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Psychodynamic psychotherapy is an established form of modern talk therapy that allows you to gain a deeper understanding of yourself and the way you relate to others.

What is psychodynamic psychotherapy?

Psychodynamic therapy interprets mental and emotional processes from a psychological perspective. Traditional psychoanalysis is rooted in object relations, ego psychology, and self-psychology. Psychoanalysis was developed as a simpler, shorter alternative. 

The goal of psychodynamic therapy is to address the foundations and formations of psychological processes. By doing so, it seeks to reduce symptoms and improve people’s quality of life.

Core principals of Psychodynamic therapy 

During psychodynamic therapy, therapists help people gain insight into their lives and present-day problems. In addition, they evaluate the patterns that people develop over time. When a person is in therapy, a therapist reviews the following life factors with them:

  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Early-life experiences
  • Beliefs

It is helpful for people to recognize recurring patterns in order to understand how they cope with distress or avoid distress. As a result of this insight, they may be able to begin changing those patterns.

Psychodynamic therapy is centered on the therapeutic relationship. This can illustrate how a person interacts with their friends and loved ones. The transference process in therapy can also be used to determine how early relationships have impacted a person’s life today. Transference is the transferring one’s feelings for a parent, for example, onto the therapist. The intimate look at interpersonal relationships can help people understand their role in relationship patterns. They may be empowered to change that dynamic as a result.

Individuals, couples, families, or groups can benefit from psychodynamic therapy. The treatment can be used for a short period of time or for a long period of time. As many as 25 sessions can be required for brief psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic therapy may take two years or longer.

Accessing the unconscious

Defense mechanisms are developed by people. The unconscious may store painful memories, feelings, and experiences as a defense mechanism. Among the most common defense mechanisms are:

  • Denial
  • Repression
  • Rationalization

People who seek psychodynamic therapy are encouraged to express their emotions, desires, and fears freely. Being open can help reveal vulnerable feelings that have been pushed to the background. Psychodynamic theory states that unconscious thoughts influence behavior. The defense mechanisms reduce or disappear once vulnerable or painful feelings are processed.

Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM)

In 2006, the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual (PDM) was published. A conceptual framework for human psychological functioning is its aim. Additionally, it is intended to serve as an alternative to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM). In the DSM, mental health conditions are characterized by observable symptoms. In contrast, the PDM describes subjective experiences.

Improvisational psychodynamic music therapy

Psychodynamic music therapy is one approach to psychodynamic therapy. A variety of instruments are explored in this innovative and creative form of therapy. Instruments used include guitars, drums, and pianos. Music therapy of this type is non-directive. No musical background is required. Rather, people are encouraged to express themselves through music in any way they like.

An experienced music therapist can identify various personality traits and emotional issues. By observing how a person in therapy creates music, they can accomplish this. During the process of building their therapeutic alliance, they also make music together. This can strengthen their bond and allow the therapist to access deeper communication tools. Music can soothe people with high levels of anxiety or fear. During difficult therapeutic sessions, it may provide a sense of release.

The benefits of psychodynamic counselling 

Attending psychodynamic counselling can have the following benefits:

  • Understand yourself better and why you behave the way you do
  • Under stress, they respond more effectively and are more resilient 
  • Feel at peace with your past and more available to your present
  • Your relationships are more connected and less reactive. 

What issues are suited for psychodynamic therapy?

A recent review of years of research on the psychodynamic approach found it effective in treating depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and unexplained medical symptoms. Those with borderline personality disorder also benefited from long-term treatment. 

However, it can also help with issues such as:

  • Loss, grief, and bereavement
  • Feeling lonely
  • A low sense of self-worth or self-esteem
  • OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder)
  • Fears and phobias
  • Problems with relationships
  • Anxiety
  • Unexplained medical conditions 
  • Unbalanced work-life balance
  • Issues at work. 

Do you offer psychodynamic therapy near me? 

Our central London locations offer both long-term and brief psychodynamic therapy. Book your first appointment now on Expert therapy, or in the City by calling or using our online booking form. In addition to in-person sessions, we also offer online sessions if that is more convenient for you. 

The psychodynamic approach to counselling

‘Psychodynamic’ can also refer to a range of therapies derived from psychodynamic thinking, as well as a form of talk therapy.  

Having a classically trained psychodynamic counsellor can mean exploring negative coping patterns (‘defense mechanisms’), unearthing repressed memories, and exploring dreams. Using a psychodynamic approach means looking at your past to understand your present.

What is transference? 

In psychodynamic practice, the client-therapist relationship can be more formal than in other therapies. By focusing on not bringing their own personality into your sessions, your therapist can create a space for ‘transference.’ It involves responding to your psychodynamic counsellor as if they were a significant other from your past. It is possible to feel sudden rage or attraction towards them, for instance.

You can gain a deeper understanding of your own development from child to adult, and any unresolved issues you may have with others through transference. 

Further reading

  • The psychodynamic approach – what therapies use it, and is it for you?
  • Is psychodynamic therapy right for you?
  • What is psychodynamic therapy?
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy vs CBT – Which to choose?
  • Which type of therapy is right for me? How to choose between different therapy approaches
  • Jacobs, Michael. Psychodynamic Counselling in Action. 3rd Edition,


Frequently asked questions

What are some famous psychodynamic psychotherapists?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy and its concepts were developed by a number of famous psychologists and psychoanalysts who questioned Freud’s theories. Carl Jung, Melanie Klein, Alfred Adler, and Otto Rank are among them.


What are defense mechanisms?

‘Defense mechanisms’ refer to the negative coping patterns you engage in. For example, dissociation is when you avoid stressful situations to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Or denial is when you pretend things are okay. 


How is the psychodynamic approach different to other talk therapies?

Timekeeping and a therapeutic contract are used in conjunction with strict boundaries

In contrast to other modern therapies, your therapist might be more reserved

During open-ended, longer-term therapy, you decide when to stop working with your therapist when you think it’s time to move on.

Each session will include a discussion of the past

Dreams can be discussed with some psychodynamic therapists.