Populist views of psychodynamics

It is hard for psychodynamics to escape its popular formulation that springs from a vivid image of Freud uncovering repressed and denied experiences that, once brought to consciousness relieve the patient of their symptoms. The strength of this image seems to arise from some powerful wish for an essentially simple and perhaps magical cure for emotional pain. It has also proved useful for those who are fearful of their unconscious life or hostile to emotion, to formulate a rejection of psychodynamics. It is perhaps not surprising that academic institutions have had a particular investment in theories that fit more easily within an intellectual framework, and that they play a part in squeezing psychodynamics into a theory of the mind. This inadequate but popular formulation of psychodynamic theory is essentially a focus on understanding and insight, and has therefore had both an intellectual attraction and intellectual rejection.

If this notion of psychodynamics has not killed off the student’s interest during training, its application in social work practice would soon be discouraging. Grendon prison’s therapeutic community approach was always believed to operate on this basis, with the therapy groups allegedly spending hours discussing childhood traumas. To the more cynical, Grendon was a factory for turning psychopaths into better defended and more insightful psychopaths. In field probation work, much discussion of their past would make no impact on their behaviour and in truth, discussion of the past was often impossible to achieve – reporting would be too erratic, memories too inaccessible or such issues out of touch with the priorities and concerns that the offenders presented.

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