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Using psychodynamic theory for treatment

Psychodynamic theory supports a form of psychotherapy and is based on the principles of psychoanalytic theory (psychoanalysis), which was originally developed by Sigmund Freud and has since gone through various changes, but is generally the same model of focus. This form of psychotherapy focuses on releasing repressed emotions and experiences, as well as making the unconscious conscious and is used primarily for people with anxiety disorders, addictions and depression (Messer; Warren 1995).

Psychodynamic theory holds that there is a connection between the unconscious mental processes and one’s decisions to abuse drugs or alcohol and therefore aims to identify and resolve any issues of abuse, neglect, trauma or other aspects of a person’s past that may be resulting in negative personality traits or behaviors presently taking place, such as addiction.(Haggerty 2014).

The approach assumptions about behaviors and personality traits that are used in psychodynamic theory include the following:

  • Behavior and feelings are affected by unconscious motives
  • Behavior and feelings as adults are rooted in childhood experiences
  • Behavior has a cause (usually unconscious), even slips of the tongue
  • Personality is made up of id, ego and super-ego
  • Behavior is motivated by two instinctual drives that come from the “id”: Eros (the sex drive and life instinct) and Thanatos (the aggressive drive and death instinct)
  • The unconscious mind (the id and superego) are in constant conflict with the conscious mind (the ego), which creates anxiety, of which could be dealt with by the ego’s use of defense mechanisms
  • Personality is shaped as the drives are modified by different conflicts at different times in childhood (during psychosexual development)

What makes up psychodynamic theory

The four major schools of psychodynamic theory are Freudian, Ego, Object Relations and Self Psychology.

Freudian psychoanalysis and psychodynamic theory focused on the id, ego and super-ego. Sigmund Freud held that id controls instinctual drives. Ego controls defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive and executive functions. These functions include the following:

  • Defensive functions
    • Repression: the action of repelling one’s desires from one’s consciousness and holding or subduing it in the unconscious
    • Regression: the defense mechanism in psychoanalytic theory where an individual’s personality reverts to an earlier stage of development, taking on more childish mannerisms
    • Displacement: transferring an impulse from one object (target) to another (for instance, when one is angry with his or her friend and takes it out on the friend’s dog)
    • Reaction formation: doing or thinking the opposite of what one feels. For instance, if a person is angry with somebody he or she goes out of his or her way to treat that person kindly
  • Perceptual functions
    • One’s visual, auditory and tactile responses used to perceive, interpret and process information
  • Intellectual-cognitive functions
    • Mental or cognitive abilities; one way that intellectual functioning is measured is by IQ tests
  • Executive functions
    • One’s ability to organize, plan, attend

The last factor in Freud’s psychoanalysis, the Super-Ego, is the inner-critic or conscience maintaining one’s sense of morality (Messer; Warren 1995).

Ego psychology originated in Sigmund Freud’s ego-id-superego model and focuses primarily on strengthening the ego (defensive, perceptual, intellectual-cognitive and executive functions) so it can better cope with the pressures from the id (instinctual drives), super-ego (inner critic/conscious) as well as the world around it (Messer; Warren 1995).

Object relations theory holds that people are driven to form relationships with others and failure to form successful early relationships leads to later problems. According to the object relations theory, people develop “internal representations” of themselves and of other people. One’s representations of self are known as “self-concept”. Internal object relations are one’s representation of how one’s self and others get along, of which are seen as the foundation of organizing one’s motives and behavior (Haggerty 2014).

Self psychology refers to a person’s perception of his or her experience of himself or herself, which includes the presence or lack of a sense of self-esteem (Haggerty 2014).

Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol can take over someone’s life but thankfully a proper treatment program can help to establish control again. If you or a loved one would like more information on psychotherapeutic treatment for substance abuse disorders, you can call the Recovery Helpline for more information at 855-441-4405.


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