Psychodynamic Therapy: A Cross-Cultural and Generational Failure

  • Kathryn Anne Nel
  • Saraswathie Govender


One of the main deficiencies in terms of using therapeutic and theoretical models in psychology on the African continent is the fact that it stems from individualistic theories with western philosophical underpinnings. It became clear to the authors that in a diverse, African cultural setting, because of its theoretical underpinnings, this type of therapy has little efficacy. In one institution in South Africa, the ‘golden hour’, where if the client does not speak, the therapist does not speak, is still taught as an element of psychodynamic therapy. This is all well and good for middle-aged to elderly persons from a western cultural background (baby boomers) but is doomed to failure in an African setting as their sociocultural history is not related to western historical traditions. However, it is taught in many institutions in the country and is widely practised, as until 25 years ago, the African majority was ruled (through Apartheid) by a small white minority, who held western practices in high esteem. Change in teaching psychologists has been slow; thus African culture is nominally or not utilised when teaching therapeutic principles. We would also assert that this is frequently true for many of the ‘cut and paste’ generation or postmillennials as well. There will be much criticism about these assertions; however, this chapter aims to show how failures and misunderstandings brought about by using psychodynamic therapy cause much confusion and typically doomed to failure. A brief overview of the key points in Klein’s, Winnicott’s and Fairbairn’s work will be provided. This will be followed by an illustration of African collectivism and caregiving which relates to contemporary society and a sketch of millennial clients from other backgrounds and how these do not relate to psychodynamic concepts. Case study examples outlining how psychodynamic therapy failed in these settings will also be given.


Mistakes Errors Failure African Collectivism Culture Individualism Psychodynamic Western therapeutic and theoretical models in psychology on the African continent 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn Anne Nel
    • 1
  • Saraswathie Govender
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LimpopoSovengaSouth Africa

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