What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is used to address many mental health conditions across varying treatment needs.

What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a form of behavioral therapy built on the foundations of classic psychoanalytic therapy. Both models are rooted in the work of Sigmund Freud.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is a talk therapy approach that involves helping someone who wants to overcome a mental health condition in order to achieve a deeper understanding of their emotions and other mental processes. Psychodynamic psychotherapy works by helping you gain deeper insight into how you feel and think, allowing you to understand better how your thoughts and emotions contribute to your symptoms.1

psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychodynamic Therapy Techniques

Psychodynamic therapy techniques have proven effective for many mental health concerns, including stress-related conditions, depression, panic disorders, and anxiety. Research from the American Psychological Association indicates the effects of psychodynamic therapies continue to grow after treatment has ended.

Tools Utilized

A skilled psychodynamic therapist will often use a range of tools or techniques to help improve the outcomes of treatment sessions. These include tools such as ink blot tests, analyzing Freudian slips, dream analysis, and free association.

Free association is likely the most important and most widely used psychodynamic psychotherapy technique. Using free association as part of therapy sessions ensures that the therapist does not ask leading questions or “guide” the client to a particular epiphany or a-ha moment. Free association encourages clients to move from one subject to the next voluntarily as the thoughts enter their minds.2

What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Used For?

Psychodynamic counseling can help people manage symptoms of many various mental health conditions. The psychodynamic therapy approach aims to promote self-reflection, insight, and personal growth to help the patient better understand the roots of their thoughts and feelings.

As psychodynamic psychotherapy encourages people to speak freely about how they feel and why they feel that way, it can also help people develop safer and more effective ways to manage emotional health. This, in turn, can help them create better ways to deal with potential other stressors in their life that could be co-occurring, like family stress, workplace issues, and other mental health struggles as well.

Mental Health Conditions Psychotherapy Can Help With

Many research studies show psychodynamic psychotherapy is effective for people with many mental health concerns, including:3
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Interpersonal problems
  • Personality disorders
  • Psychological distress
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Substance use disorders

Main Goals of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic therapy relies heavily on open interpersonal communication between a psychodynamic therapist and their client. If communication is closed or guarded, achieving the main goals of psychodynamic therapy during treatment becomes difficult. The psychodynamic psychotherapy approach has several goals integrated into a couple of primary desired outcomes.4

Understanding Emotions

A key goal of psychodynamic therapy is understanding and acknowledging emotions. Understanding your emotions is critical to many other steps in the psychodynamic therapy process. Because this treatment model relies on uncovering and examining the root thoughts and feelings that lead to specific behaviors, it is crucial to “unpack” emotions that often lie deep within unconscious thought.

A fundamental assumption of psychodynamic psychotherapy is that today’s problems lie in the past. In other words, mental health struggles and the struggles that lead to drug and alcohol abuse are trapped within the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is the part of our minds that we are incapable of accessing voluntarily, even if we want to. The psychodynamic theory follows that for healing to occur, you must bring these emotions to the forefront to manage them better. 5

Recognizing Patterns

As you learn more about and better understand your emotions, you will begin identifying patterns. These patterns typically present in emotional responses, behaviors, and relationships. Developing an awareness of the negative patterns in all these areas makes it possible to learn more about why you make certain choices.

Identifying how patterns of thought and behavior lead to challenges with mental or behavioral health conditions, such as addiction, gives you the power to achieve change.

The third goal of psychodynamic therapy, improving relationships, evolves out of understanding your emotions and identifying the patterns that lead to harm.

Different Types of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

While all types of psychodynamic therapy have roots in classic psychoanalysis, each type has unique features.

Brief Psychodynamic Therapy

Brief psychodynamic therapy is a less intensive version of traditional psychodynamic treatment. With this type of psychodynamic treatment, you will meet with your therapist one or two times each week for a limited number of sessions. Brief psychodynamic therapy typically lasts between six and eight months. Traditional psychotherapy models generally include more frequent sessions and more extended treatment duration.6

Dynamic Interpersonal Therapy (DIT)

Dynamic interpersonal therapy was initially utilized as a treatment for mood disorders. DIT is limited to sixteen sessions, making it shorter than other psychodynamic therapy models. During DIT, patients learn how their mental health symptoms relate to patterns in their behavior and relationships. Studies suggest DIT is an effective treatment option for veterans with anxiety and depression and others with depression symptoms.7

Psychodynamic Art and Music Therapies

Psychodynamic art or music therapy is a nontraditional form of psychodynamic therapy. It encourages the expression of emotions and feeling through the lens of art or music. Artwork or music created as part of the session is discussed to find meaning behind the expressions in the pieces. This form of psychodynamic therapy may be most beneficial for individuals who are uncomfortable talking or verbalizing.

Long-Term Psychodynamic Therapy

Research suggests long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy may be the most beneficial type of treatment for certain mental health conditions that require a longer treatment duration. Psychodynamic psychotherapy for personality disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder lasts for a minimum of two years. Long-term psychotherapies may also help with depression that has not responded well to other treatment models. 8
Potential Limitations

What to Know About Your First Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Session

When considering the best therapeutic model to help address mental health concerns, it is essential to consider any potential limitations to a particular treatment approach. While psychodynamic psychotherapy is an excellent tool for many mental health concerns, it is not without drawbacks that could limit its effectiveness for some treatment needs.

Potential Limitations

Examples of these limitations include an over-emphasis on childhood experiences, an increased risk of transference, a heavy reliance on the therapist’s interpretation of a client’s communication, and the amount of time typically required for psychodynamic therapy to achieve the best outcomes.

Despite its limitations, however, psychodynamic psychotherapy is proven highly effective in many cases, so its potential benefits should not be disregarded when learning about various therapy models.

Relationship Development

The first few sessions of psychodynamic therapy often involve relationship development. A strong patient-therapist relationship is vital for any treatment to achieve positive outcomes. If you do not trust your therapist, the basic techniques and tools used in psychodynamic psychotherapy cannot be effective. Early sessions will also explore your childhood, family history, previous therapy experiences, current symptoms, and treatment goals.

When choosing a therapist, finding a provider you feel comfortable being open and honest with is essential. A key component of psychodynamic psychotherapy is open communication. It is also important to choose a location where the overall environment is safe and welcoming, allowing you to want to actively engage in your treatment sessions.

Find Help at Essence Healthcare

There are many potential benefits of psychodynamic psychotherapy. Let us help you learn more. Contact a member of our admissions team to take your first steps towards healing. Find help and support at Essence Healthcare today.

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Questions About Treatment?

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