What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2020
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Psychodynamic psychotherapy is based on the notion that people repress past traumatic experiences, which can affect their personalities and behaviors in relationships. Psychotherapists use communication with patients to discuss, interpret and treat a variety of emotional issues that patients may not be consciously aware of. It is one of the most common types of psychotherapy used and can be implemented for short-term, as well as for extended periods. A psychodynamic psychotherapist’s job is to ultimately discover a patient’s subjective psychological feelings in order to work with him or her to overcome them and prevent repeating any self-destructive behaviors.

The foundation of this type of psychotherapy rests on the central beliefs that all feelings and behavior have reasons that are often based on past experiences, but people don’t know how to discover those reasons on their own. Psychodynamic psychotherapy believes that people desperately want to control their own psychological pain, so they engage in actions that may ultimately make matters worse in order to master the situations. Psychotherapists are needed in order to provide an unbiased, third party view and help patients become aware of the hidden reasoning behind their emotions and actions.


The process of psychodynamic psychotherapy consists of three tasks: accepting, understanding, and explaining. A therapist needs to be nonjudgmental about a patient’s feelings in order to establish a sense of trust and teamwork. Once a patient feels he or she can be truthful about his or her innermost feelings, a therapist and patient will form what is referred to as a therapeutic alliance. The patient will feel comfortable observing him or herself in order to answer the therapist’s questions.

After a patient feels accepted by his or her therapist, the two can then begin working toward a common goal of learning to understand the patient’s feelings. A psychodynamic psychotherapy patient does not generally recognize his or her own psychological tendencies, so the therapist’s goal is to help the patient discuss and reenact past painful experiences. This process is thought to help the patient become aware of his or her past behaviors, as well as recognize any poor outcomes due to those actions.

The final principle of psychodynamic psychotherapy is the therapist's process of explaining to the patient his or her interpretations of the patient’s feelings and behaviors. The therapist may come up with reasons why a patient engages in certain behaviors or feels certain ways about situations. For instance, after psychodynamic psychotherapy, a therapist may find that a patient who was abused as a child continues to date abusive partners. The therapist would give the patient interpretations of why he or she feels the patient engages in risky, self-defeating behavior and then offer nonjudgmental advice on how to overcome those subjective psychological issues.


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