What is psychodynamic therapy?

‘Psychodynamic’ relates to the theories of Freud and post-Freudians. It suggests that there are close links to individual parts of the personality. These links are formed through past and present relationships which therefore consciously or unconsciously influence relationships and connections in the ‘internal world’ (the mind) and the ‘external world’ (people and objects).

Based on this, Freud believed that to truly solve human problems, we must find the root of the problems in the unconscious mind. The unconscious mind houses our innermost beliefs, thoughts, and patterns of behaviour developed in childhood. It is upon this foundation that Psychodynamic Theory is established. Many of the themes in the psychodynamic approach mirror Freud’s theories:

  • The unconscious mind controls human behaviour and emotion
  • Every behaviour is influenced by something
  • Childhood experiences shape who we become as adults

These theories have formed the basis of psychodynamic therapy and greatly influenced the methods and techniques that are used.

When looking at addiction, it is argued that the addiction gets in the way of the underlying structures.

Psychodynamic therapy can help an individual battling addiction identify their underlying cause for using.

By working through their emotions with a therapist (including unresolved conflicts, dysfunctional relationships, and much more), individuals can reduce their chances of feeling triggered to turn to drugs or alcohol again.

Psychodynamic therapy allows individuals to address the deep-seated reasons why they use and provide ways to manage that impulse. Addressing these emotions head on in therapy will lower the chances of relapsing in recovery.

Psychodynamic therapy can work well for anyone suffering from any type of addiction as well as anxiety, depression, and panic disorders.

Often people don’t understand why they behave in a certain way. For example, someone leaving a relationship early. There might not be any issues happening in the relationship but the individual leaves the situation anyway. This type of behaviour often makes people question why they do it. This is the type of situation where psychodynamic therapy would help to discover links between the past and the present, to find out why the individual does this when they’re in a relationship.

It could be because something happened in their past which may have made them scared of rejection which is why they always leave before the other person.

This is only one example of how psychodynamic therapy can be used to understand certain behaviours.

Another example could be not understanding why something doesn’t work for you. It could be something which might seem normal. For example, someone might say “oh dating doesn’t work for me.” An individual may accept and present themselves in this way. However, this isn't necessarily the case. There is often a deep-rooted cause in the unconscious of the individual which can be addressed in psychodynamic therapy to find out why.

In a psychodynamic therapy session, the individual will be sat with a highly trained counsellor. The counsellor will have a specific ethical framework to run the session alongside.

The relationship that is formed between the individual and the counsellor is extremely important with this type of therapy. The relationship which forms often reflects other relationships that the individual has outside of the therapy session. By the counsellor assessing the relationship which forms between them and the client, it allows for them to better understand how the individual behaves with others in their life.

It is a key element to look at the individuals past experiences and their life. The counsellor can then start to assess if there are any connections with the clients past and situations that are happening in the present.

The counsellor ultimately is trying to get the client to make their own links between things that have happened in the past and how that is affecting present relationships. As well as looking at the relationship the client has with the counsellor to assess behaviours.

It is helping bring the unconscious into the conscious.

It is important to identify themes within that person and being able to differentiate the past from the present. The individual must be able to separate these.

Core aspects of the work include:

• Addressing avoidance defences

• Exploring emotions

• Focussing on the therapy relationship

• Identifying recurring themes

• Differentiating past from present

Focusing on recognising and expressing feelings

  • Recognising how we try to avoid thoughts and feelings that are distressing
  • Identifying recurring themes and patterns
  • Talking about past experience and how it might impact currently
  • Exploring how we relate to others

There are many benefits to using psychodynamic therapy some of which are listed below:

  • Increasing self esteem
  • Developing the ability to have more satisfying relationships
  • Increasing confidence in personal abilities
  • Increasing understanding of self and others
  • Recognition and toleration of a wider range of emotions
  • Gradually becoming more able to face issues and difficulties
  • Benefits that endure and increase with time