit psychoanalytic and psychodynamic therapies for significant improvements in their lives. Through these therapies, they’ve gained deep insights into their behaviors, relationships, and emotional patterns, facilitating meaningful change. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of therapy is highly individual and depends on several factors, including the client-therapist relationship and the specific issues at hand.

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theories, despite their controversies, continue to play a pivotal role in shaping psychological treatment approaches. They form an integral part of the rich tapestry of psychological therapies available today, providing unique perspectives on the complexities of the human psyche.

In the ever-evolving field of psychology, psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theories remain deeply influential, informing our understanding of human behavior, motivations, and the formation of the self. Both theories have provided profound insights into the unconscious mind, the significance of early experiences, and the ongoing complexities of human development. Their principles continue to guide therapeutic practice, research, and the quest for self-understanding.

However, these theories have also been subject to critique and modification. Modern psychologists have embraced the core tenets of Freud’s work while also expanding and refining them to incorporate broader perspectives. Concepts such as Attachment Theory and Self-Psychology have emerged, contributing to a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of the human psyche. These developments embody the dynamic nature of psychology, continually adapting and growing to encapsulate the complexity of human experiences.

Even as the discourse around psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theories continues, one cannot deny their pivotal role in shaping therapeutic practices. Practitioners, including those at Northstar Counseling & Therapy – Megan Corrieri, uphold the importance of self-understanding and continue to apply, adapt, and critique these theories to provide the best outcomes for their clients.

As we reflect on these theories, it becomes apparent that their greatest strength lies not only in their analytical depth but also in their flexibility and resilience, qualities that allow them to endure and evolve in the face of modern psychological research and practice. They serve as a reminder that our understanding of the human mind remains a journey, not a destination, and that the pursuit of knowledge and insight is an ongoing, dynamic process.

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Megan Corrieri

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