Blog post: 4th December 2019
Counselling and psychotherapy theories (1): Psychodynamic theory (Sigmund Freud and the neo-Freudians)
By Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
Most counsellors have their basic training in a single system of theory and practice – (a single ‘school of thought) – perhaps augmented by a brief look at one ‘alternative’ system, for comparison purposes. This is an impoverished approach to counselling theory and practice, which has been pioneered by the universities, and the professional bodies that accredit counsellors and therapists. It is driven by the need for ‘neatness’, whereas the reality of the human mind, human suffering, and psychological processes is anything but neat.
I was fortunate to train in more than 13 different systems of counselling and therapy, and I have mixed and matched elements of them all for years, eventually resulting in a unique system of my own.
The psychoanalytic approach
The first system that I experienced, at the age of 22 years, was psychoanalysis. I had been through a very stressful period of social exclusion, and needed help to sort myself out. I saw a psychoanalyst weekly for three months; combined with other systems, such as art therapy, music therapy, group therapy, relaxation therapy; and some others.
Because of my immaturity at the time, I did not benefit greatly from psychoanalysis (in so far as I can consciously recall!)
Years later I reviewed the psychoanalytic literature and realized that most of the information I needed at the time was there, contained in Freudian theory, if only my analyst had been able to communicate it to me.
I had come from a family which was economically and culturally deprived. I (like all humans) was born as an ‘it’ (or ‘thing’), which was wired up with two basic instincts: the life or constructive instinct and the death or destructive urge. My mother (who was the first element of my ‘super-ego’, or Over-I) was the most important influence on the way my mind (or ‘ego’) was shaped; and she was far from being ‘good enough’ as a caring mother. So I developed an insecure attachment style. (This latter point – about my attachment style – does not come from Freud or the Freudians, or even the neo-Freudians. It comes from Dr John Bowlby, who was castigated for deviationism, and ostracized by the British Object Relations School, which was the neo-/post-Freudian tradition that took root after the Second World War. He believed that the child’s actual experience shaped him; while the Freudians of every stripe believed the child was upset by his interpretations of what his parents did: [and this belief was carried on my Albert Ellis and Rational Therapy! Hi ho!]).
I ended up in therapy, at the age of 22 years, because my life was subjected to cruel treatment by somebody acting from their death (or destruction) urge! I was not strong enough to withstand their destructive influence, because I had been weakened by my family of origin (which denied me the right to be self-protectively angry!) But after therapy, I was strongest at the ‘broken point’!
Freud, Ellis and Plato
Somewhere in the period 2007-2009, I made good use of Freud’s theory of the three mental agencies – the It (or baby before socialization); the Ego (or emergent personality after [some] socialization); and the Super-ego (which is the internalized mother/other; internalized through socialization processes). I used this model to evaluate the components of the ABC model from Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT); and this helped me to justify rejecting the simple ABC model; and to produce a more complex ABC model. (See my book, A Major Critique of REBT.***)
And later I used it as a comparator for evaluating Plato’s model of the Charioteer and the Two Horses. This occurred in my book on models of mind for counsellors:
Title: A counsellor reflects upon models of mind
Integrating the psychological models of Plato, Freud, Berne and Ellis
Every counsellor needs to think long and hard about their perceptions of their clients. Are they based on ‘common sense’, or have they been subjected to the discipline of considering the theories of great minds that preceded us, like Plato, Freud, Berne and Ellis. (Ellis, of course, oversimplified the SOR model of mind into the simple ABC model, but he is still important because of his impact on the whole CBT theory, which currently dominates the field of counselling and therapy in the US, UK and elsewhere).
And the Freudian model of mind also helped in the development of another of my books, which is this one:
The Emergent Social Individual:
Or how social experience shapes the human body-brain-mind
By Dr Jim Byrne
Copyright © Jim Byrne, 2009-2019
The E-CENT perspective sees the relationship of mother-baby as a dialectical (or interactional) one of mutual influence, in which the baby is ‘colonized’ by the mother/carer, and enrolled over time into the mother/carer’s culture, including language and beliefs, scripts, stories, etc. This dialectic is one between the innate urges of the baby and the cultural and innate and culturally shaped behaviours of the mother. The overlap between mother and baby gives rise to the ‘ego space’ in which the identity and habits of the baby take shape. And in that ego space, a self-identity appears as an emergent phenomenon, based on our felt sense of being a body (the core self) and also on our conscious and non-conscious stories about who we are and where we have been, who has related to us, and how: (the autobiographical self).
Today, the Freudian approach has become less significant, especially since Allan Schore developed his ‘affect regulation theory’; and Daniel Siegel developed ‘interpersonal neurobiology’ (IPNB). And also since I developed Emotive-Cognitive Embodied Narrative Therapy (E-CENT). Please see my two introductory books on E-CENT here:
If you want to develop your own rich and flexible model of counselling and therapy, it’s a good idea to study most of the mainstream systems and theories, as sources of creative inspiration for yourself.
That’s all for now.
Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
Author, Counsellor and Psychotherapist