What Is Psychodynamic Psychiatry?

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  • Written By: Emma Miller
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 09 August 2019
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A medical specialty, psychodynamic psychiatry is concerned with the study and treatment of mental disorders. Its foundation is based on the work of Sigmund Freud, who proposed all human functioning is governed by both conscious and unconscious forces. Treatment for mental disorders, within a psychodynamic context, may involve psychotherapy.

Psychiatrists have several clinical assessment tools at their disposals. Physical examinations may be needed as part of a psychiatrist assessment to exclude any physiological issues that may be causing or mimicking mental disorders. A wide range of treatments may be employed in psychiatry, according to the type and severity of a patient’s mental disorder. These may include psychiatric medications, electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), and psychotherapy. Those with severe conditions may benefit from short-term hospitalization, but typically people with mental disorders receive treatment in an outpatient setting.

Psychodynamic theory is a term first coined by the Austrian physician Sigmund Freud. The psychodynamic approach has been influenced and enriched by the contributions of scientists such as Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erikson. The approach is a spectrum, and includes all theories that view human functioning as a result of the dynamic interaction of one’s personality with subconscious emotions and drives.


The therapeutic process is typically aimed at discovering a person’s subconscious forces. Acknowledging their presence and attempting to understand them is important. According to psychodynamics, a person’s conscious and unconscious drives may be different. The existence of conflicting forces may lead to cognitive dissonance. Psychodynamic therapy is thought to improve this by bringing the unconscious drives into conscious awareness.

In clinical practice, psychodynamic psychiatry is generally associated with the use of psychodynamic therapy. This type of therapy involves the interaction of a patient with a trained psychologist or psychiatrist. Typically, conversation is used in therapy, though sometimes other types of communication, such as art, may be employed. The aim of psychodynamic psychiatry is to discover the root causes of maladaptive behaviors, personality traits, and thought patterns. These are believed to, oftentimes, arise from early life experiences.

The improvement of a patient’s psychological well-being in a psychodynamic psychiatry setting may arise from the establishment of a therapeutic relationship with the therapist. The promotion of self-reflection and self-awareness through therapeutic dialogue is also important for a patient’s psychological health. The duration of a psychodynamic psychiatry treatment plan may vary greatly between patients. Sessions are generally held once a week. Length of treatment may range from two months to a few years, depending on the severity of a person’s condition and the particulars of a case.

Pharmacotherapy may be employed alongside psychodynamic psychiatry treatment approaches. Therapy may also be a stand-alone treatment. Clinical studies indicate psychodynamic psychotherapy is effective as a treatment method for a number of mental disorders. It often leads to behavioral and personality changes that last long after the conclusion of treatment. Disorders related to stress and anxiety, as well as mild to moderate clinical depression, may be helped by psychodynamic psychiatry interventions.


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