Psychodynamic Psychotherapy to Treat Addiction
Silvermist Recovery offers access to psychodynamic psychotherapy as part of a comprehensive addiction rehab program. Used in combination with a range of traditional treatments and other therapies, psychodynamic psychotherapy can help to improve outcomes for people recovering from drug or alcohol addiction.
Psychodynamic therapy is more than just a form of treatment for addiction. It’s also a way of thinking about a person’s underlying motivations. During therapy, the person in recovery has the opportunity to reflect on what feelings and emotions arise without the need to censor those thoughts. Instead, therapy encourages them to explore those thoughts more closely.
What Is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?
Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a type of in-depth talk therapy that focuses on unconscious processes as they arise in a person’s current behavior. Many people may have originally turned to drugs or alcohol in an effort to numb painful feelings or avoid negative emotions. Continued substance abuse as a defense mechanism can spiral into a cycle of addiction.
Encouragement During Sessions
During therapy sessions, the therapist will encourage the person in recovery to start exploring certain recurring patterns in thoughts or behaviors that are used as defense mechanisms. When those patterns are recognized, the person in recovery is more easily able to see how those behaviors could be reinforcing negative actions.
The insight gained during psychodynamic therapy could be enough to help begin addressing negative patterns. In the case of treating addictive behaviors, psychodynamic therapy can begin working on ways to change those patterns.
Much of the work done in psychodynamic therapy is self-therapy. The licensed therapist may guide many of the conversations and highlight any recurring patterns that arise. However, the recovering person becomes the one examining emotions and thoughts as they come up.
Psychodynamic theory teaches that a person’s behavior is influenced by their unconscious thoughts. If that person is effectively able to process painful feelings and emotions, it’s much easier to resolve harmful defense mechanisms.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Approach to Treatment
Psychodynamic therapy was originally developed to be an easier, quicker alternative to psychoanalysis sessions by Sigmund Freud. Freud’s goal in psychotherapy was to find ways to strengthen a person’s ego. The intention is to give the ego more control over the id and find ways to give it more independence from being controlled by the superego.
Based on Freud’s systematic approach to how unconscious thoughts drive a person’s view of the work, the therapy aims to arrange the mind’s functions into three parts:
- The ego
- The super-ego, or conscience
- The id, or the desire for immediate gratification, or pleasure now instead of later
The Ego Responds to Super-Ego Impulses
In psychodynamic therapy, the ego responds to super-ego impulses that are driven by the id. As an example, mental health disorders such as anxiety could be caused by the effect of unrestrained feelings. A person’s inability to cope with traumatic events can lead to feeling helpless or powerless.
If that person is unable to cope with negative emotions or thoughts, he or she may develop defense mechanisms designed to avoid them. The symptoms of anxiety act as a signal for the ego to repress those emotions, often coupled with other defense emotions that could include denial.
Using Psychodynamic Therapy to Treat Addiction
In the case of a person struggling with drug or alcohol addiction, the addictive behavior could be considered a defense mechanism. The person may be abusing drugs or alcohol in an effort to avoid feeling helpless or to escape from painful feelings or emotions.
Psychodynamic therapy considers drug abuse to be an attempt by a person to compensate for some form of inner emptiness. The person may be using drugs or alcohol to compensate for feelings of low self-esteem or feelings of anxiety or self-doubt.
Addiction is Often Self-Medication
Drugs or alcohol may provide a temporary sense of relief or escape from painful emotions, but continued substance abuse becomes a way of life in an effort to keep gaining relief. The person’s inability to cope with negative emotions or stress leads them to self-medicate, which triggers more negative emotions that the person seeks to solve with more self-medication.
Eventually, the continued use spirals into addiction, which effectively stops the person from understanding the underlying causes for distress. In this instance, the addiction itself could be considered a self-regulation disorder.
Another aspect of psychodynamic psychotherapy is to examine the ego’s defense mechanisms. The ego’s most basic defense is often denial. For example, a person with an alcohol abuse disorder may completely deny having a drinking problem. A person with a substance abuse disorder may be in denial about the extent of their problem, believing they still have control over their use and that they could still quit at any time if they wanted to.
Awareness of Inner Thoughts
During sessions, a therapist will guide the discussion to examine various thoughts, beliefs and emotions as they come up. Increasing the person’s awareness of those inner thoughts can help the person in recovery monitor and regulate those emotional experiences more effectively.
When there is understanding about the unconscious motives that cause negative symptoms, it becomes easier to manage and integrate certain unconscious thoughts. The psychodynamic approach to addiction treatment helps the recovering person to identify alternative ways to cope with negative emotions.
One of the objectives of psychodynamic therapy is to encourage the person in recovery to find a positive level of self-acceptance that should signify the end of any further need to try and change themselves into the person they think others want them to be. Increasing awareness of unconscious motivations helps the person in recovery to develop stronger coping skills and the ability to manage uncomfortable feelings or emotions.
Combining Psychodynamic Therapy with Music
Some therapists will combine music therapy with psychodynamic therapy. Music is a creative medium that often allows people to express their emotions or feelings in a non-verbal way. According to Carl Jung’s theory, it requires all four of the psyche’s functions to perform music:
- Thinking: the person’s thoughts turn the movements and actions into music
- Feeling: emotion provides expression to the music being played
- Sensing: the senses derive feedback from the body when playing an instrument
- Intuition: the mind need to intuit the composer’s inspiration to get to the essence of the music being played
The person in recovery doesn’t need to have any prior musical experience or background to benefit from music therapy. Instead, the person is able to experiment with guitars, drums, pianos, or other musical instruments in any way that works for them.
Through musical experience, the person in recovery has a non-verbal way to learn to tackle emotional problems on a more realistic level. For example, feelings of anger or inadequacy can be worked out on a set of drums or feelings of low self-esteem can be expressed by playing music that feels relevant to how the person is feeling.
Integrating Psychodynamic Psychotherapy into Life after Treatment
A recovering person is able to use the newly learned skills gained in addiction rehab treatment to maintain abstinence long into the future. Throughout psychodynamic therapy sessions, they are taught to recognize positive elements within themselves that reinforce self-confidence. Likewise, the combination of other treatments and therapies used in addiction rehab programs also provide a range of recovery tools and coping skills for living a productive life without the need for drugs or alcohol.
When leaving rehab, treatment doesn’t end. Instead, addiction treatment specialists work closely with each person to develop a strong aftercare treatment program. Each person’s aftercare program is unique to them and is comprised of a variety of treatments and therapies designed to provide ongoing support and care throughout the recovery process.
The insights gained and skills learned during psychodynamic therapy sessions can be integrated into everyday life to help reduce cravings and manage symptoms. Psychodynamic psychotherapy helps a person find positive ways to manage difficult feelings, which makes them feel less compelled to use other substances as a way to escape them.
By learning and recognizing how much of a person’s behavior can be shaped by feelings and thoughts, it becomes easier to process emotions in more constructive ways without the need for drugs or alcohol. The person should have learned to engage in healthy self-reflection, noting some of the emotions and behaviors that could become potential risks for a future relapse. Remembering lessons learned in psychodynamic therapy sessions and other rehab therapies, the person in recovery should be able to identify positive alternatives for managing difficult emotions.
After spending time in psychodynamic therapy sessions, it’s also possible to begin discovering some of the underlying psychological issues that may have acted as triggers for addictive behaviors. When those issues are properly addressed, it can make recovery not only more easily achievable, but also more sustainable over the long term.