Home Health & Wellness What Is Psychodynamic Therapy And How Does It Work?

What Is Psychodynamic Therapy And How Does It Work?

What Is Psychodynamic Therapy And How Does It Work?

Disclaimer: The post is developed in partnership with BetterHelp

Psychodynamic therapy is focused on uncovering the unique perspective of the person receiving therapy and what led to their particular issues or stumbling blocks. With roots in Freudian psychoanalysis, this form of talk therapy tends to take a holistic approach to nurturing mental health and often involves delving into a person’s deep-seated or even subconscious drives and desires. 

While looking at psychodynamic therapy it’s important to remember that therapy comes in many different shapes and formats. Finding the right kind of therapy for your personal mental health goals is a process, including whether to participate in therapy in person or engage in online psychodynamic therapy or another form of online therapy. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at some psychodynamic therapy techniques and how this form of therapy can differ from other modern talk therapy modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

How Psychodynamic Therapy Often Differs From CBT

Psychodynamic therapy can differ in fundamental ways from cognitive behavioral therapy, which is among today’s most widely used therapy methods. In broad strokes, cognitive behavioral therapy can be described as a more problem-based therapy that aims to help reduce the symptoms contributing to a person’s discomfort and anxiety. 

Another difference is the schedule for treatment using CBT tends to be more structured in its timeline. A CBT treatment course generally lasts from 6 to 20 sessions. These sessions also tend to involve homework between therapy sessions, whereby the person seeking treatment applies the CBT strategies they’re being taught. 

Modern psychodynamic therapy isn’t as designed to fit within a specific time frame in the way CBT often is. Psychodynamic therapy also involves free-ranging topics and techniques, such as free association. Typically, psychodynamic therapy tends to be more open-ended and follows the patient’s needs to explore their subconscious mind and how it is influencing their current behavior patterns. The process includes delving into childhood experiences and past trauma, which are viewed as the root cause of the distress and anxiety the person is experiencing. 

Psychodynamic Therapy Techniques

While both psychodynamic therapy and CBT are designed to help improve overall mental health, they differ in their format, philosophy, and approach. By looking at some common psychodynamic therapy techniques, it’s possible to learn even more about what to expect while engaging in a psychodynamic therapy session.  

The Free Association Technique

Free association is perhaps the most well-known psychodynamic therapy technique. The therapist encourages the person being treated to freely discuss whatever is on their mind, including recent events, dreams, desires, fears, and conflicts they’ve had with others. By letting any thoughts and feelings bubble up to the surface, the intention is to better access the subconscious thoughts and desires that are driving the person. 

Catharsis Technique

In psychodynamic therapy, catharsis is the processing of emotions to help the person being treated get to a point where they can release the negative events from their past. With its emphasis on looking at the impact of past events, psychodynamic therapy can be effective in treating people who are holding onto trauma from past events. 


Through the process of transference, the therapist can model what a healthy relationship can look like for the person being treated who tends to transfer emotions onto the therapist. By engaging in a healthy relationship with their therapist and realizing their part in transferring their emotions onto a person or situation, the person being treated can then bring this positive experience to their relationships. 

In addition to transference, catharsis, and free association, a psychodynamic therapy session may involve techniques such as working through, Clarification and Interpretation, and Content vs. Process. All of these techniques are focused on teaching the person being treated to feel safe in accessing their feelings and uncovering their subconscious drives, which leads to the release of negative emotions.  

The Takeaway on Psychodynamic Therapy

It’s a healthy step to look at different modalities when considering entering into therapy. When looking at the pros and cons of psychodynamic therapy, keep in mind the nature of this form of therapy and who it is recommended for. 

For some, CBT doesn’t do enough to delve into the underlying issues and specific causes that could have led to the person’s mental health challenges. For others, psychodynamic therapy doesn’t do enough to address the here-and-now issues a person is facing.

There are pros and cons to weigh in both formats. No matter what form of therapy you choose, know that there’s help out there. You don’t have to do this alone.

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