„Self knowledge is no guarantee of happiness. But it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it.”
Simone de Beauvoir
„Then the lights go out and it’s just the three of us – You, me and all that stuff we’re so scared of.”
Psychodynamic psychotherapy conceives present conflict and crisis which can't be coped with and might manifest in symptoms (anxiety, depression, psychosomatics) to be derived from the individual’s biography, especially from childhood. Above all, in the early years of our lives we get shaped by how our attachment figures relate to us, as well as by our social environment altogether, including its ideas about the world and life. Very often our important needs aren’t met and we get hurt – I’m especially talking about our needs for closeness, care, understanding, support, positive attention, respect, as well as autonomy, setting boundaries and aversion. We learn to protect ourselves from further harm. Unbearable emotions are cast into the unconscious. As long as our protection mechanisms aren’t becoming too rigid, they will help us in meeting the challenges of life. But – the more we have to protect ourselves, the more we’re paying for it with our vitality, joy of living and freedom of choice. We are likely to have difficulties with engaging in deeper, fulfilling relationships. We lose touch with ourselves and who we are at the core. If our protection mechanisms break down and we’re still carrying lots of inner baggage, we might as well be flooded with emotions and impulses that we feel we're falling prey to.
Psychodynamic psychotherapy is about making inner conflict and protection mechanisms more conscious in order to gain better understanding of your personal situation, develop self-compassion and give space to suppressed emotions for them to be felt. The relationship between therapist and client plays an important role in this endeavor. It’s a safe field for learning about and experimenting with your ways to engage in human relationships. You might experience wishes and fears that can be expressed in this relatively safe space – being able to express those things deepens relationships in general and might have an effect on your private ones, leading to more fulfillment.
I see modern psychodynamic psychotherapy as an intersubjective process in which the inner world of the client becomes more accessible and can be felt more accurately. The therapist mirrors the client who, in return, can see themselves better. Symptoms are the language of the soul. Gaining a better understanding of that language will lead to a future that we can build more actively and in which we are able to make conscious decisions. The understanding (i.e. the interpretation) is a common understanding between client and therapist. Symptoms and conflict shouldn’t be interpreted theoretically by the therapist without being based on the actual experience of the client as I’d understand that as misdirected use of power. It’s not about someone creating a new myth about your life but rather about questioning your consisting myths and beliefs in order to approach selfhood. In the process of becoming more conscious of how we protect ourselves in the present and how we’re defensive towards our feelings, relevant childhood memories and emotions will come up by themselves. Intellectual understanding can be important. As I see it, psychodynamic psychotherapy isn’t mainly an intellectual approach to one’s own biography, though. It rather is a deepening of perception and feeling, in order to realign your actions with your deeper self, the core of your being.
It is a common assumption that needs which have not been met in childhood should now be met by the therapist who is responsible for nurturing and providing “corrective experience”. Of course the needs of the client are to be respected and explored in psychotherapy. However, the attempt of filling the lack – if it ever proved to be successful – would mean to not see the other for who they are: An adult who is capable of grieving their destiny and thus carrying it. Empathy and honest compassion of the therapist are going to facilitate this process of growth.