What Are The Benefits Of Psychodynamic Therapy?

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated June 13, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Psychodynamic therapy is thought to have begun in the 1880s with Sigmund Freud’s development of psychoanalysis. Modern psychodynamic psychotherapy techniques are generally the result of Freud’s work. Sigmund Freud’s contributions are often believed to have pushed the envelope of psychology into a new era, and modern psychodynamics may owe its existence to Freud and his research.

The focus of psychodynamic therapy is usually to uncover the unconscious reasons for conscious behaviors. It is mainly focused on the study of unconscious psychological drives and impulses that may be the result of early experiences. Psychodynamic therapy can be viewed as a study of how conscious and unconscious motivations are related. It’s possible to finish psychodynamic therapy sessions online or in person at a therapist’s office.

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How does psychodynamic therapy work?

Unwanted thoughts and behaviors can stem from unconscious triggers that were developed in response to early life experiences. Psychodynamic therapy is generally designed to uncover the psychological processes that can be formed during early life experiences. Once the processes are uncovered, the client often begins to understand their motivations and behaviors, potentially alleviating unwanted symptoms.

Psychodynamic therapists are typically interested in the past; they usually want to know all about their client’s past because this information may be the basis for present behavior patterns. Behavior patterns are often repeated, and traumatic events in the past may be the reason for behavior patterns. An example of a past event that can trigger behavior patterns may be divorce. A child of divorce may develop abandonment issues if one of their parents does not participate in their life after the divorce.

There can be many reasons for present unwanted behavior patterns and unwanted recurring thoughts. The therapist’s job is usually to investigate the past and discover events that have led to present behaviors and thoughts, then work with the client to eliminate those behaviors and thoughts. Understanding the event that led to the problems is often the first step; a therapist can work with clients to help them understand the relationship between the event and the present behaviors.

Behaviors and patterns may begin to lessen once the past event is entirely investigated, evaluated, and understood. If the patterns continue, more work is usually done; other events and experiences may have led to the present problems. Another reason for the behaviors and patterns to continue may be a lack of understanding; it can be difficult to see the relationship between the event and the present behavior.

What mental health symptoms can psychodynamic therapy treat?

Psychodynamic therapy can treat a wide range of mental and emotional symptoms, behaviors, and behavior patterns. Self-awareness or self-knowledge is typically the goal of treatment, and most mental health conditions respond to this treatment. Psychodynamic therapy can also help an individual cope with present issues resulting from an event such as divorce. Talking through problems, emotions, and traumatic events can foster a deeper self-awareness, potentially enabling the individual to understand “why.” While some people don’t consider psychodynamic therapy as robust as more mainstream techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, there are some studies supporting the efficacy of psychodynamic therapy. The following is a list of some of the mental health disorders and symptoms psychodynamic therapy can treat:

  • Physical problems caused by stress and anxiety
  • Anxiety
  • Panic disorders
  • Depression
  • Other depression-related disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder or other conditions related to traumatic stress
  • Personality disorders
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Physical symptoms without a physical basis
  • Sadness
  • Loneliness

Some psychology researchers and other mental health care professionals believe that psychodynamic therapy can even help those with mental health disorders such as schizophrenia. The benefits of receiving psychodynamic therapy can be significant, and they usually stem from the ability to recognize behaviors and their triggers. The idea is that once an individual recognizes behaviors and their triggers, they can effectively work through the symptoms by recognizing them for what they are.


Potential benefits of psychodynamic therapy 

The goal of psychodynamic therapy is generally to provide the client with a practical understanding of themselves that may relieve symptoms, and this understanding tends to grow even after treatment is over. The following is a list of benefits psychodynamic therapy can provide:

  • The ability to recognize symptoms before they get out of control
  • Confidence
  • Self-awareness
  • Coping skills
  • A deeper knowledge of self
  • Acceptance
  • Long-lasting, effective relief

A meta-analysis found that short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy, a more recent development than traditional psychodynamic therapy, may be useful as a brief intervention for many mental health conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy approaches may significantly reduce the amount of time it takes for someone to see benefits.

The benefits of psychodynamic therapy are generally rooted in the understanding that recognizing behaviors for what they are can help clients build healthy coping mechanisms. Psychodynamic therapy may answer why we do what we do, tying past events and subconscious constructs into present behaviors and behavior patterns. Once there is an answer for why, it is often easier to address the behavior for what it is. The benefits of psychodynamic therapy are usually long-lasting because there is an answer to the behavior and coping skills to alleviate the symptoms.

Types of psychodynamic therapy

There can be different types of psychodynamic therapy. The core principles tend to be the same no matter which type of psychodynamic therapy is used, but the actual modes of therapy can be different. The following is a list of the different types of psychodynamic therapy that may be available:

  • Group psychodynamic therapy – This therapy usually involves a group of individuals who are experiencing similar problems. The group is typically monitored and guided by a therapist, and those in the group are often encouraged to discuss their histories.
  • Family  psychodynamic therapy – This type of therapy can be administered in both individual and group settings. The therapist tends to work individually with family and guide group therapy sessions with the family. This therapy can effectively create and maintain healthy family dynamics and ease transitions through life events such as divorce, death, and any other event that affects the entire family.
  • Individual psychodynamic therapy – This therapy is often done one-on-one with the therapist. The therapist usually encourages talking about the past and working through present problems using the information gained. Individual therapy can help with everything from post-traumatic stress disorder to abandonment issues.
  • Improvisational psychodynamic music therapy – This is a relatively new therapy, but it is generally designed to help individuals gain a deeper understanding of themselves through music. The therapy is usually guided by a therapist trained in music and music therapy. Clients may play different musical instruments, and they may be encouraged to play and express themselves regardless of their ability.
  • Long-term psychodynamic therapy – This type of therapy can take as long as two years to finish.
  • Play therapy – Play therapy is frequently used when working with children. Play is usually monitored indirectly by the therapist, and sometimes it is guided by the therapist.
  • Art therapy – This is a creative therapy that can be used to relax the individual and help them express themselves and learn about themselves through art.
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Interested in exploring psychodynamic therapy?
  • Drama therapy – Acting or drama can be used to express emotions and creativity and learn about the self.
  • Dance therapy – Dancing can be used to express emotions and creativity, to learn about the self.
  • Body therapy -This therapy may be used when there is a problem between the mind and body, and it may use massage, exercise, and talking techniques.
  • Transpersonal therapy – The therapist may approach the client/therapist relationship and the problem itself using a spiritual understanding of consciousness.
  • Brief therapy – This type of therapy typically addresses a specific problem and approaches it with direct intervention.
  • Interpersonal psychotherapy – This therapy is usually time-based and designed to address interpersonal interactions.

Psychodynamic therapy is practiced by many health care professionals, such as school counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, psychiatric counselors, family therapists, divorce therapists, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, and others. It is also often combined with other therapeutic techniques as part of a holistic approach, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or other types of behavioral therapy.

There are many other psychodynamic therapies; a trained therapist can help you choose which one may be right for you. Sometimes, elements from several different therapies may be combined to create a custom psychodynamic therapy. The classic image of a client lying down on the couch and being questioned by a psychiatrist can display traditional psychodynamic therapy, in which the psychiatrist questions and writes down notes while probing through the past for answers to the present. This tends to be the most basic form of psychodynamic therapy, and it may still be the most popular form used today.

Try psychodynamic therapy online

While it’s possible to see a psychodynamic therapist in person, going to a therapist’s office or finding a psychodynamic therapist in your local area may not always be the most convenient option. Trying online psychodynamic therapy can be more affordable in many cases. Another benefit is that you can often specify what type of therapist you’d like to be matched with, so it can be simple to connect with a licensed mental health professional who focuses on psychodynamic therapy.

As this study explains, online therapy can be as effective as traditional face-to-face therapy. It can treat a wide range of mental health disorders and concerns. If you’re interested in diving into your past to improve your mental health in the present, please don’t hesitate to reach out for the professional help you deserve.


Psychodynamic therapy typically works by looking into your past experiences to explain and alleviate current mental health challenges. This type of therapy can treat many different mental health disorders and symptoms. If you’d like to try psychodynamic therapy for yourself, you may find a suitable licensed therapist locally or through an online therapy platform.

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