⌬ Lecture №1 | Types of Theory & The Unconscious

Welcome to The Introductory Podcast Lectures on Psychodynamic Praxis, produced in association with the Aurora University school of social work. I’m you’re host Neil Gorman.
Different kinds of theories & the unconscious


Welcome to The Introductory Podcast Lectures on Psychodynamic Praxis, produced in association with the Aurora University school of social work. I’m you’re host Neil Gorman.

Let’s get started:

In this podcast lecture, I want to do two things.

First, I want to describe different kinds of theories and tell you what sort of theory I think psychodynamic theory falls into.
And second, I want to dive into the most fundamental concept of psychodynamic theory —the unconscious.

Let’s get started with a metaphor: Theories as Buildings. 

Let’s say that a theory it’s like a building. Some theories are pretty simple buildings, with only a few concepts (rooms). I’d say the behaviorism of B.F. Skinner is an example of what I would call a simple theory, ambiguous loss of Pauline Boss another example. (If you don’t already know about those theories, you could Google them or look them up on Wikipedia, and you’d get a good idea of what I’m calling simplistic theories.)
Simplistic theories & suburban houses.

Exploring a simple theory is easy. It’s kind of like when your friend buys a new house and then has a housewarming party.
You come over, they say, “Let me give you the tour.” Then you and the new homeowner walks you through the house, you see all the rooms, they point out cool features of the house and talk about what they plan to change. The whole thing takes like 10, maybe 15 min. Then you’re done. You’ve seen the house and can wander around it without getting lost.

At this point, I want to make something clear — Simple theories can be useful and helpful. They are not “bad theories”; they are just simple, they don’t require us to invest a lot of time and energy to really understand them.
There are lots of people who really like these simple theories because they are simple. I’ve found people who do enjoy simple theories will often describe the theory as something that is “practical” or “pragmatic.”

(As a quick side note: These kinds of simple and practical theories are the most prevalent and popular here in the United States.)

Complex theories & castles: 

The next point I want to make is probably obvious: In addition to simple theories, there are also complex theories.
Continuing with the theory as buildings metaphor:

Complex theories are like strange old castles with many concepts coming together to create these elaborate kinds of baffling construction. (If you want a good example of this sort of theory, think of Hogwarts from the Harry Potter books.)
Exploring one of these complex theories takes time and energy. You enter in through the front door, start moving through the rooms and hallways, and fairly soon, you find yourself kind of lost, unsure of where you are or how you got there. But, even though you’re lost, you’re discovering this bizarre, unexpected stuff.

While some people (people who prefer to know where they are going and how they will get there) prefer simple theories, I find them a little boring. I prefer complex theories, but I can get lost in them. I get a thrill from coming across sorts of strange things that lurk in the grand castles of complex theories.

(Remember how earlier I referenced Hogwarts from Harry Potter? For those of you who like that, here’s another nerdy pop-culture reference for you: Some theories are like typical suburban homes, others --the more complex ones– are more like Doctor Who’s TARDIS.)

Now, in case this isn’t obvious, I’ll just come out and say it. I think that psychodynamic theory is, in my opinion, a complex theory. I entered more than a decade ago, and I’m still exploring it.

As I said earlier, the point of this podcast lecture is to describe one of the fundamental concepts of psychodynamic theory --the unconscious. 

Sticking with my metaphor, I think of the unconscious as the grand hall that the rest of psychodynamic theory is built around. Another way you could think of it is to imagine the unconscious as the primary load-bearing wall at the center of the structure. If this load-bearing wall came down, the rest of the structure would implode as well. If you don't buy into the idea of the unconscious, I'd argue that you won't buy into psychodynamic theory, period. I'd also say that if you don't have a good enough understanding of the unconscious, you won't understand the other important concepts in psychodynamic theory. 

The Unconscious 

So let’s start examining the unconscious.

It has been described in lots of different ways. But I find the most useful way to describe the unconscious is
The part of you that has a mind of its own. To elaborate on this, I would say the unconscious is a part of you that desires (or wants) things, but you don’t consciously know what these desires are. Sometimes your unconscious desires line up with your conscious desires, but they certainly don’t always.

To further illustrate what the unconscious is, and let’s consider the following example.

According to psychodynamic theory, unconscious desires (or repressed desires, which I'll talk about in a future lecture) show up in different things that we say or do, that we don’t expect, and that don’t make sense to us.

When these desires pop up in our speech and actions, they surprise us because —as I just said— what the unconscious says is often at odds with what we are consciously trying to accomplish.

The term “self-sabotage” has become a common way people refer to how the unconscious inserts itself into our day-to-day lives. I think this term is really helpful because the “self” in self-sabotage could also be called our conscious plans, and the “sabotage” (or the saboteur) of those plans is a good stand-in for the unconscious. When the unconscious does sabotage our conscious plans, we are surprised and confused.

If you’ve ever said or done something that you think is embarrassing when you were trying to be impressive, you’ve experienced this. When something like that happens, we think, why did I just say that?!

Another example would be when we tell ourselves something like, “I’m going to lose weight, so no more junk food! I mean it! I’m serious! Junk food is dead to me!” And then it's someone's birthday at work, so there is cake in the break room, and even though we conscious were just like “No more junk food for me!” We end up eating a small piece of cake, then we have another, then when people are like “please take some cake home,” we have some more… so on and so forth.

Ok, so now that we have a description, we can use it as a starting point for what the unconscious is and how it works. Let’s go further and talk about how people try to deal with their unconscious.

Most people are engaged in a sort of battle with their unconscious, a battle where they try to force it to comply with a sort of logic or rationale, with something that ”makes sense.”

Another way to describe the unconscious and the battle that many people I walked in with it would be to say that the unconscious it’s a wild part of us (again, a part of us that doesn’t make sense) that we are consistently trying to tame in domesticate (trying to make it make sense). But it keeps eluding our efforts.
⌬ Lecture №1 | Types of Theory & The Unconscious
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