Recalibrating the psychodynamic enterprise

Working within the framework of the four domains enables us to recalibrate the psychodynamic enterprise, as it takes into account the broad scope of psychodynamic influence not only with respect to individual development and experience, but also with respect to our understanding of family systems, organisational life, culture and community. Psychodynamic clinical and research experience already encompasses all of these elements and provides the connecting thread between the four domains described above. Over the 20th century, the psychodynamic enterprise has provided valuable information and expertise with respect to the following key areas concerned with child and family wellbeing. These are:

  • 1 The importance of the child-parent relationship that provides the building blocks for life and emotional wellbeing.
  • 2 The impact of early life experience, particularly trauma in early childhood and adolescence.
  • 3 The centrality of meaning making and the sharing of meaning as an intrinsic component of all human interaction.

Psychodynamic thinking and practice have made practical and unique contributions in all three areas, and by so doing, has contributed significantly to improving outcomes for children, young people, parents and families. For example, clinical and research evidence on the importance of attachment for young children has revolutionised the way we view early childhood services, and children experiencing separation and loss; utilising infant observational techniques combined with understanding of early infancy has made significant contributions to infant/parent mental health; taking a family systems approach has enhanced our understanding of the complexity of family dynamics and taking a psychodynamic perspective of groups and organisations has enabled services to recover and renew themselves in the light of changing circumstances.

Above all a psychodynamic approach acknowledges a line of continuity between the inner world of the child, interpersonal and family relationships and connections to the outside world. Central to this integrated perspective is the recognition that all behaviour has meaning, and is a communication. Additionally, behaviour rather than being perceived as rigid and fixed, is at all times perceived as dynamic and constantly changing. However, whilst there have been some connections in the past between the proponents of these different elements of the psychodynamic enterprise, it is evident that these have been insufficient, perhaps due to professional rivalry, or timidity to withstand and counter the criticism from the reductionist bio-behaviourists. As a result, in recent years the influence of the psychodynamic method and thinking has waned. What is proposed here is a broad integrated approach in which the theory and practice associated with each of the domains connected to the intra-psychic, interpersonal, systemic and organisational, is perceived as all of one piece in clinical work with children, young people and parents. This gives impetus to a renewed and refreshed vision for understanding and working with the problems of children, young people and their parents, within the context of an emotional ecology. By integrating these different interconnected domains, we recalibrate the psychodynamic enterprise and instate it as a veritable powerhouse of information, research and clinical experience. This not only has relevance for the treatment of children and young people, but also for the way in which we think about childhood, adolescence, and parenthood within a much wider preventative and societal context.

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