A Complete Guide to Psychodynamic Therapy

Published on: 27 Jun 2020
Clinically Reviewed by Reshawna Chapple, PhD, LCSW
therapy session in a room with large windows

Whether you are experiencing depression, anxiety, panic, stress-related physical issues or other mental health challenges, it may be helpful to know that there are treatments available.

Among the many psychotherapy options is psychodynamic therapy — a proven form of talk therapy designed to help a person experience relief from certain mental or emotional stress. Psychodynamic therapy is rooted in the idea that present-day problems are connected to unconscious conflicts from your past, and in order to overcome the pain of the present, it is imperative to identify it’s unknown roots in the past.

What Does Psychodynamic Therapy Focus On?

Therapists trained in psychodynamic therapy focus on exploring an individual’s past relationships to get a better picture of current challenges and any emotional patterns that have developed over time. Therapists will review certain life challenges with a person during treatment, including their thoughts, emotions, early-life experiences, and deeply held beliefs to get to the core of a person’s emotional suffering, and over time, help them lead a healthier life. Psychodynamic therapy can be used for individuals, couples, families or in a group setting, and can be conducted over the short- or, more often, long-term.

The hallmarks of psychodynamic therapy include self-reflection and self-examination, with the therapist-patient relationship playing a vital role in treatment. A therapist aims to help a person recognize recurring emotional patterns such as defense mechanisms, and then use that insight to help change patterns that are no longer serving them. This form of therapy is proven effective in treating a wide range of mental health symptoms, including depression, anxiety, and panic disorder. According to the American Psychological Association, the benefits of this type of therapy continue even after treatment has ended.

What Conditions Does Psychodynamic Therapy Help?

If you are experiencing depression or other mental health conditions, your doctor may recommend psychodynamic therapy, sometimes in combination with medication or other treatments. The most common mental health conditions that psychodynamic therapy can help you manage include:

What Can I Expect From Psychodynamic Therapy?

When starting your psychodynamic therapy experience, you will likely meet your therapist several times a week over the span of a few months to several years. Each session will last around 45 to 50 minutes, and your therapist will aim to build a supportive environment where you are able to openly share your thoughts and experiences. While your therapist will ask you to speak freely during sessions, they may interrupt the conversation to ask questions and change the course of the discussion. They likely will not share their opinions on what you are saying, and instead, remain neutral throughout the conversation.

Sessions with your therapist can range across a variety of topics. These subjects may include examining your dreams and fantasies to better understand their meaning, as well as uncovering vulnerable memories that were repressed from conscious thought. A therapist’s role is to help you access and talk through those experiences to better understand how they have influenced your life. Through processing painful feelings, emotional and psychological barriers can be resolved.

What are the Advantages of Psychodynamic Therapy?

This insight-oriented therapy is one of the oldest forms of modern therapy, and as such, is robustly developed and proven to be effective. Psychodynamic therapy is informed by Frued’s psychoanalytic theory and requires time for the benefits to take hold. While it is proven to treat depression and other serious psychological disorders, there are other studied and proven applications of psychodynamic therapy, including use with addiction, anxiety, and eating disorders. Psychodynamic therapy is an effective means for someone to regain meaning in their life and better maintain personal relationships.

When looking for a therapist with a specialty in psychodynamic therapy, it is important to identify the right type of credentials. A psychodynamic therapist is a licensed and experienced professional with a background in psychoanalysis. When you are starting your search for a therapist — whether via professional psychological organizations, providers in your insurance network, or from a reputable online therapy provider — it may take time for you to find a therapist with whom you feel comfortable discussing personal issues. That is a normal, healthy part of the experience.

How do I start Psychodynamic Therapy?

If you believe psychodynamic therapy may be an effective treatment for your anxiety, panic, stress-related physical issues or other mental health issues, there are easy ways to get started on your journey.

After finding the right therapist, you can expect your treatments to span a few months, in some cases, or several years. Your sessions will entail self-reflection and self-examination — all intended to help you experience relief from emotional stress by resolving your unconscious conflicts.

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

Our goal at Talkspace is to provide the most up-to-date, valuable, and objective information on mental health-related topics in order to help readers make informed decisions.

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