Annals of Theoretical Psychology

Volume 5 of the series Annals of Theoretical Psychology pp 117-140

Toward the Integration of Individual Psychodynamic Theories and Family Systems Theories

  • Paul L. WachtelAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology, City University of New York

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This paper suggests some foundations for a bridge across one of the great divides of theory and practice in clinical psychology: that between individual psychodynamic therapy and family therapy. It indicates a general strategy for theoretical unification that attempts to retain the most valuable and essential features of each but reworks them in a way that highlights previously obscured possibilities for synthesis. The theoretical position employed—cyclical psychodynamics—was originally developed in the effort to integrate psychodynamic and behavioral points of view (Wachtel, 1977, 1985). Here the possibilities that this conceptual framework affords for forging links between psychodynamic and family systems approaches are explored. From the perspective of cyclical psychodynamics, it is possible to embody all the key observations and almost all the key concepts that characterize a psychodynamic view in a framework that is fully circular in the same sense that family therapy theories are. From the perspective of family systems theories, any individual’s behavior is seen not as the linear causal product of past events or experiences but as part of a system of transactions between people that codetermine each other in the present. A conception of individual psychological development is presented here that incorporates such a view yet also retains key conceptions regarding the nature of unconscious motivations and cognitions and the role of conflict, anxiety, and defense. The clinical and theoretical implications of such a view are examined and the possibilities for therapeutic intervention it points to are examined in detail.