Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is a talking therapy that is closely related to Psychoanalytical psychotherapy, though combines more areas into the therapy process.

This talking therapy aims to bring to light thoughts and memories in the unconscious mind. It works on the idea that past trauma is pushed to the back of the mind, with the conscious mind neglecting to process them.

This may cause long-term problems though, when a person develops defence mechanisms to cope with the issues. This tends to be a shorter-term therapy than others.

Not to be confused with Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy – a similar, yet different – form of talking therapy. You can read about their differences here.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy involves looking deep into the mind

The Science Behind Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is based on the concept that some experiences in life live outside of the conscious mind – known as the unconscious mind.

These experiences continue to have an effect on a person’s life, including into adulthood. If there are negative past experiences, it may lead to psychological disturbance.

The idea is that by looking into the unconscious mind, that a person can process thoughts and experiences in a more positive way, that results in a healthier thought pattern and overall mental wellbeing.

To achieve the goals of this treatment, a trained therapist uses a vast array of techniques. This therapy is based on the theory of psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud, but also takes into account further research from more recent years.

How Does Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Work?

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is typically a short-term therapy – with sessions very rarely exceeding 15-20 sessions. Sometimes as few as 6 sessions are used.

In a typical session, a patient is encouraged to freely speak what is on their mind – whether it is current issues facing them, their hopes for the future or even their recent dreams.

The therapist will attempt to notice patterns and common themes in a person’s thoughts, as well as identifying any potential causes of the problems facing a person. The therapist will also place particular significance on reviewing the relationship between them and the patient – as this can offer clues as to how the patient interacts with those in their day-to-day life.

When a person needs help unravelling their past, a therapist can use various techniques to help an individual reach their unconscious mind. Psychodynamic Psychotherapy generally looks to improve a person’s current life, unlike psychoanalytical psychotherapy – which delves more into the past.

The aim with Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is to make a patient understand how their unconscious mind affects the way they think and act in the present day. By doing this, the hope is that the patient will have the tools to develop healthier relationships, and come to terms with previous events.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy will usually run for a maximum of 16 sessions. If using the NHS, a person will normally have between 6 and 16 sessions.

But if an individual seeks private treatment, they will be able to undertake Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for as long as they like. However, psychoanalytical psychotherapy is preferred in this instance, as it follows a very similar science to Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, albeit with a long-term approach.

It is important for a patient to be committed to the therapeutic process, to maximise their chances of success. Most people leave Psychodynamic Psychotherapy with a vast improvement in their symptoms.

Psychodynamic psychotherapy usually provides a person with long-term benefits. Relapse is possible, but the skills taught should result in relapse being avoided.

When is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Useful?

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is commonly used in the treatment of many different mental health conditions. Just some of the mental health conditions that can be treated with Psychodynamic Psychotherapy include Depression, Anxiety, Substance-Related Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders, eating disorders and trauma-related conditions.

Particular traits that are associated with someone who may undergo a course of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy includes relationship difficulties, a loss of meaning in life, unexplained low mood, and potential for unprocessed traumas.

It can also be feasibly used by someone who doesn’t have a mental health condition – yet wants to explore their thoughts and deeper mind.

In theory, any individual suffering from a mental health condition can benefit from Psychodynamic Psychotherapy, though not everyone will find it beneficial.

How effective is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

In general, Psychodynamic Psychotherapy seems to be effective in most cases. It is commonly used for Depression – and various studies suggest it is effective for this use [1].

As a short-term measure, it consistently shown efficacy across multiple studies, as a large meta-analysis found [2]. One study also found that Psychodynamic Psychotherapy led to long-term and positive changes in the defence mechanisms for those with Anxiety and personality disorders [3].

Somatic disorders have proven hard to treat, though Psychodynamic Psychotherapy has shown positive results when treating these conditions [4].

But it seems in complex mental health conditions like severe depression or some cases of personality disorders, that a longer-term therapy, such as psychoanalytical psychotherapy – is more preferable than the short-term nature of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy [5].

However, many object to Freud’s theories – to which Psychodynamic psychotherapy is based on. It has been defended, but it is a common source of debate [6].

While many people will find their symptoms lessen as a result of this treatment, Psychoanalytical Psychotherapy is not for everyone. Everyone, and their individual circumstances, is unique.

How to find a therapist?

It is recommended that you contact your GP and inform them of your problems. They will refer you to the relevant mental health team.

If you are aiming to use the private sector, you could ask your GP or someone you know for a recommendation. You can also look online – the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have a therapist directory on their site.

See Also


If talking therapy alone hasn’t worked, then your Doctor may suggest adding a medication.

There are many other types of therapy, you can see an exhaustive list of them here.


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[1]      Leichsenring, F (2005) Are psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapies effective? A review of empirical data, The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 86 (3), p841-868.

[2]      Driessen, E., Cuijpers, P., de Maat, S., Abbass, A., Frans de Jonghe, J. & Dekker, J. (2010). The efficacy of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy for depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review. 30 (1), p25-36.

[3]     Bond, M. & Perry, J. C. (2004). Long-Term Changes in Defense Styles With Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for Depressive, Anxiety, and Personality Disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 161 (9), p1665-1671.

[4]     Abbass, A., Kisely, S., & Kroenke, K. (2009). Short-Term Psychodynamic Psychotherapy for Somatic Disorders. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 78 (9912), p265 – 274.

[5]     Leichsenring, F., Abbass, A., Luyten, P., Hilsenroth, M.J., & Rabung, S. (2013). The emerging evidence for long-term psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic psychiatry, 41 (3), p361-84 .

[6]     Anestis, M., Anestis, J., & Lilienfeld, S. (2011). When it comes to evaluating psychodynamic therapy, the devil is in the details. American Psychologist, 66(2), p149–151.