Psychodynamic Developmental Psychotherapy

What is Psychodynamic Developmental Psychotherapy

Get a load of this: we found the following definition of "Psychodynamic Psychotherapy" on-line at, and we think it may get to the bottom line more directly than anything we could think to write (we'll get to the "Developmental" part in a minute). Here it is:

"The "goal" of psychodynamic therapy is the experience of "truth." This "truth" must be encountered through the breakdown of psychological defenses. Simply stated: psychotherapy teaches the client to be honest. Of course, this requires considerable time, money, and effort. Individuals suffering from "psychological disorders" or deep-rooted "personality disorders," often come from confusing, manipulative, dishonest, or even violent families in childhood. Being honest with ones "feelings" is a difficult, even terrifying process for these people.

But there is a silver lining. If the patient is willing to face up to their hidden secrets: they will discover the unconscious "reason" for many of their feelings, and therefore obtain self-understanding and relief. In essence, the more honest and direct one is with his/her life, the more "symptoms" will dissolve, and the more one's childhood and defenses are understood."

In many ways, this says it all. However, since this is the webpage and not Wikipedia, we should probably try to add a few more thoughts on the matter we hope might be useful.

It is always an exciting day when you purchase a new computer. Desktop or laptop, a new computer stands for possibility, potential, and usually a state-of-the-art processor that can think, compute, and deduce infinitely more efficiently than your conscious mind could even attempt. Like a new car or a new baby, new computers even have a particularly enticing smell associated with them.

Even the most expensive computer, however, is nothing without software. The first thing you always install is the operating system, which is a kind of macro map for how the computer will do all its thinking for years to come. Later software runs on the operating system, which in turn runs on the processor of the computer, so you always install the operating system when the computer is fresh out of the box. Without the OS, the computer, while beautiful, doesn't really exist.

And you'd better hope your OS is a good one, because, if it has glitches, you'll be haunted by them in a variety of ways. Major glitches cause global problems in even the most basic computing functions; more minor, hidden glitches may rear their ugly heads only occasionally, when specific pieces of software are running. Either way, a glitch in the operating system means a distortion or breakdown in the middle of something important.

The other software you install on the machine, while perhaps not as comprehensively important as the OS, is significant. Specific software lets you do specific things, and you get to choose what those things are. There is a nearly infinite variety of software available. Of course, every program you install also carries risks: viruses, system overloads, compatibility issues, etc. Once you pile a bunch of software onto an operating system, which is foundationally built on a processor, you've got a very elaborate but somewhat fragile system that can do amazing things when running well, and cause nothing but frustration when not.

OK, so what are we talking about here? In a word, your unconscious. The new computer is like the body, brain, and soul you were born with, and the operating system is the mental map you learn in infancy and childhood (or maybe even in the womb, as some pretty amazing recent research seems to suggest). You start downloading this operating system into your self on your birthday (or before), first from your mother, then later from both mom and dad, and any other significant figures in your life during your early formative years. Other software is downloaded and installed from siblings, friends, school teachers, bosses, romantic interests, People magazine, HBO, etc.

We hope your virus scan has been turned on and working all this time.

Some people are, tragically, born with hardware problems, meaning that their brains are literally damaged and malfunctioning in ways that psychodynamic developmental psychotherapy can't help. Such individuals can probably gain most of their help from psychiatric drugs and neurological interventions. We strongly believe, however, that the number of people in this category of suffering is far smaller than those pharmaceutical company television ads would have you believe.

Some people have good hardware and good operating systems, but have been unlucky enough to download some bad software that they really couldn't have been expected to foresee. Folks who get depressed and / or anxious because their company's budget cuts forced them to be laid off fall into this category. Others in this category may include someone with residual emotional and physical difficulties after being hit by a drunk driver, a person whose beloved grandfather died, etc. These are emotionally challenging events not caused by a bad operating system, at least not on the part of the person getting stuck with the uncomfortable feelings. Diagnostically, these fall into a category called Adjustment Disorders. Clearly, some of this happens in the world. Sometimes, short-term cognitive-behavioral therapy is just the trick to help these folks start moving forward again.

But here's where psychodynamic developmental psychotherapy is needed: what if a person downloads a bad operating system from mom and dad? It's not the person's fault; after all, this all happens unconsciously, and it's not like a new baby or small child has much of choice when it comes to his or her parents anyway. And it's certainly not like most moms and dads intend to install bad software in their children; remember, it's unconscious to them as well (see "How Does Projective Identification Work?" for more thoughts on this). But what happens if your brand new Windows XP unconscious template has distortions in it that lie to you? Tell you that you're a bad person? Keep you from forming healthy relationships? Stop you from making that free throw late in the game? Stop you from feeling entitled to a good career or good grades in school? Keep you from maintaining a healthy weight? Keep you from living a sober life? What happens if your OS keeps you frozen in time, or frozen in a false belief about yourself that makes happiness difficult?

Psychodynamic developmental psychotherapy, as Wikipedia so beautifully points out, aims to uncover the truth. The truth about what? About who you really are. And, believe us, the news is almost always good. However, as Wikipedia also points out, we tend to cling to our defenses - our lies - even as they torture us more and more. Psychodynamic developmental psychotherapy slowly scrapes away lies, and can continue to do so for as long as a patient wants the lies scraped.

The "psychodynamic" part refers to our internal plumbing, the operating system that may need minor or major adjusting.

The "developmental" part refers to our innate, libidinal drive to grow and develop as human beings. This kind of therapy strives to remove the obstacles to that growth. Insight - knowledge - is the major curative factor in the treatment, because insight brings freedom (see "How Does Insight-Oriented Psychotherapy Work?").

The "psychotherapy" part refers to the fact that this really is a process designed to fix what's broken inside a person; therapies exist to make people better in both feeling and functioning. Like physical therapy, learning to stretch and strengthen the injured parts of ourselves, repeatedly, and yes, sometimes painfully, makes us stronger, more integrated, and eventually healed.


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