Psychodynamic therapy is a form of verbal treatment that helps patient’s find relief from mental or emotional stress. Like psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapy attributes present-day problems to unconscious conflicts from the past. In order to begin treatment, a patient and therapist must first discover the roots of the psychological suffering. In particular, the therapist and patient will explore past family relationships. 

Psychodynamic therapy revolves around the use of self-reflection and self-examination as a way to mine the unconscious for unresolved conflicts. The goal of psychodynamic therapy isn’t to solve the condition. The goal is instead to make the patient’s life easier by resolving the larger symptoms. This is done through improved coping techniques or insight gained through better understanding of the issue at hand.

How It Works

A patient and therapist will generally meet once per week for several months (for a total length of usually less than a year). In times of more in-depth discussion, the therapist might request more frequent meetings. The typical sessions lasts 45-50 minutes.

The view of people who practice and study psychodynamic therapy is that people feel and behave the way they do for specific reasons. Past events and experiences unknowingly shape how the person acts and sees the world. Working with this assertion, a therapist will seek to establish a supportive environment in hopes that the patient will feel safe and comfortable within their relationship. The patient will then feel free to open up about his or her past experiences and present feelings.

In psychodynamic therapy, the therapist believes that a patient communicates on multiple levels and sometimes by indirect means. For example, some patients will discuss painful topics with humor or sarcasm. But the therapist will be able to help them understand the deeper meaning in order to help them see how this event has influenced the current situation. Other times, patients hide some traumatic or hurtful experience, making it difficult for them to access without the help and support of a therapist.

Like some other forms of psychotherapy, psychodynamic therapy allows a patient to speak freely, with the therapist only interrupting to ask questions or redirect the discussion. The therapist does not provide any affirmation or opinion, in hopes that neutrality will further strengthen the therapeutic relationship.

The therapist’s role is to help the patient understand how the events of the patient’s past are affecting mental and physical health today. The therapist then equips the patient with and rehearses the use of improved response techniques so that the patient feels confident in their ability to respond to situations in a more positive and effective way.

Other Conditions Treated by Psychodynamic Therapy

Other than depression, psychodynamic therapy can also be used to treat:

  • anxiety
  • panic disorders
  • persistent feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • personality disorders (borderline personality disorder, etc.)
  • physical symptoms without physical basis
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • prolonged sadness
  • sexual difficulties
  • stress-related physical ailments 

What the Expert Says

“Psychodynamic therapy may be the most commonly practiced type of therapy,” says Daniel L. Buccino, LCSW-C, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It incorporates aspects of psychoanalytic thought in its attempt to look at dynamic patterns of interactions and responses.”

Like other forms of psychotherapy, there is limited risk with psychodynamic therapy. Mainly, patients may struggle with the emotional impact of reliving events and experiences they wish to suppress or keep private. Some studies that have looked at the impact of psychodynamic psychotherapy on a patient’s long-term ability to cope with a condition found that people who use psychodynamic therapy had longer lasting results. And the benefits actually strengthened over time, compared to other forms of psychotherapy.