Psychodynamic therapy (or psychoanalytic psychotherapy) is a therapeutic approach that helps the client to reveal their hidden and true feelings so that they can gain a better understanding of themselves. There is a focus on the subconscious, which is the client’s unconscious mind. Feelings held by the unconscious mind are believed to be too painful to be faced, therefore the individual utilises defenses (e.g. transference, denial) to protect themselves from these painful feelings. Psychodynamic therapy assumes that the client seeks therapy when their defenses become too distressing. The aim of therapy is to increase awareness in the individual and in doing so, reduce their distress.
Psychodynamic therapy was developed from theories of Freud, Melanie Klein and Jung. Theories such as the Oedipus and Electra complex, and the oral, anal and latency stages of child development are adopted by modern psychodynamic therapists as metaphors of the client’s experience rather than taken literally. For instance, these theories have informed knowledge that past issues can affect our current circumstances. We may repress our very early experiences and may not remember them; however our impulsive and more instinctual self (the Id) can still access these memories. For instance, a person who may have always been rewarded with sweets as a child may not consciously realise that they repeat this behaviour when as an adult, they reach for the tub of ice cream whenever they feel depressed or want cheering up.
Traditional psychodynamic therapy (or psychoanalysis) is usually a long-term therapy where the client can meet with the therapist a few times a week, however the client and therapist can also agree on a focused and time-limited contract e.g. 8 weekly sessions to address a particular issue.
As with most therapies, the psychodynamic therapist provides unconditional acceptance of the client. The therapeutic relationship is key to positive change and the therapist utilises the safety that the client feels within this relationship to gently challenge them about their subconscious. This is done through the therapist’s interpretations of how they see the situation in order to help the client make sense of what is going on.
Psychodynamic therapy is backed by research for its effectiveness in improving conditions such as depression. It is a more in-depth therapy that focuses on underlying issues and on aspects of the client’s personality, and past and present relationships. It can be quite intense; however openness and trust between the client and therapist can ease initial anxieties.