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On (not) listening for theory: The trainee’s use of theory as defence against the stress of beginning psychodynamic practice

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)269-281
JournalPsychodynamic Practice
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 20 Jun 2017


This paper offers reflections on the trainee’s relationship with, and use of, theory in the early stages of psychodynamic practice. It addresses the issues of ‘listening for theory’ in the face of the unsettling, yet inevitable, stress and insecurity of beginning psychodynamic practice and the daunting awareness of the work being assessed by the training institution. While theory makes psychodynamic work possible and applying theory is explicitly welcomed in psychodynamic training, the paper argues that the unexamined use of theory is problematic as it, albeit unconsciously, is used by the trainee as a defensive retreat into a private mental sanctuary from the intimate, relational space of the consulting room and from the felt incompetence and inexperience aroused in the immediate encounter with the client. Exemplified through accounts of working with a particular client during my training, the paper examines the trainee’s evolving relationship with theory, in the light of what impedes and promotes therapeutic progress, as a significant marker of the trainee’s development to work psychodynamically.

    Research areas

  • psychodynamic theory, beginning practice, psychodynamic training, transitional object, use of theory, professional development

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