Psychodynamic Therapy – Techniques, Examples, and Benefits

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Psychodynamic therapy is based on theories and techniques related to some of the most famous psychologists of our time. Melanie Kline, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Anna Freud are all major contributors to this therapeutic theory and practice. The overarching goal is to bring the subconscious’s emotions, beliefs, fears, and desires to the conscious.

Psychodynamic Therapy and Techniques

Psychodynamic Therapy places great emphasis on the client’s childhood and past to help make sense of the client’s current circumstances. Most sessions involve the client “directing” the therapy session by speaking freely about what is on their mind. The therapist’s job is to listen for patterns and underlying messages and bring these subconscious issues to the surface of the session. This allows the client to understand themselves, their emotions, and their behaviors in a more comprehensive manner.

Typically, the client and the therapist meet once a week for about 12-15 sessions. Talk therapy is the main conduit for communication, though music and art can also be utilized for expression.

There are many techniques used within this therapeutic practice. Below are a few of the most popular techniques.

Free Association – The client discusses whatever is on their mind. Free Association can be elicited using art, Rorschach inkblots, or simply talking freely. The therapist attempts to draw conclusions about the content and the underlying messages. Together, the client and the therapist discuss these discoveries and create meaning.

Dream Analysis – A lot of symbolism exists in our dreams and represents subconscious fears, anxieties, desires, and more. Carl Jung focused most of his career on dream analysis, influencing its importance in therapy today. Clients might discuss a dream they consider benign on the surface, but after discussion with their therapist, they might discover greater meaning they had not previously considered. 

Clarification and Interpretation – The therapist will continuously clarify the client’s thoughts and ideas to make sure he understands the client. Clarifying also helps the client hear themselves being reflected back, a form of validation. The therapist will then share their interpretation of the ideas emerging from the client’s subconscious and discuss with them how those thoughts and emotions may be affecting the client’s conscious life.

Psychodynamic Therapy Examples

A client who grew up with an abusive parent may have replicated this relationship in the present by marrying an abusive partner. Subconsciously, they may have chosen this partner because while the abusive behavior may be abhorrent, it is also familiar. This familiarity might bring a certain amount of comfort, as contradictory as this may sound. 

In this case, the therapist will help the client explore their relationship with their abusive parent and help them make connections to their present relationship with their abusive spouse. As the client becomes aware of how they may have unintentionally replicated an abusive relationship pattern, this awareness allows more authority as to what steps to take next.

A client with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder may have developed a fear of germs at a young age. The client and the therapist will look at the client’s past to determine when and how this fear developed. As the therapist clarifies and makes interpretations, the client’s awareness grows, providing opportunities to intervene in the compulsion and obsessive thoughts.

A client who procrastinates a lot may be dealing with a defense mechanism. Perhaps they had very strict and perfectionist parents, creating a sense of dread around making mistakes. Rather than deal with these feelings, the client puts things off, and they procrastinate. In this example, the client and therapist would explore the past and subconscious thoughts. This, in turn, helps create meaning and understanding of how these issues impact the client’s life today.

Types of Psychodynamic Therapy

Art Therapy – This therapy allows clients to direct the session. Art offers many opportunities to discuss free association and symbolism, two primary components of psychodynamic therapy. For clients who have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves verbally, art offers an alternative outlet to communicate.

Brief Therapy – As most people prefer faster results, brief psychodynamic therapy is popular. Brief therapy is often used for clients who are struggling with a specific and identifiable issue. The range of treatment time is between 1-5 sessions.

Family Therapy – Family therapy can include the entire nuclear family or any combination of more than one person, including couples. Family therapy is typically initiated when there has been a family loss, a family trauma, or there is chronic strife within a family. Since families are complicated and involve more people, more sessions are often required to complete treatment.

Psychodynamic Therapy vs Psychoanalysis

These two terms are often used interchangeably despite each having significant distinctions. Psychoanalysis is based almost solely on Sigmund Freud’s theories and practices, while Psychodynamic therapy draws its theories and practices from quite a few pioneers of psychology. Psychoanalysis often takes years of treatment and requires multiple weekly sessions, whereas psychodynamic therapy typically meets once a week and requires 12 sessions of treatment on average.

Psychoanalysis traditionally requires the client to lie down on a couch while the therapist sits behind them or faces away from them. This establishes an unspoken power dynamic of the therapist being “all-knowing” while the client is very much a “patient.” In psychodynamic therapy, the client and therapist face one another and establish a more collaborative dynamic.

Each type of therapy places emphasis on childhood and the past. They also explore defense mechanisms, the subconscious, symbolism, free association, and dreams. Each considers the therapeutic relationship highly important as it mirrors the client’s relationship outside the therapy room. Read more here on how psychoanalysis compares to behavioral therapy.

Who Can Benefit From Psychodynamic Therapy?

Almost any client can benefit from this type of therapy. Those who are more communicative might have an advantage over clients who struggle with communication. However, art therapy can be useful in situations like these. The Cochrane Collaboration includes data from over 30 studies regarding the effectiveness of psychodynamic therapy and has found this therapy to improve anxiety and depressive symptoms significantly.

Psychodynamic Online Therapy Options

Online therapy provides a wonderful and affordable opportunity for clients to seek mental health services. Psychodynamic therapy is a type of therapy that is widely practiced, and therefore, there are many viable online therapists to meet most client’s needs. Read reviews here about online therapy platforms that might work best for you.


Psychodynamic therapy has a long history and an effective track record. If you are considering therapy, psychodynamic therapy may be the perfect fit. As always, check the prospective therapist’s experience, bio, and credentials. You deserve to heal and have the life you desire, and therapy can help you achieve these goals. 

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