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The Psychodynamic Theory in Social Work

In these trying times and in a world plague with numerous problems there is a great need for social workers. It is now an accepted fact that modern medicine can only do so much – limited in healing bodies but unable to heal deep psychological and emotional problems. Thus, it is possible for someone to be free from sickness and diseases and yet plagued with problems that can only be resolved through the help through social work. But social workers can be easily overwhelmed by the complexities inherent in trying to solve human problems brought about by crisis, disaster, and interpersonal conflicts.

Thus, social workers need to be armed with a social work theory that can help the social worker how to start a professional relationship with a client, to assess the needs and problems of the same, to design an intervention process and then finally to help set-up guidelines on how to end the process. In this regard one of the most effective is the one known as the psychodynamic theory. This paper will take a closer look at the psychodynamic theory. The proponent of this study will outline the main elements of the theory as well as the central premise of the said theoretical framework.

Then it will be illustrated how the theory can be used by modern day social workers especially when it comes to the initial stages of the intervention process, the decision to continue with the treatment process and finally in deciding when to terminate the same. Psychodynamic Theory The psychodynamic theory is based on the work of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Melanie Klein (Davies, 2000). There are three major elements to this approach 1) experiences in the past and 2) both past and present relationships; and 3) the interaction of these factors within the subconscious of the person.

According to one author, in psychodynamic theory, “…early childhood experiences cast their shadow deep into later life … The history of those experiences are generally locked into the subconscious where they influence present behavior” (Perkins, 2008 ). It was Freud who first introduced the idea that even babies are already being shaped by how he/she interacted with their mothers even in the first few days after birth. It was then easy to build upon Freud’s ideas and created a more complex theory based upon the impact of past experiences on the person’s life.

But while it is important to deal with the distant past, because according to one report, there seems to be, “…a broad tendency in the higher forms of life for the earliest experiences to have a persistent and crucial effect on later development” (Perkins, 2008). It is also crucial to realize that the impact of present relationships that also play a major role in shaping the mental and emotional state of the person. It was Freud who was the first to systematically investigate the following components of the self which later on became a significant contribution in analyzing human psychology:

• the conscious – this is the sum total of everything which a person is aware of; • the preconscious – it is part of memory, knowledge and thoughts that are outside consciousness (Lishman, 2007); • the unconscious – these are part of the internal life of the person, thoughts, feelings, fantasies and impulses, and repressed images linked to the past and continue to influence present behaviour (Perkins, 2008). The emphasis is not only on human interactions on a casual basis but relationships with significant people.

According to one psychologist, “Psychodynamic thinking is predominantly concerned with certain key relationships, namely those between the self and significant other people, past and present experience, and inner and outer reality, with simultaneous focus on both the actual relationships and those built up internally…” (Lishman, 2007). The basic idea proposed by Freud evolved into a host of psychodynamic theories but are in basic agreement, “…that the study of human behavior should include factors such as internal processes, personality, motivation, drives, and the importance of childhood experiences” (Crane, 2008).

Thus, there is an added dimension in this approach and it is the interaction between the client and the inner-person within. Application A social worker’s willingness to help and listen to the problems of clients is never enough to achieve positive change. There is a need for a theoretical framework that will help the social worker in initiating the first steps and provide the tools to determine the root cause of the problem and then afterwards will enable the possibility of helping by intervention.

The psychodynamic approach is very much helpful in the initial phase of the worker-client relationship. It is common to jumpstart the process by conducting initial interviews and based on this theory there is no better way to proceed than to rediscover the person’s past experiences. This is a good start and will allow the social worker to have an idea what is going on. It may not be practical to go as far back as the infancy stage but for more serious and persistent social problems, the social worker can encourage the client to reveal information relating as far back as early childhood.

For instance a persistent problem with sexual addiction can be understood to be rooted from a past riddled with sexual abuse. The client may not be aware of the fact that he or she became a sexual offender because of what others did to him or her while in they were still very young. These memories may be suppressed according to the psychodynamic approach and it is very much possible that the client may not even remember that such an episode did occur. It is hidden deep into the subconscious and a good social worker must be able to draw it out.

The initial interview will reveal pertinent facts that will aid in the case but it is also at this initial phase where the worker will be able to determine if it good to proceed or to terminate the relationship with the client. If the social worker will decide to continue then he or she will have to probe further until the problem is resolved. The use of psychodynamic theory will also allow the worker to analyze not only the past but relationships that are occurring in the present. The worker will explain to the client that these relationships are very much influential in shaping his or her outlook in life.

The problems that are created by these relationships may be the key to understanding present problems. These relationships can be found in the home and in the workplace. The social worker will try to determine if family life is aiding the client to realize his or her full potential or if it is creating stumbling blocks making it difficult for the person to feel that he or she has what it takes to succeed in life. There is no need to elaborate how destructive the impact of a word or deed especially when coming from parents.

The perceived authority of parents as well as the deep emotional link between them and the client can be a very powerful force that shape the way the client deal with present problems. Again, the client may be unaware of these forces working within his or her subconscious. The social worker will have to guide him or her to pinpoint the past experiences relevant to the present issue. Aside from the family, significant relationships can be formed outside the home. An example would be intimate relationships with the opposite sex or the relationships developed in the workplace.

The client may experience abuse from live-in partners or from their boyfriends and if this is not dealt with then the memories are suppressed deep down into the subconscious. There may be a lack of awareness that these things are affecting how they will view future relationships but it is possible that they will continue to live their lives without realizing that these past experiences are creating a wealth of trouble. The social worker will help the client determine the destructive relationships in the past and present that prevent them from leading normal lives. Conclusion

Although psychodynamic theory is a very effective tool in helping people cope with their problems, it is also important to point out that this theory should never be considered as the only weapon in the arsenal of the social worker. Other tools must be considered. This is because the psychodynamic theory maybe strong in understanding the undercurrents within a person’s life that resulted from past experiences but it is weak when it comes to finding the link between the person’s behavior and the impact of social factors such as poverty, high crime rate, immigration etc.

Still, no one can deny the importance of this theory in social work. Without the help of the psychodynamic approach the social worker will focus on external factors that although very much important in dealing with life in general may not be adequate to solve the inner turmoil that the client is experiencing at the moment. Based on this theory the past and present experiences help shape the way people perceive the world and at the same time influence the way they make decisions. If this theory is true then there are a host of repressed memories that are buried within the person’s subconscious.

If these are not dealt with then these will become like wounds, festering in the inner-person and would continually wreak havoc in the social life of the client. Like a surgeon the social worker must expertly guide the client to point out the hidden wounds and with the use of social work skills work hand-in-hand with the client to remove the unseen problems. From the outside the client may look to be in perfect health but deep within something is decaying, making it hard to relate with family, friends, and co-workers.

Psychodynamic theory is not only a very effective tool in dealing with the past. It is also a very effective tool when it comes to assessing the impact of present relationships. The social worker will help the client determine injurious relationships, making him or her realize that it is not healthy to ignore these types of relationships. Clients living with abusive partners must come to terms with the reality of the situation. They may suppress these new memories but just like the other negative memories buried within, these will easily come back to haunt them.

References Crane, J. “The Psychodynamic Option. ” Retrieved 10 December 2008 from http://cranepsych. com/Psych/Psychodynamic. html Davies, M. (2000). The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social Work. MA: Blackwell Publishing Limited. Lishman, J. (2007). Handbook for Practice Learning in Social Work and Social Care. PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Perkins, M. (2008). “Psychodynamic Theory. ” Retrieved 10 December 2008 from http://www. docstoc. com/docs/925546/Psychodynamic-Theory-Freud

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