by Scott H. Friedman, Psy.D., ABPP
Interpersonal-psychodynamic psychotherapy views our problems in living as related to our relationships, past and present. We all wish that people in our lives would meet our emotional needs, and that they would react to us in ways that we want them to. In childhood, and in our current life, that does not always happen. These consistent disappointments can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression and relationship difficulties.
Interpersonal-psychodynamic psychotherapy helps clients in a number of ways. It helps us to identify what we want from the important people in our life. It also teaches us to look at our relationship patterns, including how we may be sabotaging ourselves, repeating unsuccessful patterns with the people in our lives. For example, if you grew up in an environment where others were critical of your achievements, you may actually, unknowingly, repeat the cycle of criticism, eliciting a critical reaction from others.
That does not mean that you wish to be criticized. It means that we often set ourselves up to be criticized, unconsciously repeating a pattern from childhood. We repeat unsuccessful relationship patterns with current people in our lives. In essence, we replay old “scripts” with the people in our present life without being aware of it. We may set ourselves up for failure.
The relationship with the therapist is quite important in interpersonal-psychodynamic therapy. Eventually, we recreate our “script” with the therapist, putting him or her in the role of someone important in our life. For example, if your wish is to be cared about, to be important to others, you may try to set the therapist up to not be caring, repeating past failed relationships. We cannot learn to change how we elicit responses from others until we come to understand our patterns in relationships.
Even if the therapist behaves in a caring way, we may find a way to interpret it, to see it as uncaring - if that is how we were treated in the past. We often make people in our lives repeat the patterns of our past. For example, if all of your romantic relationships are ending in disappointment, you are likely playing a role in the problem that you do not see. That is not to put blame on ourselves; we often need help to understand the roles that we give to people in our lives.