I am aware that these terms often get confused, so will use this blog to offer some very brief definitions and distinctions. Full disclosure – I’m biased, the psychodynamic model is ‘my bag’, however it’s also really important to point out that, the research suggests a pretty equal efficacy between therapeutic approaches and that the working relationship with the therapist is more important than the particular model of therapy they practice.
Psychiatry: – which isn’t a therapy but the branch of medicine that seeks to treat ‘mental disorders”. As its part of medicine, it seeks to take a scientific, biological view of the disorders and its main source of treatment is ‘medicine’ or psychiatric drugs, such as anti-depressants or anti-psychotics. These ‘disorders’ are seen primarily through the prism of chemical imbalances and this is what is known as biological Psychiatry. However, within Psychiatry there are differences, for instance, – Social Psychiatry. Social psychiatry, challenges the traditional psychiatric view that mental illness is caused by abnormal thoughts and actions relating to biological imbalances and stresses the importance of social factors, such as relationships, and the wider contexts of a person’s life.
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Counselling Psychology:-A counselling psychologist will have first completed a degree in Psychology and then an additional counselling training. In theory their approach, or at least the ‘psychology part’, will be based on theories resting on experiments and scientific deductions, for instance the British Psychological society states that “As a science psychology functions as both a thriving academic discipline and a vital professional practice, one dedicated to the study of human behaviour – and the thoughts, feelings, and motivations behind it – through observation, measurement, and testing, in order to form conclusions that are based on sound scientific methodology.”.
A critique of this would be around the critique of scientific methods, for instance A few years back, scientists at the biotechnology company Amgen set out to replicate 53 landmark studies that went on to be widely accepted as fact. They were able to replicate the findings of the original research only 11 percent of the time. This proves a general critique of science, which is that is inherently flawed as it is undertaken by humans and therefore always, although often subtly and perhaps unconsciously, driven by unconscious subjective and paradigmatic factors.
Johnathan Shedler, working in America, contrasts the psychiatric and psychodynamic approach, arguing that, “a psychiatric diagnosis alone is a poor and limiting way of understanding a person” as it, “fosters the fiction that we can treat emotional pain as encapsulated illness separate from the person having the pain.”
In my experience many patients have adopted this split way of viewing themselves, it’s very seductive, the idea we are in control and can pick and choose between our emotions rather than having to surf whatever waves they may throw up, this can appear comforting, however its isn’t because it’s a fallacy. A recent humorous Instagram, post suggests: – “1. Avoid emotional burnout by never experiencing emotions in the first place.”
Shedler describes the difference between having therapy and having meaningful therapy; – If someone has had meaningful therapy, they will be able to describe the relationship with their therapist, what it was like and what they learnt about themselves, some patients can have had lots of therapy but not be able to describe these aspects as they and the therapist have seen therapy, as a “provider of techniques. “
A critique of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is that it is often unfocused, that it has no clearly defined goals and no clear direction, which is a fair point but one that is an inherent part of a truly analytic approach. Barnaby Barratt, author of ‘Beyond Psychotherapy-Radical Psychoanalysis’, defines Psychodynamics as relating to, “an understanding of the human condition that is non-manipulatively interested in the meaning of life’s events for the participant and one that is holistically interested in ‘mind, body and spirit’”, I.e. is interested in the dynamic interplay of these aspects of being human without taking sides, but simply in allowing the conflicts inherent in being human to be explored and brought to consciousness so that whatever uneasy peace may be possible, can be facilitated, and that folks in relation to being human in my opinion is as good as it gets.
Paul Salvage is Psychodynamic Psychotherapist trained to work with adolescents from 16-25 and adults across a wide range of specialisms including depression, anxiety, family issues, self awareness and relationship difficulties. He currently works with individuals in our private practice in Hove.
Further reading by Paul Salvage –