As part of our monthly interview series, we’re talking to MyMind therapist Geraldine Mulpeter about the psychodynamic approach.
What is psychodynamic psychotherapy?
My own beliefs regarding life and what makes us unique are complemented nicely by the framework of psychodynamic therapy. It is an approach which is concerned with the internal world of individuals and how we exist in relation to others. It is my view that we are impacted by the thoughts, feelings and experiences which lie in the unconscious mind and the approach of psychodynamics supports this. This particular form of therapy enables my clients to look inside themselves at any unresolved issues that currently impact upon their lives and in particular the relationships they have. It isn’t the easiest approach to explain so I tend to use a comparison.
I get a lot of questions about CBT and how it differs from the Psychodynamic approach. CBT is about helping the client change any negative thought processes they may have which in turn will alter destructive behaviours and replace them with healthier ones. What I do is about getting to the root of these thought processes and finding out why they’re there in the first place. I believe much of this comes from early childhood – experiences that were too overwhelming to process.
What drew you to this approach?
After I had finished my Higher Diploma in psychotherapy, I was very close to going on to study psychoanalysis. What stopped me was the rigidness of the approach. That said, I did like the principles of it. I liked that it worked on the belief that early childhood experiences shaped who we are, and that so much of our experience are lurking in the subconscious. I thought the psychodynamic approach embraced these principles but was more flexible. It also allows me to practice in a very human manner. For some therapists, analysts in particular, a blank slate is what is portrayed to clients. This to me would be counter-productive to building a connection and trust.
How does knowing why you’re behaving in a certain way, help you change it?
Psychodynamic psychotherapy encourages my clients to deepen their self awareness. I as the therapist act as a facilitator for my clients as they explore themselves and examine patterns which appear in their lives and relationships. There is a power in all of this this. One of my main aims is to help clients get to a place where they have this awareness of themselves which will give them the ability to reflect upon where they’re at in their live right now and where they came from. By doing this, they can get a good handle on why they are behaving in a certain way. It gives them a sense of perspective and understanding. They can say, ‘I know why this is happening, so how can I come to terms with this now or reconcile this?’
How does this approach inform how you work with your clients?
At the heart of my work is the relationship I have with my clients, that is based on openness and trust. In order to work effectively , there must be a mutual understanding between us both. From the very first consult I am attempting to gain the client’s trust and build a connection. Quite simply if they do not feel at ease then sharing who they are will be next to impossible. This is also why I don’t conduct myself as a blank slate, a surface which the client can project onto. I am far more human than that. Simply because I believe in meeting my client on a more relational level and experiencing the therapeutic benefits this can bring for them.
Oftentimes, these are individuals who have never had anyone really listen to them and give them space to be themselves. It can be very overwhelming for the client. The therapeutic relationship teaches me how the client interacts in their daily lives. Are there defences strongly on display? How do they react when gently challenged? What gets in the way of them opening up to me? One of the biggest tools of this form of therapy is the use of transference. This is a concept which has its roots in Freudian psychoanalysis. A simple explanation of it is where the client may transfer his feelings for a parent on to me. The anger and resentment held deep inside for the parent is directed towards the therapist. This anger and resentment can cast a shadow over many aspects of the client’s life. It is my role to help the client deepen their self-awareness and understand the impact their past experience has on their present.
What is attachment theory and why is important?
Attachment theory is vast. Many of the therapeutic approaches have their own unique angle on it. Freud believed that the first four to six years were crucial to a child’s development. The object relationists placed the emphasis on the first four to six months. What all can agree on however is the importance of those early years and the relationships we formed.
Much of my work is underpinned by attachment theory. The relationship the child has with its mother is one of the greatest determinants in how our inner structure will develop. Everywhere there are people there are traces of early attachment structures. From the second the child is born they are seeking an anchor, a reference point from which to view the world and feel safe doing so.
Donald Winnicott wrote extensively on what he termed the ‘good enough’ mother. The hope is that there exists for the child an ordinary, caring and loving mother. Winnicott believed this ‘mother’ could be an individual capable of positively adapting to the child’s needs. This adaptation is total from the moment the child is born. Yet this constant reacting cannot continue. The mother must gradually lessen her responsiveness as the child develops her own ability to deal with the less attention. This helps the child develop inner resilience, something which is crucial in order to survive in the world as adults.