Also known as dynamic psychology, in its broadest sense, is an approach to
psychology that emphasizes systematic study of the psychological forces that underlie
human behavior, feelings, and emotions and how they might relate to early experience.
It is especially interested in the dynamic relations between conscious motivation and
The term psychodynamics is also used by some to refer specifically to the
psychoanalytical approach developed by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) and his
followers. Freud was inspired by the theory of thermodynamics and used the term
psychodynamics to describe the processes of the mind as flows of psychological energy
(libido) in an organically complex brain.
Core principlesand characteristics
Although psychodynamic psychotherapy can take many forms, commonalities include:
An emphasis on the centrality of intrapsychic and unconscious conflicts, and their
relation to development.
Seeing defenses as developing in internal psychic structures in order to avoid
unpleasant consequences of conflict.
A belief that psychopathology develops especially from early childhood
Use of free association as a major method for exploration of internal conflicts and
Focusing on interpretations of transference, defense mechanisms, and current
symptoms and the working through of these present problems.
Trust in insight as critically important for success in therapy.
In general, psychodynamics studies the transformations and exchanges of
"psychic energy" within the personality. A focus in psychodynamics is the connection
between the energetic of emotional states in the id, ego, and superego as they relate to
early childhood developments and processes. At the heart of psychological processes,
according to Freud, is the ego, which he envisions as battling with three forces: the id,
the super-ego, and the outside world. The id is the unconscious reservoir of libido, the
psychic energy that fuels instincts and psychic processes. The ego serves as the
general manager of personality, making decisions regarding the pleasures that will be
pursued at the id's demand, the person's safety requirements, and the moral dictates of
the superego that will be followed. The superego refers to the repository of an
individual's moral values, divided into the conscience - the internalization of a society's
rules and regulations - and the ego-ideal - the internalization of one's goals. Hence, the
basic psychodynamic model focuses on the dynamic interactions between the id, ego,
and superego. Psychodynamics, subsequently, attempts to explain or interpret behavior
or mental states in terms of innate emotional forces or processes.
Ernst von Brücke, early developer of psychodynamics.
Freud used the term psychodynamics to describe the processes of the mind as
flows of psychological energy (libido) in an organically complex brain. The idea for this
came from his first year adviser, Ernst Brucke at the University of Vienna, who held the
view that all living organisms, including humans, are basically energy-systems to which
the principle of the conservation of energy applies
In the 1950s, American psychiatrist Eric Berne built on Freud's psychodynamic
model, particularly that of the "ego states", to develop a psychology of human
interactions called transactional analysis which, according to physician James R. Allen,
is a "cognitive behavioral approach to treatment and that it is a very effective way of
dealing with internal models of self and others as well as other psychodynamic issues."
The theory was popularized in the 1964 book Games People Play, a book that sold five
million copies, giving way to such catch phrases as “Boy, has he got your number!”.
Early researchers in France set the scene for the psychodynamic approach.
Jean-Martin Charcot, for example, lectured on Mesmerism or Hypnosis, ideas that
Sigmund Freud, who attended his lectures, would later take up.
William James and Boris Sidis - The Subconscious Mind
William James was an early user of the term 'Subconscious Mind'. His student
Boris Sidis published books on topics that formed the foundation for much of Freud's
work; he, however, employed the terms 'Unconscious' and sometimes 'Preconscious'.
Sigmund Freud and Psychoanalytic Theory
According to American psychologist Calvin S. Hall, from his 1954
Primer in Freudian Psychology:
At the heart of psychological processes, according to Freud, is
the ego, which he sees battling with three forces: the id, the super-ego,
and the outside world. Hence, the basic psychodynamic model focuses
on the dynamic interactions between the id, ego, and superego.
Psychodynamics, subsequently, attempts to explain or interpret behavior or mental
states in terms of innate emotional forces or processes. In his writings about the
"engines of human behavior", Freud used the German word Trieb, a word that can be
translated into English as either instinct or drive.
In the 1930s, Freud's daughter Anna Freud began to apply Freud's
psychodynamic theories of the "ego" to the study of parent-child attachment and
especially deprivation and in doing so developed ego psychology.
Carl Jung and AnalyticalPsychology
He had been following Freud’s writings and had sent him copies of his articles
and his first book, the 1907 Psychology of Dementia Praecox, in which he upheld the
Freudian psychodynamic viewpoint, although with some reservations. That year, Freud
invited Jung to visit him in Vienna. The two men, it is said, were greatly attracted to
each other, and they talked continuously for thirteen hours. This led to a professional
relationship in which they corresponded on a weekly basis, for a period of six years.
Carl Jung's contributions in psychodynamic psychology include:
1. The psyche tends toward wholeness.
2. The self is composed of the ego, the personal unconscious, the collective
unconscious. The collective unconscious contains the archetypes which manifest
in ways particular to each individual.
3. Archetypes are composed of dynamic tensions and arise spontaneously in the
individual and collective psyche. Archetypes are autonomous energies common
to the human species. They give the psyche its dynamic properties and help
organize it. Their effects can be seen in many forms and across cultures.
4. The Transcendent Function: The emergence of the third resolves the split
between dynamic polar tensions within the archetypal structure.
5. The recognition of the spiritual dimension of the human psyche.
John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth - attachment theory
John Bowlby was originally a follower of the Freudian tradition at the Tavistock
Clinic in London, but broke away from Freud's key ideas and revolutionized the field.
Bowlby's inspiration came from reading the work of Konrad Lorenz, the famous Nobel-
Prize winning founder of the field of ethology or animal behaviour. In particular Bowlby
was struck by the phenomenon of imprinting, which Lorenz had studied in birds, and he
saw the possibility that infants might imprint on their mother in a similar way. Along with
his student Mary Ainsworth he studied infant behavior, and developed what he called
attachment theory. He rejected Freud's ideas of damage caused by frustrated impulses,
in favor of the idea that maternal deprivation is a major cause of disturbed development
and later psychological problems. Later he realized that infants need a stable, safe
person or persons to provide a feeling of security from which they can venture out and
explore. Many other workers in the field have since carried out experiments on infants
and on animals which seem to confirm and refine this idea.
At present, psychodynamics is an evolving multi-disciplinary field which analyzes
and studies human thought process, response patterns, and influences. Research in
this field provides insights into a number of areas, including:
1. Understanding and anticipating the range of specific conscious and unconscious
responses to specific sensory inputs, as images, colors, textures, sounds, etc.
2. Utilizing the communicative nature of movement and primal physiological
gestures to affect and study specific mind-body states.
3. Examining the capacity for the mind and senses to directly affect physiological
response and biological change.
In psychodynamic psychotherapy, patients become increasingly aware of
dynamic conflicts and tensions that are manifesting as a symptom or challenge in
their lives. Together with the clinician, patients are assisted to bring conflicting
aspects of their self into awareness, and through time, begin to integrate the
conflicting parts and resolve aspects of the tension. This is talked about in
different ways in each of the psychodynamic psychological theories, but all share
the common goal of attempting to describe the dynamic nature of the tension
between conflicting parts, assist the client in coming to terms with the tension,
and begin the process of integration and healing.
Cognitive psychodynamics is a blend of traditional psychodynamic concepts with
cognitive psychology and neuroscience.