Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Free will and determinism, Psychodynamic psychotherapy, Neuropsychology, Free will, Determinism, Change, Psychodynamic theory


This qualitative study explored psychodynamic psychotherapists' beliefs about free will and determinism and how these impact their work with clients. A secondary goal was to determine if and how knowledge of psychodynamic theory, neuropsychology and/or physics has shaped those views. Twelve clinicians were asked questions related to free will, determinism and clients' behavioral change. All participants said that psychodynamic theory has influenced their beliefs, and a majority said that neuropsychology has done so. Major findings include that 11 of the 12 participants endorsed the concept of compatibilism, that free will and determinism can co-exist and are not mutually exclusive in impacting behavior. This finding compares to, but does not confirm, research that found psychodynamic clinicians were more deterministic than other clinicians (McGovern, 1986), and it contrasts with research that suggests that the science related to free will and determinism has not reached the field and influenced clinical practice (Wilks, 2003). Clinicians named a variety of biopsychosocial factors that act as determinants and impose certain limitations on clients' ability to exercise free will. But they believe—and research supports—that psychotherapy can help clients be more conscious of their behavior patterns and reduce automatic, reactive decision-making and activity. In this way, therapists help clients have greater access to and ability to exercise their free will.




iv, 67 p. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, Northampton, Mass., 2012. Includes bibliographical references (p. 54-57)