What Is Dynamic Psychiatry?

Christina Hall

Dynamic psychiatry is a growing branch of the psychiatric science that seeks to combat the devaluing of the therapeutic relationship, which is often considered the most valuable resource in the treatment of mental illness. According to proponents of the dynamic psychiatry approach, like The Institute for Dynamic Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, for example, well-intentioned mental health practitioners feel helpless as their patients have to settle for substandard treatment that leads to minimal improvement. The practitioners and patients are often forced to minimize or revise treatment due to restriction by managed care company protocols, which often leads to dismal mental health rehabilitation rates. The basis for the reformed, dynamic approach to psychiatry places significantly more importance on the patient’s relationships with significant people in his life and also on subjective feelings, thoughts, and emotions. This approach is in stark contrast to the largely objective diagnosis of mental disease and the subsequent “one size fits all” approach to treatment that is seen in many clinical mental health settings.

The theory of dynamic psychiatry rethinks the relationship between the patient and the clinician.
The theory of dynamic psychiatry rethinks the relationship between the patient and the clinician.

The theory and implementation of dynamic psychiatry attempts to reinvent the relationship between the patient and the clinician. Information pertaining to the subconscious and the conflicts that arise from its expression are being re-evaluated as valuable psychiatric models. The work of well-known early psychiatrists like Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud has been examined in a more modern light so their theories can be instituted in routine psychiatric treatment.

The Nobel-prize-winning scientist Eric Kandel has contributed to the movement with his research on how social cues in the environment affect the neurotransmitter serotonin, which essentially highlights the error of the orthodox model that purports that most psychiatric illnesses are due to inherent chemical imbalances of an uncertain origin. In light of the accumulating evidence that the current psychiatry model is outdated and ineffective, practitioners of dynamic psychiatry diagnose and treat patients after a thorough analysis of unconscious conflict and the deficits and distortions that may be present in the patient’s life.

The perceived shortcomings of the present system of psychiatry are lamented by eminent psychiatrist Kenneth Kendler. He explains that part of the breakdown of the orthodox system lies in the almost unquestioned belief that the mind and the brain are two fundamentally separate entities. Kendler says that although both psychiatric illness and mental processes are biological, the range and complexity of illness cannot be explained simply in terms of biology; the influence of circumstances like significant life events, and even environmental factors that modify gene expression, must be considered. Kendler’s hypothesis reflects the fact that changes and anomalies of brain chemistry can indeed affect the mind, but the only marginally-tangible processes of the mind, like emotions and repressed feelings, may affect the brain in the same regard.

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