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What is Psychodynamic Therapy?


What it is

Psychodynamic psychotherapy has its roots in the psychoanalytic therapy that was developed by Sigmund Freud. It focuses on changing present behaviors by exploring early life events.

Who needs it

Psychodynamic therapy (either alone or combined with other treatments) successfully addresses a wide variety of psychiatric disorders, from depressive and anxiety to substance abuse and eating disorders.

How it works

The discussion of the patient’s childhood occurs in the setting of the patient-therapist relationship, termed the ‘therapeutic alliance’. This foundation of trust, both in the therapist and in the process of the patient and therapist working together, is the single most important aspect of psychodynamic therapy. In this context, patients are free to revisit childhood experiences and examine how they affect present relationships. By playing out these dynamics in a structured environment, therapists can help patients effect change in their relationships outside the therapist’s office.

Where to go

Psychiatrists learn psychodynamic therapy as part of their training and can provide it to clients. However, they usually will refer a patient to a therapist, such as a licensed clinical social worker or a psychologist. The timing of therapy can vary widely. Frequency can be from multiple times a week to monthly and last just a few visits to several years.

What to expect

Patients undergoing psychodynamic therapy show better responses to psychiatric medications than patients receiving only medication.

What could happen

The process of remembering early-life traumatic events can be unpleasant for many people, but the unpleasantness is only a temporary part of therapy.

Types of Treatment Options

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  1. Hales, R; Yudofsky, S; Roberts, L. (2014) The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, Sixth Edition. Chapter 30.
  2. Leichsenring F, Luyten P, Hilsenroth MJ, et al. Psychodynamic therapy meets evidence-based medicine: a systematic review using updated criteria. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015;2(7):648-60.
  3. Gabbard GO. (2009) Textbook of Psychotherapeutic Treatments. Chapter 2. DOI:
  4. Krupnick JL, Sotsky SM, Simmens S, et al. (1996). The role of the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy outcome: findings in the National Institute of Mental Health Treatment of Depression Collaborative Research Program. J Consult Clin Psychol 64(3):532–539.