Application of the Psychodynamic Theory to social and group work


Applicationof the Psychodynamic Theory to social and group work

Althoughthe application of theories to practice may not necessarily producepositive outcomes, it establishes a systematic approach to theprocesses of social work and more so in a group setting. Theories areapplied to create some level of rationality in what would end up as aconfusing outcome. The problem of choosing a definite perspectiveemanates from the fact that an implicitly comprehensive theory is notavailable. However, if objectively applied, any theory can beappropriate in contextual terms.

Accordingto Higdon (2012), theories are most useful when used as acombination. In Isolation, the worth of a theory is vitiated due tothe complex dynamic and un homogenic nature of social problems.Combining of theories is referred to as triangulation. It is appliedin order to enhance the reader to understand and address the myriadof interconnected problems, which is ‘social work’ from a group’sperspective. The use of theory is hence indispensable to establishsome level of rationality towards what would rather be a chaoticoccurrence due to misunderstanding.

Theunderlying case study shall involve the application of a theory to asample case to identify possible drivers for the identified case. Thepsychodynamic theory builds on the premise that family andrelationship problems may be as a result of poor personality growthduring childhood.

Reviewof Literature

Thepsychodynamic theory was developed from the works of Sigmund Freud.Psychodynamic theories assume that behaviors come from the movementsand interactions in people’s minds. The theory refers from theinternal psychological conflicts that exist between irrationalpleasure drives of identity and the social conscience of the‘super-ego’ which are mediated by the psychological regulatorknown as ‘Ego’. Ego is a person’s developed sense ofself-esteem and self-importance. To develop group work and teamcoherence the egos have to be maintained at a manageable level. Theextreme ego kills the ability of a team member to integrate in agroup.

Thepsychodynamic theory seems to be most applicable for this case studywhen argued from the perspective of appropriateness rather thanconvenience. The theory proposes that family and relationshipproblems emanate from ineffective personality development duringchildhood. According to Higdon (2012), the psychodynamic approachviews personality as a result of childhood development. Similarly,Ringel (2012) argues that the most critical focus on social workduring childhood, early relationships and maternal deprivationemanate from the psychodynamics theory. In support, Pervin (2001)suggests that the use of the attachment theory in instances ofdysfunctional relationships and family situations is a result of theseemingly appropriateness to explain behavioral and relationshipproblems as typical as the case in this study. For example, criticsargue that the theory’s concepts such as those of unconscious mind,tripartite or personality are impossible to scientific study. As aresult, they are claimed to be unfalsifable since they cannot beempirically tested.

Themajor criticisms for the theory include the claims that it isunscientific concerning its analysis of the human behavior. Thecentral concepts of the Freud’s theories are said to be subjectiveand hence they are impossible to be tested scientifically.

Accordingto Ringel (2012), the psychodynamic approach is composed of a numberof hypothesis, some that cannot be empirically tested while otherscontain more evidence and can be empirically tested. While some ofthe theories hypothesis cannot be tested, that cannot imply that thetheory does not have a strong explanatory power.

Criticsagainst the theory argue that since most of the evidence for thetheory is derived from Feud’s case studies such as the Little Hansand Anna O. The problem emanated from the fact that the case studiesare based from studies conducted on one individual. Consequently, itmakes it difficult to use the theory in the development ofgeneralizations related to a wider population such as the wholeworld.

Additionalcritics also argue that there is a problem with the use of the casestudy method since it is prone to research bias. The reexamination ofFeuds work is also claimed that he had a tendency of distorting hispatient’s case histories so that they can fit to the propositionsof the psychodynamic theory.

Finally,the theory has been criticized as being too sexist beside women. Asan example, Freud is believed that female’s envy of the penis madethem feel inferior to males. In addition, Freud is also thought tohave believed that females had a tendency to develop inferior superego and more prone to anxiety than their male counterparts.

Accordingto Pervin (2001), the theory provides a comprehensive model thatprovides a system of thought that covers all the practices whichsocial workers might want to pursue, further the social workers areencouraged to involve the aspect of groups as is the main aim ofsocial work. The psychodynamic theory is hence inseparable fromissues related to family therapy

of literature review

Asa summary from the various existing literature on the psychodynamictheory, it is possible to deduct the basic assumptions behind thetheory, its advantages and disadvantages for application in resolvingsocial problems. The theory assumes that the major causes of behaviorhave their origin in the unconscious .In addition it assumes thatthe unconscious is always in conflict and that all behavior has areason. Finally the theory assumes that our behaviors and feelings asadults are rooted from our childhood experiences.

Thelimitations of the theory include claims that it is subjective,unscientific, and deterministic, ignores meditational processes anddenies free will.

Amongstthe strengths include the introduction of the case study method tothe field of psychology, the introduction of defense mechanisms, freeassociation through group and social work and the importance ofchildhood.

Thecombination of such strengths has influenced the choice of the theoryto address the problem with the below-presented family case study.


Thestudy pays special focus on a family composed of an unemployed Fatheraged 40 years. He lives with his wife and a six-year old son. Thefamily resides in a two-bedroom house in a council flat in London.The father involves himself in gambling and he has developed adrinking problem. In addition, he is known to the police and thesocial services offices due to domestic violence towards his wife. The husband is also famous for his tarnished acts within theneighborhood, fights and hostility.

Thewife is a catalogue shopper she has a shopping addiction and willspend a lot of money on unnecessary items. As a result of living alavish life, the family is facing action from the bailiff due to hugeamounts of debts. In addition, their son is famous for his aggressiontowards the neighbor’s children to the extent that the family isfacing possible eviction actions from the council due to persistentAntisocial Behavior (ASBO). A further insight into the familyindicates that the parents of the couples live away from London


Afamily is considered as a system whose well-being depends on the sumof the individual contributions. The psychodynamic theory adequatelyestablishes the cause and effect relationship of the family’sproblems. For example, the process of resolving the conflict betweenthe parents is a form of group work between the respective partiesand it’s expected to transfer a similar effect to the child thatcould lead to a happy family (Higdon 2012).

Accordingto the theory, the husband’s aggression and drinking problemsindicate his efforts to avoid facing the reality that includes theresponsibility he has in the relationship. Consequently, he fallsback to his irrational behaviors. Similarly, the wife’s spendthriftness behavior and the husbands gambling could be related to a drivetowards satisfying some existing but unidentified libido or tensionor a signal of under development in egos and superegos to enablethem to behave and socialize rationally as a married couple (Ringel2012).

Theconsequential implication is that, the traumatic relationship hasdenied them effectiveness of group work via communication and jointdecision-making regarding their son’s well-being. During theconflict, the parents are too preoccupied with their feelings to theextent that they forget to understand their child’s needs.According to Pervin (2001), the couple should sensitize on how toadopt from paying too much attention to their inner world bydeveloping some level of attention to the outer world and furtherconducting their activities as a group.

Byuse of a person-in –situation approach, the parents can beencouraged to behave as a group and involve teamwork in solving theirrelationship problems. Through team work, the couple can betterunderstand their problems which are debts, drinking, gambling, andcompulsive behavior as the agents that provoke aggression and causedisharmony.

Consequently,they will create respect that will enhance the value ofcommunication. In addition, they will provide support for each otherthrough ownership in terms of acceptance of their individualities,opinions and concerns. In order to internalize the group workbehavior, the couple can begin with a simple joint activity such astaking their son to the park this will enable the whole family tobegin meaningful socialization (Higdon 2012).

Inregards to the financial difficulties, a social worker shouldencourage group work within the couples by providing pertinentinformation that will enable them to examine their situation jointly,and if need be, they should use the services of debt counselors. Asimilar approach can also apply to the marriage as a whole, when thesituation does not work out through mutual negotiations, the coupleshould engage with marriage counseling services. Equally, if theapproach to solving the financial problems does not work out foraddressing the couples problems, they can seek the services of agambling and addiction advisory therapist (Pervin 2001).

Therationale is to empower the clients to be their own doctor byenhancing group work to solve problems and hence maximize theirpotentials. The use of external services is considered as a lastresort and as a way to provide, in a formal way, what the clientswere unable to provide via their efforts. The aim is to restore thehusband as the principal breadwinner and hence his feeling ofresponsibility and self-worth could spread to other areas of therelationship and the family consequently (Pervin 2001).

Finally,the application of the theory is dependent and contextual on thepreferences chosen by the person applying it. As a result, therelacks a benchmark that makes the evaluation of the theorieseffectiveness and appropriateness more problematic by making theapplication and evaluation as rather relative as opposed toobjective. However, of indispensable importance, is the use of thetheory to explain, plan, understand and conduct an intervention insocial work and the benefits of working together as a group. It hencemakes the social practice to become systematic. The inconveniencesexperienced in applying the theory to practice could be a reflectionof the complexities of the life realities. Equally, there are neithernever identical social work contexts nor similar client groups. Thesituation makes the standardization of the various approachesdifficult.

and Conclusion

Theimportance of theories in the conduct of social work is their abilityto provide and establish a rational school of thought that includesgroup work as the systematic ways to address would-be haphazardoccurrences. In relation to the above case study, the psychodynamictheory has drawn attention to the rational control endowed by thehuman being over their behavior. Although social work may not bealways perfect and satisfactory, the critical and systematicperception exposed by the theories ensures that quality decisions areconsistently arrived at based on the available information andjudgment. During the evaluation of the existing situation, the theorycalls for the parties involved to work as groups in resolving theirproblems.

Thetheory belongs to a group of psychoanalysis and attachment theoriesthat link social problems to being as a result of developmentalchildhood deficiencies. The theories predict that without the directintervention of systematic social work and group work to preventreplication, the micro and ecosystems of relationships and familywill combine efforts and contribute to a sustained crisis. Inaddition, within the complex environment of interrelated socialproblems, a proper insight into particular problems through groupeffort is better understood through the application of severaltheories. By creating an intervention of acting as a group to anintegral part of the family , there will be a similar impact on thewell-being of the system as a whole.


Higdon,J., &amp Higdon, J. (2012).&nbspPsychodynamictheory for therapeutic practice&nbsp(2nded.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Ringel,S. (2012).&nbspTraumacontemporary directions in theory, practice, and research.London: SAGE.

Pervin,L., &amp John, O. (2001).&nbspPersonality:Theory and research&nbsp(8thed.). New York: Wiley.