Psychoanalytic therapy, also sometimes called insight-oriented therapy, centers around the manner in which unconscious processes are manifested within the individual’s behavior. The overall goals of such therapy are to help the client become more self-aware and to understand the influence of past issues and attitudes upon their present behavior. This tends to allow the client to look inward in a more critical manner to look at unresolved issues and the symptoms those have (perhaps from past dysfunctional relationships, etc.) and how those tend to manifest in the present time with issues like substance abuse, abusive or negative behavior, or other ways that contribute to a repetitive negative pattern (Corey, 2009).
John is a 33-year-old male. John has an MBA and has been working for Loadstar Bank for 5 years, and has been frustrated because he has not advanced his career at the level he wished. We have been working with John to uncover certain self-sabotaging behaviors based on feedback received from his supervisors, colleagues and employment reviews. It appears that John is sullen and uncooperative when he works in teams, arrives late to interviews, stammers, and becomes defensive. In this session, we use psychodynamic theory to help John understand his behavior a bit better and to take steps. The following is an excerpt from a therapy session:
Therapist: John, you have mentioned that you are frustrated that your career path seems to be, in your words, “stalled.” Why do you think this is happening?
John: I am not sure; I just cannot seem to get promoted, even though I am more qualified than many people who have advanced past me.
T: Let’s talk a bit about your last interview for a job description. Tell me about it.
J: I went to the interview, there were three senior managers, and they asked questions that had very little to do with the job. I guess I got a bit frustrated and one manager asked why I seemed so defensive?
T: Were you defensive? Can you think of any reason they might have interpreted this?
J: Well, I was about 10 minutes late to the interview, but it was not my fault. Then I could not find a recent report I brought, and then they kept asking questions about working with teams, leadership theory, and stuff that had nothing to do with the job.
T: Is it possible, John, that being late told the committee you were not serious about the job? Or that they were asking general questions to get a feel for your managerial style?
J: Yes, but it had nothing to do with the job, and I told them I was late because of a work meeting.
T: John, I’d like you to think about the term “self-sabotage” — in working with you, it seems that issues often come up to derail your plans. Can you think back and tell me how you dealt with teamwork, assignments, and activities when you were younger?
J: Well, to start, my Dad was critical of everything I did, nothing was ever right — the chores were not done right, if I got a 93 on a test he asked why it was not 100, and wow, it was torture to play sports or music, he always wrote down everything I did wrong, I don’t ever remember him telling me I had finished anything correctly; so I got to the point that it was just as easy not to participate, or not to show him grades.
T: How did you handle this with teachers and friends?
J: Well, I guess I waited until the last minute to do most everything so there would be a reason for not getting a good grade, or finding other reasons to not participate so that I would be less vulnerable.
T: Is it possible that you are late to interview meetings, or somewhat defensive, so that you can blame the committee for not promoting you, rather than honestly looking at the message you send? John, if you were hiring, and the candidate was habitually late, would you think they respected you or the job? (Long Pause).
J: Well, not really, I’d be upset from the start.
T: How would you handle this irritation?
J: I’d probably cancel or postpone the interview.
T: If that’s the case, then can you see the message you are sending to the hiring committee? Let’s think about a plan for the next interview, what can you do to ensure this goes better.
J: Well, I guess I need to realize that everyone is not like my Dad. Maybe I can meet with my own supervisor and think about a plan – maybe even have a mock interview, and I could clear my calendar for 2 hours prior to the interview, come early, and have handouts ready for the team.
T: What about the questions they ask? I might suggest you practice some biofeedback or relaxation techniques so that you can calm down when you are asked a difficult question. Can you try that this week, and then we will talk about your success at the next session?
J: Yes, I can do that.
Corey, G. (2009). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 8th ed. Belmont, CA: Brooks Cole.
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