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Adam Blatner, M.D.

(First posted @ 2002, revised a little and re-posted, November 4, 2005.)

The word, "psychodynamics" refers to a particular category within the more general field of psychology–the set of all the ways different parts of the mind interact. It may be contrasted with several other types of psychology–perceptual psychology, the sub-field in which most of the earliest work was done; developmental psychology; cognitive psychology, etc. Also, the dynamics being described aren't referring to the physical interactions of complexes of nerves in the brain–that's "neuro-physiology" or "neuroscience"-- but rather to the experiential dimension: concepts, values, imagery, will, emotion, interpretation of meanings, etc.

In the first half of the 20th Century, academic psychology was most involved with the school of thought called "behaviorism." In contrast, dynamic psychology, concerned with psychodynamics– see how the words reflect each other– was associated chiefly with the psychoanalytic approach. The problem is that in spite of seeming to begin with Freud, the idea that different aspects of the mind interact occurred to others before him (Whyte, 1960), and also since. And though Adler, Jung, Rank, Reich, and others split off from Freud, and they all have their own lines of thought, they all can be viewed as contributing to the larger idea of dynamic psychology. I consider role dynamics--my systemized development of Moreno's role theory--to be a psychodynamic  approach, as is the systems of Berne's Transactional Analysis, Perls' Gestalt Therapy, Assagioli's Psychosynthesis, and others!

Varieties of Dynamic Psychology

 Here are a few general categories of contemporary approaches in psychotherapy, involving both treatment methods and underlying theories of psychology:
   ..within psychoanalysis:
Classical Analysis Object Relations Theory
Ego Psychology Lacanian Psychoanalysis
Self Psychology Inter-subjectivity
     ..and branching off from psychoanalysis or arising separately...

Individual Psychology (Adler) Analytical Psychology (Jung)
Family Therapy Group Therapy
Gestalt Therapy Transactional Analysis
Cognitive Therapy Reality Therapy
Interpersonal Therapy Psychodrama
Psychosynthesis Bioenergetic Analysis
Imagery Therapies Creative Arts Therapies
Existential Psychotherapy Person-Centered Therapy (Rogers)
Humanistic Psychology Transpersonal Psychology
Behavior Therapy Neuro-Linguistic Programming
Hypnosis  Narrative/ Constructivist Therapy
Brief Therapies Solution-Focused Therapy
   ... and within each of the above there are often numerous refinements, integrations, overlaps, and variations. I think they are all valid, at least to some extent. Their underlying insights may not be so exclusive, however, and the challenge then is to distill out the essential common denominators. In addition, there is much known that hasn't yet been integrated into the aforementioned approaches, and even more yet to be learned.

It should be emphasized that the term "psychodynamic" should not be overly associated with the psychoanalytically- oriented approach alone. The term is too useful and really refers to the broader category of approaches that also address the ways parts of the mind interact with other parts. I want the term to include the best insights of Transactional Analysis, Gestalt Therapy, Bioenergetic Analysis, Psychosynthesis, Psychodrama, Adler, Jung, Rogers, Maslow, and scores of other pioneers in this general field, and it should be emphasized that these other contributions are often more important than the many psychoanalytic ideas. (My thoughts on psychoanalysis–how in some ways it offers very useful ideas, and in other ways not–is addressed in another paper.)

nother point to be emphasized is that the many different schools of therapy evolving in the mid-20th Century didn't just come up with revisions of method or new techniques; they also developed new theoretical insights, bringing to light aspects of dynamic psychology that hadn't been sufficiently recognized or emphasized by previous workers.
By the 1980s, the majority of psychotherapists were thinking of themselves as "eclectic." The trend towards integrating the best insights continued, but it wasn't easy, because each school of thought had its own premises and language.

The Politics of Dynamic Psychology

From a political viewpoint, this expansion of the idea of psychodynamics offers an interesting advantage. At present, the health care field seems to be developing a tendency toward polarization, with the "biological" psychiatrists on one side and the psychoanalysts on the other. Of course there are those in the middle advocating a more balanced view, but they lack as compelling a theory as the more zealous advocates of either extreme. (This seems to be generally true as a sociologic-intellectual observation of how the dialectic of knowledge advances in the process of cultural evolution: The extremes vociferously argue and eventually more sensible syntheses are adopted.)

The problem is in part the lack of a vigorous intellectual foundation for that more balanced middle ground. (In another paper I suggest that applied role theory can serve as  a common language.)  In a larger sense, one of the themes in my writings is that it is desirable and possible to develop a more integrated approach to psychology and psychotherapy. It is important today to offer an alternative vision to the general public, a more balanced position in which the proper use of therapy can balance the pressure by managed care to push psychiatrists to rely excessively on the use of medication. (This pressure is a reaction to the common practice of very lengthy psychotherapy, influenced by the psychoanalytic tradition of the 1950s and 60s.) In fact, most people don't need long-term counseling, and also those who would benefit from therapy often would benefit even more from a multi-modal approach, in my opinion.  I'll confess to having become an unabashed eclectic after many years of studying the different therapies. There are some who say that it is impossible to develop a rigorous intellectual foundation for this, and I don't agree. I use applied role theory as a user-friendly and integrative approach which I  claim can serve as a foundation for integration among the therapies, and this is discussed further on this website in another paper on role theory


Dynamic psychology addresses the realms of meaning, and more, the realms of practical concerns:
 What are those fights with my spouse really about and how can I work them out better?
 Why am I so shy and afraid of taking risks with people?
 How can I manage my anger, or my sense of injury so that it stops messing up my relationships?
 How can be a better parent? How can I work out unfinished business with my ageing parent? How can I resolve the unfinished grief I have for parents or others who have already died?
 How can I feel better about myself?
These questions involve a wide range of issues, chiefly concerned with habits of thought, temperament and how to work with it, skill building, questions of meaning, etc. The various schools of thought mentioned above, the many types of therapy, all offer ideas that can be woven together creatively, and individualized for the purposes of helping each other and helping oneself.

I would like to see dynamic psychology taught in school along with teaching biology and other aspects of science. I think it can be presented in simple terms and then, as with biology, at different levels of increasing complexity. Along with knowing dynamic psychology, young people could learn the skills that put this knowledge into practice. (This is addressed in my paper on the place of drama in education.)


Whyte, Lancelot Law. (1960). The unconscious before Freud. London: Social Science Paperbacks / Tavistock.

For responses, email me at adam@blatner.com
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