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What is Psychodynamic Therapy?

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis.
A woman in psychodynamic therapy.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 16 July 2014
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Psychodynamic therapy is based on classic psychoanalytic models developed by people like Sigmund Freud. It doesn’t have to just be Freudian therapy, and some other forms of psychodynamic therapy include Jungian therapy and Adlerian therapy. No matter what the theoretical orientation of the therapist, there are some things in common with this form of therapy.

It is important to recognize that there are some differences between psychoanalysis and psychodynamics. First, only people trained in psychoanalysis are encouraged to call themselves psychoanalysts. Any therapist may practice psychodynamic therapy. Second, therapists may use psychodynamics with other models. For instance they might integrate some cognitive behavioral therapy with Freudian work.

Most of the time, the goal in psychodynamic therapy is to let the person access the unconscious so that he or she may come to terms with those repressed thoughts and feelings that influence behavior, or alternately to learn things missed when development was arrested by trauma. The therapist in this setting is supposed to avoid letting his or her personality influence the client, and will specifically avoid making personal statements. In fact, therapists may not say much and they may not even face the client. Clients might use the typical “couch,” though this is not always the case.

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For the therapist, keeping personality out of the equation can be challenging, but one way to do this is by not responding to personal questions. A client might ask a therapist if he or she is married, to which the therapist might respond, “What makes you ask that?” The therapist essentially uses questioning to keep the client focused on self.

Yet this form of therapy often depends to a degree on transference, on the client projecting his or her feelings onto the therapist. The therapist is not supposed to counter-transfer, but it still frequently occurs. There are different schools of thought on whether it is possible for therapists to avoid bringing some of themselves into psychodynamic therapy or occasionally projecting their own thoughts and feelings onto their clients. The goal though is not to let this interfere with the client’s search for understanding and development of self.

The usual model for this form of therapy is that clients will spend at least a couple of years meeting at least once a week, to work with a therapist. There is also a model called brief psychodynamic therapy, where therapy occurs over a shorter span of time. The therapist must keep focus rigidly on personal work. This brief form of therapy may be effective for some people, since it’s believed that many people who begin this process are able to carry on by themselves after a while and continue on a path to self-development or self-revelation without the assistance of a therapist.

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