What Psychodynamic Theory Has to Contribute to Our Understanding of
Counselling in a Multicultural Society?
If counsellors are to discern very well their clients of diverse backgrounds or culture and their place in a multicultural society, psychodynamic theory may be particularly helpful in this respect. Theories and techniques used in counselling are diverse and it is imperative for counsellors to know how to use their knowledge of psychodynamic theory in conceptualising systems for both counselling and therapy.
In psychodynamic therapy, which is an approach in counselling based on psychoanalytic theories, it is postulated that conscious and unconscious influences mold human behavior and social relationships.
This concept of the unconscious is often associated with Sigmund Freud whose contribution in psychoanalysis can not be discounted. Psychoanalytic theory though, is not exclusively Freudian. Freud’s brilliant ideas and theories, were controversial. His theories were under attack from many directions and it was a good thing though that from his perspectives, many other psychoanalytic theories emerged as well.
Carl Jung was famous for his collective unconscious and his oriental approach was unorthodox for Western psychoanalytic theorists. D.D. Winnicott’s transitional objects and good- enough mothering for instance, are interesting contributions to psychoanalysis as well.
It should be fascinating to explore these theorists’ contribution to systems and approaches of multicultural counselling. In as much as these theorists’ perspectives seem to have distinct or even conflicting orientations, we may have the chance to look upon their theories, in many ways, complementary in the practice of counselling in a multicultural society. Their theories can prove to be useful at any point in counselling (or therapy) sessions in understanding clients, their unique history, individual concerns, and understanding their behavior, the impact of their past experiences to their present condition in life, and some of their underlying motives and beliefs.
Psychoanalytic approaches to therapy and counselling originated from the works of Sigmund Freud. He viewed that people are driven by unconscious influences, a part of their inner world of which they are not aware of. He theorised that repressed unconscious thoughts and feelings could manifest through dreams, fantasies and odd behavior.
Until after these repressed forbidden desires, hurtful memories and experiences are brought to conscious awareness, these were presumed to lead to irrational and maladaptive behavior. Based on this concept, effective counsellors can effectively draw upon these repressed thoughts and emotions through psychotherapy to ease their client’s depression or anxiety and to rebuild their client’s self-esteem.
Freud’s concept of eros (sexual and life instincts) and thanatos (aggressive and death instincts) are considered motivating factors of personality, with the term libido referring to basic energy of life associated with Eros. Troubled individuals may manifest death instincts through destructive behavior such as, alcoholism, substance abuse, aggression (towards self or others), and even suicide.
Freud theorised that the individual’s behavior is assumed to result from the interaction of three components of the personality: id, ego, and superego. The id is said to be the source of instinctual drives and operate in terms of the pleasure principle. It is capable of eliciting mental images and wish-fulfilling fantasies (Coleman, 1980).
The second personality component is the ego, which intercedes between the demands of the id and the external world, and operates in terms of the reality principle. For instance, Freud believed that sexual or aggressive tendencies are in conflict with society’s rules and prohibitions.
It was clever of Freud to introduce the third personality component, which is the superego, or commonly known as conscience. If one has learned and adapted to the moral demands of society, the individual would have a better grasp of what is right from wrong. The superego serves as personality’s system of control to inhibit immoral desires.
Freud believed in the interplay between the id, ego and superego, and how it becomes crucial to behavior. Inner conflicts may arise because the id, ego and superego are striving for different goals. Inner conflicts could manifest as a mental disorder if not resolved.
Another important psychoanalytic concept of Freud is defense mechanisms. For him, whatever pains or anxieties are eased by distorting reality, if one can not deal with it rationally (Coleman, et.al., p. 54). Therefore, an individual’s distorted perception of reality poses behavior problems. This only happens though when the ego can no longer cope with the pain or anxiety by rational measures.
Freud’s contribution to developmental psychology is his theory on five Psychosexual stages: the oral, anal, phallic, latency, and genital stages. He believed that these stages of development could determine one’s defenses, anxieties, and impulses. A child who has been deprived of fully experiencing any of these stages may suffer fixation at that stage of development. The first three stages of development, the oral, anal, and phallic stages, are the most crucial, as one’s personality is molded at this time. If fixation happens at any point during this period, then the child would likely develop distinct personality type.
From birth to 1 year (oral stage), the mouth is the principal erogenous zone and it is assumed that an infant’s greatest source of gratification is sucking. If the caregiver is overindulgent or depriving, then the child is likely to develop fixation at this stage. Some traits associated with overindulgence are optimism, manipulativeness, boldness and admiration. On the other hand, deprivation would lead to traits such as pessimism, suspiciousness, self-belittlement, passivity, and jealousy. Further, as Freud theorised, fixation at this stage, or when the individual did not receive adequate oral gratification during infancy, the individual is predisposed to excessive drinking or eating in adult life.
When the child is about 18 months to 3 years (anal stage), the anus and rectum are considered to be the primary sources of pleasure. Either an excessive demand or permissiveness from a child’s caregiver, will lead to the development of anal personality. Other psychological problems that are thought to arise from this stage are obsessive-compulsivity and paranoia.
During the phallic stage, or when the child is about 3 to 6 years old, the penis or clitoris is assumed to be the major source of pleasurable sensation. At this stage, the child learns to manipulate the genitals and becomes curious about the opposite sex. Curiously enough, Freud also believed that it is at this stage when the child develops intense sexual feelings for the parent of the opposite sex, or otherwise known as Oedipus and Electra complex. The Oedipal complex is the perception that boys desire to possess their mother.
Freud thought that boys have incestuous cravings for their mother, even sees their father as rival, but they have fear that the father will harm them (castration anxiety). Likewise, the Electra complex is the assumption that girls desire their father, and want to replace their mother. The fear of the same-sex parent leads to sublimation of their sexual attraction for the opposite sex parent into non-sexual love, and they learn to identity instead to their same-sex parent. For either sex, it imperative for them to resolve the conflict, such that when they enter young adulthood stage, they are likely to have a satisfactory heterosexual relationship.
In the years from 6 to 12 (latency stage), sexual motivations are put aside and the child channels his energy into school, play, shared activities with friends, and sports.
Finally, the genital stage, which is from puberty onwards, the deepest feelings of pleasure come from heterosexual relations. At this stage, the individual channels his energy into socially acceptable ventures such as entering into romantic relationships, establishing friendships, career planning and also some recreational activities.
Freud’s cathartic hypnosis was popular during his time, but more than the technique of hypnosis as a therapeutic cure to psychological illnesses, was his concept that feelings were drawn from the unconscious. His contribution stands out in the sense that he was the one who developed techniques such as free association and dream analysis in dealing with both the conscious and unconscious aspects of mental health. Freud emphasized the role of the unconscious motives and ego-defense systems, and the importance of early childhood experiences in the personality adjustment and maladjustment of adults, as well as the relevance of sexual factors in human behavior and mental disorders (Coleman, et.al., p. 57).
Freud’s techniques now used in contemporary psychodynamic counselling provide much deeper understanding of the (client’s) self, and can prove to be helpful in emotional, spiritual development and self-awareness.
One of the most original and controversial features of Jung’s theory on personality was the concept of collective unconscious. He theorised the existence of universally shared motives, drives, potentials, fears and symbols – that human beings have more or less the same collective unconscious. Collective unconscious is defined as the “storehouse of latent memory traces inherited from one’s ancestral past” (Hall & Lindzey, 1978, p. 119). Simply put, with this theory, there is probability of reviving experiences of past generations. “Humans are born with many predisposition for thinking, feeling, and perceiving according to definite patterns and contents that become actualized through individualized experiences” (Hall & Lindzey).
If Freud’s “unconscious mind” is often associated with repressed forbidden desires, hurtful memories and experiences, Jung’s collective unconscious is a vast resource of subliminal contents and potential, which includes the “wisdom and experience of uncounted centuries, and laid down in its archetypal organs” (Jung, cited in Hall & Lindzey, p.120). The collective unconscious can then serve a very good purpose to the individual. But, if this ignored by the ego, “the unconscious may disrupt the conscious rational processes by seizing hold of them and twisting them into distorted forms (Hall & Lindzey, p.120). Instances of irrational behavior could arise such as phobias and delusions.
Jung believed that the individual achieves completeness or wholeness only as fantasies, images and dreams from the personal and collective unconscious become accessible to the conscious self (Coleman, et.al., p.58).
Jung’s concept of archetypes refers to patterns of behavior within the unconscious mind. The most common of these archetypes are the persona, shadow, self, and anima and animus.
The persona is tantamount to the social personality – the “face” an individual has in his social relationships. A healthy persona could then mean good adaptation to the demands of society or the environment where one belongs. In some respects, Jung’s concept of the persona is similar to Freud’s superego.
The shadow has some resemblance to Freud’s concept of the id. It is considered the hidden or dark side of personality that sometimes the individual is not even aware of. This part of the psyche would be difficult to accept. If a certain trait of another distress an individual, then this could be a reflection of his shadow. Traits such as laziness, attention-seeking, anger expression, etc., are usually kept from consciousness and is often projected to others.
The self can be considered the sum total of one’s personality, the motivating factor of human behavior that causes one to constantly strive and attain wholeness. It was Jung’s view that the self can only emerge only if various aspects of the personality have fully developed (known as individuation) (Hall & Lindzey, p. 124). Thus, this does not happen until one has reached middle age when one “begins to make a serious effort to change the center of personality from the conscious ego to one that is midway between consciousness and unconsciousness” (Hall & Lindzey).
Jung believed that one takes the journey toward individuation, spending almost half of his life individuating, and the second integrating. This concept has direct application and relevance to career counselling. Notice that most individuals who reach middle age begin to have more focus and sense of purpose, not wasting their time and energy where they do not fit or are not welcome, and extending effort only in activities that will lead them to their true calling.
Somewhat parallel to Freud’s Oedipus and Electra complex which prove relevant to understanding one’s heterosexual adjustment is Jung’s anima and animus. This is much like the “yin and yang” of the Chinese, the masculine and feminine side of human personality.
The role of biological hormones cannot be discounted, but from a Jungian perspective, this is more considered to be a product of racial experiences of man with woman and vice versa. Jung’s anima and animus may be of relevance in understanding man-woman relationships in a counselling setting. Man is supposed to “apprehend the nature of woman by virtue of his anima, and woman apprehends the nature of man by virtue of her animus” (Hall & Lindzey, p. 123), and without regard to the real character of the other, their relationship will most likely lead to discord.
The influential concepts of transitional objects, the good-enough mother and the true and false self are attributed to Winnicott.
A transitional object is some sort of a security blanket for a child. It could be a favorite stuffed toy, baby blanket, pillow or any symbolic object that a child finds comfort in having. A transitional object helps a child cope with fear while their principal caregiver is away. The most influential person (object) during a child’s development would be the principal caregiver. In a counselling setting, the counselor serves as the transitional object, who gradually helps his client overcome frustrations and develop greater independence over time.
The good-enough mother pertains to the principal caregiver whose parenting style fit the child’s developmental needs. Winnicott believed that caregivers have to be good-enough in providing the child’s needs, but not too much. They have to teach children as well to tolerate frustrations, and teach them the lesson of independence and self-sufficiency.
Winnicott theorized that children’s needs, if not adequately met, could help develop a false self (this is somehow identical to Freud’s concept of fixation). On the other hand, when children’s needs are adequately provided, then, they are likely to develop a true self. A relationship based on trust, a relationship that is more real, will grow between the caregiver and the child. This concept may apply to counselor (or therapist)-client relationship. An effective counselor knows how to provide a safe “holding environment” for his client, and is adaptive to his client’s needs. The counselor knows how to respond to his client’s emotions with warmth and empathy, thus helping his client reveal his true self.
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