The Use of Cyclical Psychodynamic Theory in Psychotherapy with a Traumatized Mother: A Developmental Perspective

Date of Award


Document Type

Doctoral Research Paper

Degree Name



Graduate School of Professional Psychology

First Advisor

Jenny Erickson Cornish, Ph.D., ABPP

Second Committee Member

Brian Beaumund, Psy.D.

Third Committee Member

Henrietta Pazos, Psy.D.


Cyclical psychodynamic, Trauma, Parenting

Publication Statement

Copyright held by the author.


As a therapist, Cyclical Psychodynamic theory has been a useful stance with a variety of symptom presentations, treatment settings, and circumstantial constraints. No matter the client’s treatment history, level of insight, or goals for therapy, the theory has provided the flexibility to understand the source of their distress from both a historical and contextual vantage point. Furthermore, the method of intervention can be tailored to suit the unique needs of the client, whether that be pragmatic behavioral interventions or a more exploratory relational process. In my pursuit of specialized training in trauma work, I have been acquainted with various models of treatment containing essential attributes that have yet to be melded together to meet the unique needs of this population. Cyclical Psychodynamic theory can bring together what is known about how early experiences affect a lifelong trajectory of personality development, relationships, and adaptation to stress with the extraordinary stressors of trauma. This paper seeks to integrate research and theoretical literature in order to clearly identify the manner in which traumatic experience establishes cyclical patterns of behaving in the world for women who go on to be mothers. As it stands, the Cyclical Psychodynamic literature (Wachtel, 2014) has yet to discuss the specific phenomena at play when trauma influences development or the parent-child dynamics of abused women who have suffered repeated traumas. Special considerations need to be outlined when applying this theory in a clinical setting to this particular population. In order to illustrate just a fraction of myriad manifestations, I will present a woman at successive stages of motherhood. Her story has been derived from several real clients with sufficiently similar histories in order to demonstrate the developmental trajectory of an untreated pattern of relational trauma as it pertains to their parent-child relationships. Relevant literature will serve to incorporate what we know about Cyclical Psychodynamic theory, as well as what we know about how trauma impacts parenting, and what interventions are recommended to address intergenerational effects.


28 pgs

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