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The 7 main psychodynamic theories

The 7 main psychodynamic theories

May 24, 2022

If we think of psychotherapy, the image that probably comes to mind is that of an individual lying on a couch explaining his problems to a psychologist sitting behind him while he takes notes and asks him questions. However, this image does not necessarily correspond to reality: there are multiple schools and currents of thought in psychology , some being more appropriate than others depending on the specific case being treated.

One of the first great currents of thought that emerged was the psychoanalysis of Freud. But the students of Freud and those followers who decided to break with him due to discrepancies in some elements of his theory also continued to generate content and add new theories and aspects to psychoanalytic therapy. These are the so-called psychodynamic approaches. And with them, different therapies emerged. In this article we will see the main models and psychodynamic theories .


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The psychodynamic theories

The concept of psychodynamic theory may seem unique and unitary, but the truth is that it includes a large number of ways of understanding the human mind. When talking about psychodynamic theories, we are talking about a heterogeneous set of perspectives that they have their origin in conceptions of the mental processes derived from psychoanalysis .

In this sense, they all share with the Freudian theory the idea that there are intrapsychic conflicts between the conscious and the unconscious , being one of the main objectives of therapy to help make the patient is able to understand and manage the unconscious content (taking it to consciousness).


In addition, psychodynamic theories also consider the existence of strategies and defense mechanisms used by the psyche to minimize the suffering generated by these conflicts, and agree that the psychic structure and personality are formed during childhood from the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of needs. The children's experience is very relevant for this current , as well as the interpretation of these experiences and the transfers. They also consider that the interaction with the therapist will cause the patient to relive repressed experiences and representations, turning to the professional.

These models and psychodynamic theories differ from psychoanalysis, among other things, in that they focus more on the reason for consultation identified by the patient and not in a complete personality restructuring. The therapies are not so long and are more spaced, in addition to being open to a large number of disorders and mental problems and not just neurosis and hysteria. There are other differences, but these will depend to a great extent on the specific psychodynamic model that is observed.


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Some of the main therapies and models

As we have mentioned, there are many psychodynamic theories and therapies. Below are some of the best known.

The individual psychology of Adler

One of the main neo-Freudian models is Adler's, one of the authors who separated from Freud due to multiple discrepancies with some aspects of psychoanalytic theory.

This author considered that the libido was not the main engine of the psyche, but the search for acceptance and belonging, which will generate anxieties that if not replaced will provoke feelings of inferiority. As well considered the human being a unitary being, understandable at a holistic level , which is not a passive being but has the ability to choose. This author considers the lifestyle as one of the most relevant aspects to work together with the desire for power derived from the feeling of inferiority and the objectives and goals of the subject.

His psychotherapy is understood as a process that seeks to confront and change the subject's way of facing the vital tasks, trying to make explicit the guideline of the subject's action to favor his self-efficacy and self-confidence.

From this psychodynamic theory we propose in the first place the Establishing a relationship of trust and recognition between therapist and patient , trying to bring the objectives of both towards the achievement of the recovery of the second. Subsequently, the problems in question are explored and the observation of the strengths and competences of the patient that will end up using to solve them is favored.

The life style and the decisions taken are analyzed, after which the focus will be on working the beliefs, goals and vital objectives of the subject in order to achieve self-understanding of its own internal logic.Finally, we work together with the patient to develop habits and behaviors that allow the reorientation of the behavior towards the tasks and objectives of the subject.

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Jung's analytical theory

Jung's model is another of the main neo-Freudian models, being one of the followers of Freud who decided to break with him due to various discrepancies. From this model we work with aspects such as dreams, artistic expressions, complexes (unconscious organizations of unrecognized emotional experiences) and archetypes (inherited images that make up our collective unconscious).

The objective of this therapy is to achieve the development of an integrated identity, trying to help the subject to take into account what Jung interpreted as unconscious forces . In the first place the subject is confronted with his person (the part of himself that recognizes as his own and expresses the outside world) and with his shadow (the part of our being that we do not express and that we usually project in others) seeking that through the treatment is achieved.

After that the archetypes of anima and animus are worked, the archetypes that represent the feminine and the masculine and how they work and project in social relations. Later In a third stage we seek to work the archetypes corresponding to wisdom and synchronicity with the universe through the analysis of dreams and artistic elaborations (which are analyzed, among other methods, through the use of association in particular elements of dreams). We work collaboratively with the patient and we try to integrate the different facets of being.

The interpersonal perspective of Sullivan

Sullivan considered that the main element that explains our psychic structure are interpersonal relationships and how they are lived, configuring our personality based on personifications (ways of interpreting the world), dynamism (energies and needs) and the elaboration of a system of the self.

At the level of therapy, this is understood as a form of interpersonal relationship that provides security and facilitates learning. This should generate changes in the person and situation, working the therapist actively and directive without increasing the anguish of the subject .

Mainly, it is proposed to work from obtaining information and correcting what is wrong, modifying dysfunctional evaluation systems, working the personal distance of the subject with people and situations, correcting phenomena such as interacting with others believing that they are going to interact with us, as with other significant previous persons, to seek and reintegrate the inhibited elements of the patient and to seek that the latter be able to communicate and express logical thoughts and the search for satisfaction while reducing the need for security and experiential avoidance.

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The theory of object relations

Melanie Klein is maybe one of the greatest figures in the psychoanalytic tradition of the I , followers of Freud who followed his theoretical line adding new contents and fields of study. In your case, the study and focus on the minors.

One of his most relevant theories is the theory of object relations, in which it is proposed that individuals relate to the environment in terms of the link we make between subject and object, being especially relevant the unconscious fantasy that the object generates. time to explain the behavior.

When it comes to working with children, symbolic play is given special importance as a method to work and externalize unconscious fantasies, to later try to clarify the anxieties that derive from them and introduce changes both through the game and through other means such as creative visualization, narrative, drawing, dance or games of roles ..

Other more recent psychodynamic theories

There are many approaches, models and theories that have been developed throughout history from the psychodynamic approach. In addition to the previous ones, there are some therapies and relatively recent psychodynamic theories, very focused towards the practice and the day to day of the therapy, and not so much towards systematic explanations of the structure of the mental processes.

Theory of brief dynamic psychotherapy

This perspective starts from the idea that therapeutic work should focus on a specific area that generates greater difficulties and what else explains the specific problem of the patient. Its main characteristics are its brevity and the high level of definition of the element to work and the objectives to be achieved.

In addition to it a high level of directivity of the therapist is also common and the expression of optimism regarding the improvement of the patient. It seeks to attack the resistance to work later the anxiety generated by the attack and then make aware the feelings that have generated these defenses and discomfort.

Within this type of psychotherapy we can find different techniques, such as brief psychotherapy with provocation of anguish or the deactivation of the unconscious.

Transfer-based therapy

Proposed by Kernberg, this is a type of therapy of great importance in the treatment of subjects with personality disorders as the limit. The theory behind it is based on the theory of relations of the object to propose a model in which there is a focus on both the internal and external world of the patient and which focuses on work from the transfer of internal difficulties to the therapist. In people with severe personality disorders, the experience of frustration and the inability to regulate it lead to the splitting of the psyche, in a way that produces a diffusion of identity.

It seeks to promote the integration of the mental structures of patients, reorganizing them and seeking to generate modifications that allow stable mental functioning in which subjective experience, perception and behavior go hand in hand. The context, the therapeutic relationship and the analysis of object relations are fundamental , analyzing the feelings generated by the relationship with them (including the therapeutic relationship) and the unconscious fantasy that generates this relationship, helping to understand them.

Therapy based on mentalization

Bateman and Fonagy developed a model and a type of therapy that starts from the concept of mentalization. It is understood as such to the ability to interpret the actions and reactions own and others based on the existence of emotions and thoughts, recognizing these as a mental state.

With a great influence and based largely on Bowlby's attachment theory, he tries to explain mental disorder (especially borderline personality disorder) as a consequence of the difficulty in attributing mental states to what they do or feel. The therapy linked to this model look for congruence, favor the connection between feeling and thought , develop the ability to mentalize and try to understand one's own emotions and those of others, in turn improving interpersonal relationships.

Bibliographic references:

  • Almond, M.T. (2012). Psychotherapies CEDE Preparation Manual PIR, 06. CEDE: Madrid.
  • Bateman, A. W., & Fonagy, P. (2004). Psychotherapy for Borderline Personality Disorder: Mentalization Based Treatment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Freud's Psychoanalytic Theory on Instincts: Motivation, Personality and Development (May 2022).


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