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Front row: Sigmund Freud, G. Stanley Hall, Carl Jung; Back row: Abraham A. Brill, Ernest Jones, Sandor Ferenczi, at: Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Psychodynamics is the systematized study and theory of the psychological forces that underlie human behavior, emphasizing the interplay between unconscious and conscious motivation.[1]

The original concept of "psychodynamics" was developed by Sigmund Freud.[2] Freud suggested that psychological processes are flows of psychological energy in a complex brain, establishing "psychodynamics" on the basis of psychological energy, which he referred to as libido.

The psychodynamic psychotherapy is a less intensive form compared to classical psychoanalysis practiced by strict Freudians, demanding sessions only once weekly instead of 3-5 times weekly which was typical for traditional psychoanalysts.

Psychodynamic therapies depend on a theory of inner conflicts which surface in behaviour or emotions. Generally, one conflict is subconscious.[3]


In general, psychodynamics, also known as dynamic psychology, is the study of the interrelationship of various parts of the mind, personality, or psyche as they relate to mental, emotional, or motivational forces especially at the unconscious level.[4][5][6] The mental forces involved in psychodynamics are often divided into two parts:[7] (a) interaction of emotional forces: the interaction of the emotional and motivational forces that affect behavior and mental states, especially on a subconscious level; (b) inner forces affecting behavior: the study of the emotional and motivational forces that affect behavior and states of mind;.

Freud proposed that psychological energy was constant (hence, emotional changes consisted only in displacements) and that it tended to rest (point attractor) through discharge (catharsis).[8]

In mate selection psychology, psychodynamics is defined as the study of the forces, motives, and energy generated by the deepest of human needs.[9]

In general, psychodynamics studies the transformations and exchanges of "psychic energy" within the personality.[5] A focus in psychodynamics is the connection between the energetics of emotional states in the id, ego, and superego as they relate to early childhood developments and processes. At the heart of psychological processes, according to Freud, is the ego, which he envisions as battling with three forces: the id, the super-ego, and the outside world.[4] Hence, the basic psychodynamic model focuses on the dynamic interactions between the id, ego, and superego.[10] Psychodynamics, subsequently, attempts to explain or interpret behavior or mental states in terms of innate emotional forces or processes.


File:Ernst willhelm von bruecke.jpeg

Ernst von Brücke, early developer of psychodynamics.

Psychodynamics was initially developed by Ernst von Brücke, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler and Melanie Klein.[6][5] By the mid 1940s and into the 1950s, the general application of the "psychodynamic theory" had been well established.

In his 1988 book Introduction to Psychodynamics - a New Synthesis, psychologist Mardi J. Horowitz states that his own interest and fascination with psychodynamics began during the 1950s, when he heard Ralph Greenson, a popular local psychoanalyst who spoke to the public on topics such as “People who Hate”, speak on the radio at UCLA. In his radio discussion, according to Horowitz, he “vividly described neurotic behavior and unconscious mental processes and linked psychodynamics theory directly to everyday life.”[11]

In the 1950s, American psychiatrist Eric Berne built on Freud's psychodynamic model, particularly that of the "ego states", to develop a psychology of human interactions called transactional analysis[12] which, according to physician James R. Allen, is a "cognitive behavioral approach to treatment and that it is a very effective way of dealing with internal models of self and others as well as other psychodynamic issues."[12] The theory was popularized in the 1964 book Games People Play, a book that sold five million copies, giving way to such catch phrases as “Boy, has he got your number!”.

Freudian psychodynamics

According to American psychologist Calvin S. Hall, from his 1954 Primer in Freudian Psychology:

Freud greatly admired Brücke and quickly became indoctrinated by this new dynamic physiology. Thanks to Freud’s singular genius, he was to discover some twenty years later that the laws of dynamics could be applied to man’s personality as well as to his body. When he made his discovery Freud proceeded to create a dynamic psychology. A dynamic psychology is one that studies the transformations and exchanges of energy within the personality. This was Freud’s greatest achievement, and one of the greatest achievements in modern science, It is certainly a crucial event in the history of psychology.

At the heart of psychological processes, according to Freud, is the ego, which he sees battling with three forces: the id, the super-ego, and the outside world.[4] Hence, the basic psychodynamic model focuses on the dynamic interactions between the id, ego, and superego.[10] Psychodynamics, subsequently, attempts to explain or interpret behavior or mental states in terms of innate emotional forces or processes. In his writings about the "engines of human behavior", Freud used the German word Trieb, a word that can be translated into English as either instinct or drive.[13]

In the 1930s, Freud's daughter Anna Freud began to apply Freud's psychodynamic theories of the "ego" to the study of parent-child attachment and especially deprivation and in doing so developed ego psychology.

Jungian psychodynamics

At the turn of the 20th century, during these decisive years, a young Swiss psychiatrist named Carl Jung had been following Freud’s writings and had sent him copies of his articles and his first book, the 1907 Psychology of Dementia Praecox, in which he upheld the Freudian psychodynamic viewpoint, although with some reservations. That year, Freud invited Jung to visit him in Vienna. The two men, it is said, were greatly attracted to each other, and they talked continuously for thirteen hours. This led to a professional relationship in which they incorresponded in a weekly basis, for a period of not just three years but six years.[14]

Carl Jung's contributions in psychodynamic psychology include:

  1. The psyche tends toward wholeness.
  2. The self is composed of the ego, the personal unconscious, the collective unconscious.[15] The collective unconscious contains the archetypes which manifest in ways particular to each individual.
  3. Archetypes are composed of dynamic tensions and arise spontaneously in the individual and collective psyche. Archetypes are autonomous energies common to the human species. They give the psyche its dynamic properties and help organize it. Their effects can be seen in many forms and across cultures.
  4. The Transcendent Function: The emergence of the third resolves the split between dynamic polar tensions within the archetypal structure.
  5. The recognition of the spiritual dimension of the human psyche.
  6. The role of images which spontaneously arise in the human psyche (images include the interconnection between affect, images, and instinct) to communicate the dynamic processes taking place in the personal and collective unconscious, images which can be used to help the ego move in the direction of psychic wholeness.
  7. Recognition of the multiplicity of psyche and psychic life, that there are several organizing principles within the psyche, and that they are at times in conflict.

Positive psychology

Main article: Flow (psychology)

In positive psychology, the psychodynamic conception of flow is defined as a conscious state of mind in harmonious order. In simple terms, it is a state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great costs, for the sake of doing it.[16] In other words, in positive psychology, flow is a state of mental activity or operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing, characterized by energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.

The concept of flow in relation to mental contentment was developed by American psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi who, beginning in the 1970s, interviewed and studied hundreds of successful people, such as musicians, athletes, artists, chess masters, and surgeons. In his studies, he made people wear “flow timers” in which at various randomized times during their workday a timer would go off and they document their flow state on paper. Among his many books on this subject, the pinnacle publication was the 1990 book Flow – the Psychology of Optimal Experience, which introduced the world to the psychological concept of flow and optimal experience. In this book, he states that “our perceptions about our lives are the outcome of many forces that shape our experience, each having an impact on whether we feel good or bad.”[17]


Presently, psychodynamics is an evolving multi-disciplinary field which analyzes and studies human thought process, response patterns, and influences. Research in this field provides insights into a number of areas, including:[18]

  1. Understanding and anticipating the range of specific conscious and unconscious responses to specific sensory inputs, as images, colors, textures, sounds, etc.
  2. Utilizing the communicative nature of movement and primal physiological gestures to affect and study specific mind-body states.
  3. Examining the capacity for the mind and senses to directly affect physiological response and biological change.
  • In psychodynamic psychotherapy, patients become increasingly aware of dynamic conflicts and tensions that are manifesting as a symptom or challenge in their lives. Together with the clinician, patients are assisted to bring conflicting aspects of their self into awareness, and through time, begin to integrate the conflicting parts and resolve aspects of the tension. This is talked about in different ways in each of the psycho dynamic psychological theories, but all share the common goal of attempting to describe the dynamic nature of the tension between conflicting parts, assist the client in coming to terms with the tension, and begin the process of integration and healing.
  • Cognitive psychodynamics is a blend of traditional psycho dynamic concepts with cognitive psychology and neuroscience, resulting in a relatively accessible and sensible theory of mental structure and function.[19]
  • In the 2003 book Mapping the Organizational Psyche – a Jungian Theory of Organizational Dynamics, psychologist John Corlett and author Carol Pearson develop a Jungian-style organizational psychodynamics allowing business leaders, in the midst of self-reflection and corporate restructuring, to “delve deeper into the corporate consciousness” so to better study the unconscious dynamics of organizational behavior in business.

See also


  1. What is psychodynamics? - WebMD, Stedman’s Medical Dictionary 28th Edition, Copyright© 2006_Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  2. Bowlby, John (1999). Attachment and Loss: Vol I, 2nd Ed., 13–23, Basic Books.
  3. Adapted from Corsini and Wedding 2008; Corsini, R. J., & Wedding, D. (2008) Current Psychotherapies, 8th Edition. Belmont, CA.: Thomson Brooks/Cole. (pp. 15-17).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Freud, Sigmund (1923). The Ego and the Id, (4–5), W.W. Norton & Company.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Hall, Calvin, S. (1954). A Primer in Freudian Psychology, Meridian Book.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Psychodynamics (1874) - (1) the psychology of mental or emotional forces or processes developing especially in early childhood and their effects on behavior and mental states; (2) explanation ! or interpretation, as of behavior or mental states, in terms of mental or emotional forces or processes; (3) motivational forces acting especially at the unconscious level. Source: Merriam-Webster, 2000, CD-ROM, version 2.5
  7. Psychodynamics – Microsoft Encarta
  8. Robertson, Robin; Combs, Allan (1995). Chaos theory in Psychology and Life Sciences, LEA, Inc..
  9. Klimek, David (1979). Beneath Mate Selection and Marriage - the Unconscious Motives in Human Pairing, Van Nostrand Reinhold.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Ahles, Scott, R. (2004). Our Inner World: A Guide to Psychodynamics and Psychotherapy, (1–2), John Hopkins University Press.
  11. Horowitz, Mardi, J. (1988). Introduction to Psychodynamics - a New Synthesis, Basic Books.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Berne, Eric (1964). Games People Play – The Basic Hand Book of Transactional Analysis, New York: Ballantine Books.
  13. Walsh, Anthony (1991). The Science of Love - Understanding Love and its Effects on Mind and Body, Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books.
  14. Hall, Calvin S.; Nordby, Vernon J. (1999). A Primer of Jungian Psychology, New York: Meridian.
  15. Outline of the Major Points in Carl Jung's Contributions to Psychology
  16. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. (pgs. 4,6). New York: Harper and Row. ISBN 0-06-092043-2
  17. Marsh, Ann. (2005). “The Art of WorkFast Company, Issue 97, August, pg. 76.
  18. Psychodynamics - an Introduction
  19. Horowitz, Mardi, J. (2001). Cognitive Psychodynamics – from Conflict to Character, Wiley.

Further reading

  1. ^ Hall, Calvin S.; Nordby, Vernon J. (1999). A Primer of Jungian Psychology, New York: Meridian. ISBN 0-452-01186-8.
  2. ^  ibid (pg. 80).
  3. Freud, Sigmund (1923). The Ego and the Id, New York: W.W. Norton & Company. ISBN 0-393-00142-3.
  4. Horowitz, Mardi von (1988). Introduction to Psychodynamics – A New Synthesis, Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-03561-2.
  5. Horowitz, Mardi von. Cognitive Psychodynamics: From Conflict to Character / publisher = Wiley and Sons / year=1998/id=ISBN 0-471-11772-2.
  6. Raphael-Leff, Joan (2005). Parent Infant Psychodynamics – Wild Things, Mirrors, and Ghosts, Wiley. ISBN 1-86156-346-9.
  • Brown, Junius Flagg & Menninger, Karl Augustus (1940). The Psychodynamics of Abnormal Behavior, 484 pages, McGraw-Hill Book Company, inc.
  • Weiss, Edoardo (1950). Principles of Psychodynamics, 268 pages, Grune & Stratton
  • Pearson Education (1970). The Psychodynamics of Patient Care Prentice Hall, 422 pgs. Standford University: Higher Education Division.
  • Jean Laplanche et J.B. Pontalis (1974). The Language of Psycho-Analysis, Editeur: W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 0-393-01105-4
  • Raphael-Leff, Joan (2005). Parent Infant Psychodynamics – Wild Things, Mirrors, and Ghosts, Wiley.

External links

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