At the heart of our work at Human Development Scotland (HDS) is psychodynamic theory.

Here is our interpretation of the theory as documented by our board member Mary MacCallum Sullivan.


The ‘psychodynamic’ approach in counselling and psychotherapy is based on awareness of the importance of early relational experience on us as adults and how this influences us at an unconscious level, at the level of feelings, which powerfully underpin our sense of self. The evidence gained through neuroscientific research strongly supports this perspective. 

We grow and develop throughout life, in and through our relationships, and better understanding of these, and a greater sense of personal autonomy, are key aims of this approach.


The process of talking and being listened to in a professional therapeutic relationship that provides a confidential and non-judgemental space helps to bring this into better focus in a way that fosters self-realisation and enhanced well-being.

The psychotherapist or counsellor aims to listen, to be engaged with the client, to be consistently available and attuned to the client, to recognise the individual as a unique and complex person with singular and subjective experience.

It is this particular kind of attention, delivered through a contracted series of consistently managed regular meetings, that constitutes a constructive, reparative process. Over time, this creates the possibility of personal change and development, improving overall functioning and resilience for the person in the context of managing distress, improving social interaction, including personal and working relationships and achievement.

We are not normally encouraged to relate to others in this way so this approach conflicts with our own social conditioning and unconscious tendencies towards self-preservation and self-defence. That makes it, to a degree, an ‘unnatural’ stance. A key aim of training in psychodynamic and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, therefore, is to develop the capacity to implement such relational skills in a sustained and consistent way. This requires an improved capacity to notice, acknowledge, work through and set aside our own bias and defensiveness (normally via personal therapy and professional supervision).

Throughout training, it takes practice, private and shared reflection, and a continued wrestling with the ethical aspects of interpersonal work, to make a competent practitioner.

And, finally, it is the idea of relationality itself that constitutes a paradigm shift in psychotherapy. Research evidence is demonstrating that the technical approach adopted by the practitioner is, initially at least, irrelevant to outcome; it is the personal and professional qualities of the practitioner - openness, non-judgemental acceptance of the client, relational trustworthiness, and the provision and maintenance of a ‘safe’, reliable and consistent environment that are more significant.

A client will be someone seeking help to relieve emotional or mental distress, to manage adverse circumstances, to resolve dilemmas in relationships, to find ways to be a better person or to have a more fulfilling life. Clients can be individual adults, children and young people, couples, and families.

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