Psychodynamic Counselling




The roots of psychodynamic counselling began with Sigmund Freud (1856-1939).  Freud was an Austrian neurologist and developed psychoanalysis.  After university Freud began his working life in a psychiatric clinic, before opening a private practice to treat patients with nervous disorders.  Freud began work on hypnosis in 1885, after moving to Paris to work with another neurologist.  Freud initially used hypnosis with his patients, but subsequently realised that ‘free association’ could be used without the need for hypnosis, encouraging patients to say whatever enters their minds.  The dreams of patients were also analysed.  By 1896 the term ‘psychoanalysis’ was being used by Freud to describe his methods.


It was Freud’s work that established verbal psychotherapy, due to his work involving getting his patients to talk about their problems.

Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank and Melanie Klein were among those who developed this approach from Freud’s roots.




  • Psychodynamic practitioners believe that a person’s childhood has an impact on their personality and behaviour as adults.
  • Freudian Slips – this is the belief that there is an underlying reason for everything we say, even if it could be seen as a mistake/slip of the tongue.
  • The unconscious affects our conscious.
  • Personality is made up of the ego (seeks to please the id), superego (the drives to achieve perfection/behave in a socially acceptable way) and id (basic drives).




The focus of sessions with a psychodynamic counsellor will often be the childhood of the client, although it is also focused on issues in the present, rather than those of the past.  This counselling method does however intend to uncover thoughts and beliefs that the client has in their unconscious, which can lead to awareness of how these have influenced the client’s life.




An important concept in psychodynamic counselling is that of transference and counter-transference.


  • Transference – this is when the client experiences feelings towards the counsellor that are reminiscent of the emotions they have about a person in their life, such as a parent.  The analysis of this within the counselling can provide a useful insight into the meaning of the transference and its significance to the client.  Transference is an unconscious process that can be recognised and brought into the conscious.
  • Counter-transference – this term describes the feelings that the counsellor can direct to the client.  The counsellor needs to be able to explore counter-transference they experience in order to understand why it is occurring.