Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Butterfly on a fingertip

What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

Psychodynamic therapy can be referred to as the “talking cure” meaning that the act of talking about problems can help people find ways to solve them in the long term, and bear them in the short term.

The hallmarks of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy include:

1) Childhood experiences shape who we are as adults.

It is important to understand how the experiences we had as children impact our present thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  If we don’t understand those influences it can be very difficult to overcome them.

2) Much of our mental life if unconscious , that is to say that it is happening outside of our awareness.  Exploration of unconscious mental life helps bring to the surface thoughts and feelings that produce unwanted symptoms.  By exploring the unconscious content, one has greater conscious choice in how to respond to it.

3) Therapeutic alliance - The relationship with the therapist is of primary importance. The therapist uses his or her experience of the patient to help gain a greater understanding of the patient and the struggles that they are facing.  When someone feels genuinely understood in an empathic way, healing occurs.

4) Symptoms and behaviors serve multiple functions stemming from complex forces which are often unconscious. People often feel ashamed of the symptoms or behaviors they are exhibiting, but the truth is that those symptoms and behaviors have arisen to help manage negative, and often overwhelming, emotions.  Psychodynamic psychotherapy seeks to help patients understand the meaning behind their troublesome symptoms and behaviors.  For example, people who act out with anger in problematic ways often do so to cover up an extraordinary amount of pain.  By helping a patient to heal from the pain, the negative behaviors no longer feel necessary and do not create as much chaos in one’s life.

5) Long-term – Psychodynamic psychotherapy is often long term, meeting once per week for at least months, sometimes longer. Given how complex each individual is, and all the content that needs to be explored as mentioned above, it is necessary to spend adequate time to explore the many areas of a person’s mind and experiences.

Merits of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

  • Psychodynamic therapy is an option for patients with a variety of mental health disorders including, depression, anxiety, trauma, PTSD, and personality disorders.
  • Several reviews suggest that psychodynamic therapy is as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
  • Research suggests that psychodynamic psychotherapy has benefits that increase with time, even after the therapy has ended.

For more information, please see the attached article detailing empirical evidence for psychodynamic psychotherapy.

American Psychologist - The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy by Jonathan Shelder

You can also check out this interview with Jonathan Shelder on Psychology Today.

Psychodynamic Therapy 101

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