Psychodynamic Therapy

What Is Psychodynamic Therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is similar to psychoanalytic therapy in that it is an in-depth form of talk therapy based on the theories and principles of psychoanalysis.  But psychodynamic therapy is less focused on the patient-therapist relationship, because it is equally focused on the patient’s relationship with his or her external world. Often, psychodynamic therapy is shorter than psychoanalytic therapy with respect to the frequency and number of sessions, but this is not always the case.

When It's Used

Psychodynamic therapy is primarily used to treat depression and other serious psychological disorders, especially in those who have lost meaning in their lives and have difficulty forming or maintaining personal relationships. Studies have found that other effective applications of psychodynamic therapy include addiction, social anxiety disorder, and eating disorders.

What to Expect

With help from the therapist, the patient is encouraged to speak freely about anything that comes to mind, including current issues, fears, desires, dreams and fantasies.  The goal is to experience a remission of symptoms but also derive such benefits as increased self-esteem, better use of their own talents and abilities, and an improved capacity for developing and maintaining more satisfying relationships. The patient may experience ongoing improvements after therapy has ended. Although short-term therapy of one year or less may be sufficient for some patients, long-term therapy may be necessary for others to gain lasting benefits.

How It Works

The theories and techniques that distinguish psychodynamic therapy from other types of therapy include a focus on recognizing, acknowledging, understanding, expressing, and overcoming negative and contradictory feelings and repressed emotions in order to improve the patient’s interpersonal experiences and relationships. This includes helping the patient understand how repressed earlier emotions affect current decision-making, behavior, and relationships. Psychodynamic therapy also aims to help those who are aware of and understand the origins of their social difficulties, but are not able to overcome their problems on their own. Patients learn to analyze and resolve their current issues and change their behavior in current relationships through this deep exploration and analysis of earlier experiences and emotions.

What to Look for in a Psychodynamic Therapist

A psychodynamic therapist is a licensed, experienced social worker, psychotherapist, or other mental health or medical professional with advanced training in psychoanalysis. In addition to finding someone with the appropriate educational background and relevant experience, look for a psychodynamic therapist with whom you feel comfortable discussing personal issues.


Shedler, J. The Efficacy of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy. American Psychologist. February-March 2010;65(2):98–109.

Khantzian, E.J. Reflections on treating addictive disorders: a psychodynamic perspective. American Journal on Addictions. May-June 2012;21:274–279.

Driessen, E., Van, H.L., Don, F.J., et al. The efficacy of cognitive-behavioral therapy and psychodynamic therapy in the outpatient treatment of major depression: a randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Psychiatry. September 2013;170(9):1041–1050.