Human psychology has grown enormously since it first emerged as a separate discipline of study in the 19th century. Scholars have conducted numerous studies, which facilitated the development of new theories and improvement of the existing ones to extend knowledge in the subject area. A prime example of such theories is the psychoanalytic theory that was coined by Sigmund Freud.
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Since its introduction, the theory has been instrumental in many subfields of psychology especially for therapeutic purposes. In light of this realisation, this paper seeks to conduct a comprehensive review of literature on the psychoanalytic approach to family counselling with the aim of establishing its prime tenets and see how they compare to other approaches of family therapy.
Review of Literature
According to Gerson (2010), the Freudian psychoanalytic therapy is a multifaceted concept that takes several different approaches to therapy. In order to have a clear understanding of the psychoanalytic therapy, it is important to explore its development before proceeding to determine how it is applicable in family counselling. As aforementioned, Sigmund Freud came up with the psychoanalytic theory and it gained him the reputation of being the ‘father’ of psychoanalysis.
In the 1930s, “Freud’s followers were obliged to flee Europe and settle in the United States due to the Nazi rise to power” (Gerson, 2010, p.68). The conditions in the United States were ambient for individuals to extend the boundaries of psychoanalysis and make it broader. The most illustrious individuals among this group of people, who came to be known as Neo-Freudians, include Karen Horney, Erik Erikson, Harry Stack Sullivan, and Erich Fromm.
James and Gilliland (2002) note that these individuals extended the idea of psychoanalysis from how it was initially construed to include cultural and social determinants and the development of interpersonal relationships. In the present times, therapists who espouse psychoanalysis have further developed the Freudian and Neo-Freudian principles.
Psychoanalysis today includes several novel strategies such as unique episodes of self-change, introspection and self-understanding, and effects of play in psychoanalytic therapy to name a few (James & Gilliland, 2002).
The improvement in the nature of this theory since its introduction to what it has become today embodies a musical theme that keeps evolving to ensure that at any one time, it is commensurate with the prevailing weather and can adequately handle the contemporary challenges faced in society.
The application of the principles of psychoanalysis in the therapeutic realm as already highlighted finds application across a broad range of subfields of psychology. Meadow (2006) notes that psychotherapy is highly esteemed as being among the most instrumental tools at the disposal of therapists in dealing with 21st century psychological disorders.
Although the developments may give the impression of a paradigm shift in psychoanalysis, a careful consideration of the newly presented tenets reveals that the developments are the theory’s own way of preserving the pace with societal advancement. According to James and Gilliland (2002), the Neo-Freudians expanded the boundaries of what psychoanalysis were initially construed to be to allow it to include the idea of developing interpersonal relationships among other new principles.
This aspect in addition to the repertoire of psychoanalysis is a vivid indicator of the theory’s expansion at the time to include relationship matters. However, the application of psychological therapeutic measures to relationship was marred with a lot of controversy before it came to be acclaimed as part of everyday counselling.
Prior to scrutinising the use of psychoanalysis in family counselling, there is a need to gain a rudimentary understanding of the tenets of psychoanalytic theory as initially constructed. Friedman and Schustack (2011) note that, according to the theory personality is divided into three elements, viz. the id, ego, and superego.
The “id is full of raw animal instincts which keep popping up anywhere and anytime, the ego plays the principal purpose of checking on the id’s demands, but also gets compromised at times and under such circumstances, the super ego can fit on both the id and the ego to avert fulfilment of immoral demands” (Friedman & Schustack, 2011, p.59).
The theory further adds that the entity that comes out strongly among the three aspects of personality is determined by how well a person is able to handle him/herself through the five psychosexual stages that every individual undergoes from birth to adulthood.
Based on this kind of composition, it can be deduced that one’s internal conflicts are a manifestation of a battle of supremacy that rages on among the different aspects of personality within a person. Such battles, if left unchecked, can result into psychological disorders, which then require a psychological therapeutic solution.
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Williams (2004) holds that psychoanalytic therapy is one of the several therapeutic solutions to psychological disorder. It comprises four stages, viz. the opening phase, the development of transference, working through transference and the resolving power of transference, which a patient needs to be cautious and systematically taken through in case of a disorder.
According Williams (2004), the opening phase consists of two parts in which the first entails a series of interviews, which determine the appropriateness analysis and the second entails the compilation of a file of conscious and unconscious material. Williams (2004) adds that in the second phase of the therapy, a client is assessed based on the relationship so far existent with the therapist to determine reaction against the prevailing conditions on the influence of surroundings on the client.
In the third phase, working through transference, the client is expected to recall an important event and the therapist uses the information to gain further insight into the client’s problem. Williams (2004) finally notes that in phase four, the resolution of transference, the therapist simply breaks the neurotic ties developed with the client after ascertaining that the client’s problems have all been worked through. This overview of the psychoanalytic therapy highlights the major elements of the approach.
The application of this process to family counselling has been widely used by therapists across the globe in the recent past. However, relationship counselling was a controversial issue of discussion for a long time. According to Thompson (2003), before the 1950s, relationship counselling was out of the question, therapists could only operate with individuals.
Thompson (2003) adds that until Bateson conducted a study intended to investigate communication in families, partners were dealt with individually when it came to counselling. Today relationship, family, or couple counselling has taken root in the field of psychology as a possible means of resolving disputes between partners. Bennett-Levy et al. (2004) add, “Couples entering “therapy usually has evolved into distressing, redundant patterns involving mutually reinforcing reactions to reactions” (p.92).
Previously believed myths about the process have increasingly been dispelled by empirical research and as such, more and more people are warming up to the idea. For example, Flaskas (2005) notes that traditionally, therapists believed that anger was undesirable and was supposed to be discouraged utterly. However, empirical research indicates that anger is healthy for relationships because even happy couples exhibit anger at times.
According to Stewart (2009), psychoanalytic therapy for the family appears to excite therapists who conduct it probably due to the harsh exchanges that often ensue in the process. However, the bottom line is that despite it being an adventure ground in some way, the key tenets of psychotherapy need to be preserved. The therapist, just like in the case of an individual, needs to steer the couple carefully through all stages of the process as outlined above.
The basics remain to be the same, but some minor approach changes may be incorporated. Clulow and Fonagy (2009) note that there is a panoply of approaches to couples work from the classical to the existential, which offer unique possibilities for exploration and expansion of experience. The numerous new approaches have come due to additional ideas that therapists gain from their experiences at work.
A close examination of the tenets of psychoanalytic therapy reveals that it differs with the other major family therapy approaches such as the structural approach. For instance, while the structural approach emphasises the establishment of a structure and striving to cling to it as the guideline to the smooth functioning of a family unit (Nichols & Schwartz, 2004), the psychoanalytic approach does not recommend any solid like structure to guide the existence of a family.
Rather, it seeks to interpret the inner struggles of each individual and determine solutions to such conflicts because if successfully resolved, the coupled will have nothing between them. The psychoanalytic approach seems to resemble the constructive approach closely in the sense that, just like the constructive approach, it seeks to understand the individuals and assist them from that spot.
Thompson (2003) notes that a noticeable difference between these two is that while the psychoanalytic approach seeks to understand individuals through the theory of Sigmund Freud, the constructive approach does not apply any theories in its quest to understand individuals. The advantage that the psychoanalytic approach has is that it has been continuously improved for a long time so that it has an extensive base of options to its users, which can make it fit almost in any situation.
This review of literature serves as a revelation especially in the area of the excitement that concerns the issue of family therapy. For example, Clulow and Fonagy (2009) seem to suggest that family therapy has grown to what it is today due to a reduction in the commitment levels of family members, as they are increasingly willing to share information that was traditionally out of bounds for a foreigner.
Walls have been brought down in this sense so that partners can no longer boast of any guarded secrets since they are expected to discuss these issues during counselling sessions.
However, Goldenberg and Goldenberg (2011) are worried that this aspect raises ethical questions because family therapists are plagued with ethical issues, which include confidentiality, paradoxical intervention, and therapist neutrality among many others. Family therapy has thus emerged as a concept that is increasingly like by many and continues to take root in society because it tries to serve even if marriages do not work out.
It has emerged that family therapy, though largely ignored for long, has increasingly gained approval of many. Several approaches to family therapy are in use today apart from the psychoanalytic therapy.
Some of the approaches such as the constructive approach seem to exhibit some similarity with the psychoanalytic approach. The family therapy approach has undergone many changes over time, but the underlying principles remain the same and this attribute gives it a Freudian characteristic.
Personal Integration Section
The relationship between science and religion has been controversial since time immemorial. There is a constant public debate about the connection between religion and science. The two often take antagonising sides on many issues that affect society. This antagonistic relationship has been perpetuated by scientific developments of recent times, which tend to challenge the deities that underpin religion.
A prime example of the developments, which catalyse the antagonism between religion and science, is the discovery of cloning. Though touted by scientists as a landmark achievement, those in the religious realm have never relented in their sharp criticism of cloning. However, the relationship between religion and science is not entirely hostile since there are instances where the two seem to be accommodative of each other.
Psychology as a science, brought forth counselling, which has gained a widespread therapeutic application across many the medical fields and it is in areas such as counselling that religion has found asylum. Scholars who have conducted analyses have concluded that religion has the potential to add value to a counsellor’s repertoire. Studies have indicated that committed Christians are healthier and happier and as such, are more likely to live longer.
Spirituality has increasingly occupied a dominant position in psychotherapy in the recent past. Cooper (2005) espouses this assertion by noting that therapists, who have no interest or knowledge in the spiritual dimension though they may harbour the best of intentions, find themselves inadequate especially in attending to spiritual needs of their clients.
This assertion is just another way of saying that effective counselling cannot adequately be achieved in contemporary times without incorporating spirituality.
As a Christian, I find it intriguing to learn that contemporary psychotherapy is underpinned by religious faith. This intrigue is compounded by the fact that psychoanalytic principles, as posited by Freud and his proponents, do not, in my perspective, conflict with Christian principles, but rather give a better understanding of the human personality.
Although Freud described religion as an “an obsessional neurosis, that breeds sexually repressed, guilt-laden misery”, (Flaskas 2008, p.130), I do not find any reason that warrants such a scathing attack. In my opinion, his theory perfectly fits with the tenets of the Christian faith and as such, the two should harmoniously complement each other in realms where one cannot be isolated from the other.
The Christian faith is founded on several key tenets, which are enshrined in the bible, around which all other teachings revolve. These tenets include the belief in Jesus as the son of God, acceptance of His teachings, significance of his life, death and resurrection, prayer and worship, and finally social justice and practical assistance to those in need (Powlison, 2003). Among these tenets, one that is of particular interest here is the latter.
Christians are nurtured with a strong belief in giving assistance to those in need. In my perspective, this area befits counselling extremely well. Attending to the needs of a person in need does not necessarily mean providence of material assistance only, but it includes spiritual and moral assistance as well.
Psychoanalytic therapy or simply psychotherapy as outlined by Williams (2004) comprises four phases, which include the opening phase, the development of transference, working through transference and the resolving power of transference. Williams (2004) adds that the rudiments of the first phase include the therapist’s efforts to get to know the client and develop an insight of the problem to determine ways of handling the client, which is equivalent to diagnosing.
In the second phase, the therapist applies professional skills to determine the client’s ability respond to the therapeutic process and in the third phase assists the client to overcome the challenges or problems plaguing him/her.
Williams (2004), concludes that the therapy lasts only three phases and the fourth phase focuses on terminating the relationship so far developed between the client and the therapist. From this overview, I hold the view that Christian principles can fit into psychoanalytic therapy process all the way from phase one through four.
This view is informed by the fact that Christians’ approach to counselling emulates Christ’s own approach to issue of counselling (Powlison, 2003), yet it does not conflict with the process of psychotherapy at any point. As noted by Powlison (2003), I believe that to make counselling truly Christian, there is a need to merge faith and counselling in the mind. This helps the therapist to perceive and use these two as one.
In each session, a therapist should try to invoke the divine dimension into the counselling process. I believe this translates to, as Powlison (2003) puts it, remembering to invite Christ into the counselling office so that the office carries three occupants during any counselling session, that is, the therapist, client, and Christ.
Besides these basics of Christian counselling, the counsellor should make a conscious effort to tap into additional fundamental resources from the divine realm. According to Powlison (2003), Christ is the model for a Christian counsellor and every element of such an individual’s counselling must mirror that of Christ.
This assertion implies that a Christian counsellor should strive to incorporate the power of the Holy Spirit in a bid to discern, issue a word of wisdom or knowledge, and interpret spiritual tongues and so on. I strongly believe that these spiritual gifts, if possessed by a counsellor, s/he can be of invaluable assistance to clients.
I hold the opinion that Christian counselling goes to such great depths because counselling is an important part of helping the needy. For example, family problems plague society, Christians and non-Christians alike. It then means that remedies should exist for such problems because the family unit is a very important grouping in society and needs to stay intact at all the time where possible.
The importance of the family unit stems from the fact it is a fundamental building block for society. In addition to this aspect, from a Christian perspective, a family is a sacred institution commissioned by God and as such needs to be perpetuated for posterity.
In conclusion, my position is that although the relationship between religion and science was initially hostile, the two have come to find reconciliation in some disciplines and such a trend should be encouraged. This position is informed by the massive benefits that the relationship between Christianity and psychotherapy promises if faithfully utilised.
Psychotherapy has become an important therapeutic intervention in numerous situations including saving marriages and families and as such, if blended with Christianity, can go a long way in ensuring healthy relationships. Such relationships are important for the existence of society itself and thus should not be taken lightly.
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