8th August 2018 – The RCL Couple Counsellor, the Psychodynamic Approach and Neuro Science

A look at the RCL ‘Find a Therapist’ section of the site will show that many RCL counsellors work from a psycho-dynamically informed perspective, even if they do not use this approach exclusively, but what does this mean for the individual or couple seeking counselling?

Conscious and unconscious

A psycho-dynamic perspective looks beyond the conscious mind. The conscious mind is what we are aware of in the present moment and is known for logical thinking, order, numeracy and language, whereas the unconscious mind is everything experienced since the start of life, but we may be unaware of this in the present moment. The unconscious is the realm of creativity, emotions and intuition. The psycho-dynamic approach can help couples uncover how unconscious material can impinge on the present without them being aware it of happening, a type of ‘thinking without thinking’.

The stereotype and the creative reality, and ‘the science bit’

Perhaps a stereotypical and outdated view of the psychodynamic approach is that it is somewhat old fashioned, less researched than others, and runs the risk of clients being bogged down by the past rather than gaining sufficient insight to find a way forward. The reality is that advances in neuroscience show that during the ‘thinking without thinking’ process, a part of the brain called the anterior superior temporal gyrus is working double time processing data and reaching its own conclusions by connecting previously disparate concepts. A very important implication of the proven unconscious mind is that ‘forcing’ ourselves to have new ideas individually, in the couple, or more collectively, is limited. Concentrating hard turns the unconscious mind off. This is one of the reasons couples sometimes struggle even when they try to be positive, proactive and brainstorm their way out of difficulties. Instead, providing a regular space to let the mind process thoughts, when it is active but not overburdened, will stimulate deeper unconscious thoughts. A psycho-dynamically informed counsellor can help engender this approach which promotes not only insights about the past to help make sense of the present, but to point to a creative path forward.

Old dogs and new tricks?

It is not uncommon for individuals and couples to feel that they may be too old, or at least too embedded in their old habits, thinking and behaviours to change, so improving their lot within the couple or out of it might be impossible. This view of our brains dates back to when it was thought that they became fully formed by the time we arrived at our early 20s. Current neuroscience shows that there is no reason that a healthy older person cannot take on new information and adapt to challenges, and the counsellor can do a lot to support this change. It has been posited that the reason many teenagers seem to take change and learning readily is because by the time they are 17 or 18 they have spent about 14 years constantly flexing their neuroplasticity in school, and not because they are young per se.

Counselling for relationships has moved forward; maybe it would be helpful for your relationship to do the same?

Paula Reardon – Putney, SW15