When it comes to figuring out the type of therapy best suited for your needs, you may find yourself in murky waters when trying to decipher different therapeutic styles. Each post in this series serves as a primer on a major therapeutic approach to guide you in the right direction. It is important to note that many clinicians identify as integrative rather than adhering to a single school of thought, though there are some that stick to one orientation over others. Even within one school of thought, however, the individual therapist inevitably brings their own unique style to the work, so nothing here is cut and dry. Additionally, on the whole, research has shown support for success with all major schools of thought! So even if you feel unsure about what style is suited for you, with a good therapy relationship you should be positioned for success.
Psychodynamic therapy is a style that is typically deep and insight-oriented, as it focuses not only on symptom reduction but also on the development of client self-awareness and self-understanding of who they are, how they got to be the way they are, and ways in which they can change. It maintains focus on both the past as well as the present/future and involves the exploration of how the unconscious mind and past experiences manifest in behaviors and relational patterns. A psychodynamic clinician is curious about their client's childhood experiences and memories, their early and current attachment figures, and how they make meaning of the world around them. Through exploring the past and the unconscious mind, the therapeutic process can aid clients in challenging old patterns, learning more about themselves on a deeper level, understanding how they function in intimate relationships, and developing tools for change.
Psychodynamic therapy is often integrated with other styles, such as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT), as it can address deep-rooted and unresolved struggles, providing a rich foundation and motivation for behavioral change through CBT or other interventions. In fact, psychodynamic therapy is an evolution of psychoanalysis, which is the original talk therapy (think: Freud). Many of the more "skill-focused" therapies which get a great deal of press today, including CBT, originated from psychodynamic approaches and remain embedded in psychodynamic therapy. Indeed, empirical research has supported the effectiveness of psychodynamic treatment for a range of mental health issues, and clients tend to continue improving even after their treatment has finished (Shedler, 2010).
There is great variation in length of treatment for psychodynamic therapy, depending on presenting issue and therapist style. This approach tends to have less structure than CBT-based therapy to facilitate client spontaneity and insight. If you are looking not only to feel better in the present but to also learn about yourself, work through struggles from past relationships or your family-of-origin, and work on a deeper level with a therapist, this style could be a great fit for your treatment goals.
Do you have questions about this style of therapy? Share them in the comments!
Shedler, J. (2010). The efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy. American Psychologist, 65(2), 98-109.
Dr. Bethany Detwiler is a psychologist practicing in Allentown, PA. She specializes in mood and relationship struggles. She also is an adjunct professor of counseling at Lehigh University.