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Psychodynamic therapy is a treatment method that can be helpful for many different conditions. Here we explain what it is and how treatment can be carried out.

What is psychodynamic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is a method of psychotherapy derived from psychoanalytic theories, which were largely developed by Sigmund Freud. The main idea behind psychodynamic therapy is that unconscious processes and past experiences, especially from childhood, influence our current behavior and emotional experiences. It is an approach that can be helpful for a variety of conditions and problem areas.

What is psychodynamic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy involves several components that work together to promote understanding and emotional healing. The therapist encourages the client to explore and express their feelings, even those that may be difficult or painful. This emotional exploration is central to the therapy.

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Furthermore, therapy places great emphasis on exploring how early experiences, especially from childhood, influence current behavior and relationships. The relationship between the therapist and the client is also of great importance; the dynamics of this relationship can provide insights into the client’s interactions and relationships in everyday life.

Another important aspect is the identification and exploration of unconscious patterns in the client’s thinking and behavior. The therapist helps the client to become aware of these patterns. The therapist also focuses on the client’s defense mechanisms and their resistance to change. These defenses are often ways of dealing with painful emotions or experiences. By understanding and processing these defenses, the client can begin to manage their emotions in a more healthy and constructive way.

Together, these aspects of psychodynamic therapy aim to promote deeper self-understanding and emotional healing in the client.

What can psychodynamic therapy help with?

Psychodynamic therapy can be effective in treating a wide range of psychological problems. It helps people with anxiety disorders to understand the underlying causes of their anxiety and can also help those suffering from depression by identifying and processing unconscious emotions and conflicts.

The therapy is also beneficial for improving current relationships and understanding the interaction in early relationships and attachment patterns. For people with personality disorders, it can provide insights and promote changes in personality structures and behavioral patterns.

It is also useful for processing trauma and reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), helps individuals to explore and understand aspects of their self-esteem and identity, assists in the processing of grief and loss by providing a space to express and process complex emotions, and can support individuals experiencing difficulties with major life changes such as changes in career or retirement.

It is important to remember that each individual is unique, and what is effective for one person may not be for another. Therapy can take many forms, from short-term interventions to long-term psychoanalysis. The length of therapy and specific techniques may vary depending on the needs of the client and the focus of the therapist.


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What is affect-focused psychodynamic therapy?

Affect-focused psychodynamic therapy is a form of psychodynamic therapy that focuses specifically on affects, that is, the client’s emotional experiences. This form of therapy is based on the principle that emotional problems are often rooted in repressed or unconscious feelings. By helping the client to become aware of and explore these feelings, affect-focused therapy aims to promote emotional understanding and change.

Affect-focused psychodynamic therapy often includes:

  1. Focus on emotions: The therapist encourages the client to identify, express, and explore their emotions, especially those that are difficult or that have been repressed.
  2. Processing repressed affects: Many emotional problems are thought to be linked to past experiences where important affects could not be adequately expressed or processed. Therapy helps the client to process these repressed emotions.
  3. Understanding the role of affect in current behavior: By understanding how past unmanaged emotions affect current behavior and relationships, the client can begin to make more conscious and healthy choices.
  4. Development of emotional awareness: The therapy aims to increase the client’s awareness of their own emotional states and how these affect their thought processes and decisions.
  5. Use of the therapeutic relationship: As in other forms of psychodynamic therapy, the therapeutic relationship (including phenomena such as transference and countertransference) is used to explore and understand the client’s emotional patterns.
  6. Integration of affects: A central goal is to help the client integrate their emotions in such a way that they can experience a more complete and nuanced emotional life.

Affect-focused psychodynamic therapy is particularly useful for individuals who struggle with emotional blocks, have difficulty feeling or expressing emotions, or who experience emotionally-related psychological problems such as anxiety and depression. By working directly with affect, this form of therapy can promote deeper emotional healing and personal growth.

What is the difference between psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on current thoughts and behaviors and is more structured and time-limited, with an active role for the patient that includes homework between sessions and various exercises. The goal is to develop skills to change thoughts and behaviors, and treatment is usually short-term.

Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, emphasises the unconscious and early experiences, is less structured, and focuses on emotional exploration over a longer period of time. In this form of therapy, the patient’s role is more focused on self-exploration, with the goal of achieving deeper self-awareness and emotional understanding.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most researched method, but there is also a lot of research on psychodynamic therapy. Both forms of therapy are effective but they can suit different people and problems depending on the individual’s specific needs and situation.

What is the difference between psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy?

Psychoanalysis, developed by Sigmund Freud, focuses intensively on the unconscious mind and childhood experiences and involves techniques such as free association and dream interpretation, often with several sessions per week over a long period of time. The client usually lies on a couch with the therapist out of sight.

Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, is a more modern development of the ideas of psychoanalysis and is more flexible and adaptable. It involves more direct interaction between therapist and client, sitting face-to-face, and focuses more on solving current problems and promoting personal growth, often over a shorter period of time. While psychoanalysis is more rigorous in its method and interpretation, psychodynamic therapy offers a broader range of approaches and is more accessible to a diverse group of clients.


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12 common questions and answers about psychodynamic therapy

What is psychodynamic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is a method of psychotherapy derived from psychoanalytic theories, which were largely developed by Sigmund Freud.

What is the basis of psychodynamic therapy?

The main idea behind psychodynamic therapy is that unconscious processes and past experiences, especially from childhood, influence our current behavior and emotional experiences.

What can be treated with psychodynamic therapy?

There are many issues that can be treated with the method such as anxiety, depression, relationship problems and lifestyle changes.

How long does treatment with psychodynamic therapy take?

Therapy can take many forms, from short-term interventions to long-term psychoanalysis. The length of therapy and specific techniques can vary depending on the needs of the client and the focus of the therapist.

How does psychodynamic therapy work?

Psychodynamic therapy involves several components that work together to promote understanding and emotional healing. Emotional exploration is central to the therapy.

What can psychodynamic therapy help with?

Psychodynamic therapy can be effective in treating a wide range of psychological problems such as anxiety, depression and relationship problems but also difficult life events.

Can you get psychodynamic therapy online?

It is possible to receive treatment digitally via video.

Are there any disadvantages to psychodynamic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy does not have as large a research base as cognitive behavioral therapy, but it can still be helpful.

What is affect-focused therapy?

Affect-focused psychodynamic therapy is a form of psychodynamic therapy that focuses specifically on affect, that is, the client’s emotional experiences. This form of therapy is based on the principle that emotional problems are often rooted in repressed or unconscious feelings.

What is the difference between psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy?

CBT is short-term, structured and focuses on actual behavioral change through exercises. Psychodynamic therapy is less structured, exploring the unconscious and early experiences for deeper self-awareness over a longer period of time.

What is the difference between psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy?

Psychoanalysis focuses long-term on the unconscious and childhood with techniques such as free association, where the client lies on a couch. Psychodynamic therapy is a more modern, flexible version, with face-to-face interaction, focusing on current problems for shorter periods, suitable for a wider range of clients.

Where can I go if I need help?

At Lavendla, we have experienced psychologists and therapists who can help you feel better. If you have thoughts of self-harm or suicide, contact your nearest emergency room.

How does treatment with psychodynamic therapy work?

Treatment with psychodynamic therapy involves several steps and techniques, but the exact process can vary depending on the therapist’s specific approach and the client’s individual needs. Here is an overview of what a typical psychodynamic therapy process might look like:

  1. Initial assessment: Therapy usually begins with one or more initial sessions in which the therapist assesses the client’s needs, psychological history, and current problems. This helps to establish the focus and goals of the therapy.
  2. Building the therapeutic alliance: An important aspect of psychodynamic therapy is building a strong, trusting relationship between the therapist and the client. This creates a safe environment in which the client can explore difficult emotions and experiences.
  3. Exploring feelings and experiences: The client is encouraged to talk openly about their thoughts, feelings, dreams and memories. The therapist listens actively and may ask questions or make observations to help the client understand their experiences more deeply.
  4. Identifying recurring themes and patterns: Talking identifies patterns in the client’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. These patterns may relate to past experiences, particularly from childhood, and influence how the client deals with current situations and relationships.
  5. Insight and awareness: A central part of therapy is to help the client develop insight into how unconscious processes affect their current life. This can include becoming aware of how defense mechanisms and resistance work.
  6. Processing emotional conflicts: The client is encouraged to explore and process emotional conflicts. This may include working through feelings such as anger, sadness, or guilt that may have been repressed or avoided.
  7. Transference and countertransference: In psychodynamic therapy, transference (when the client projects feelings related to other people onto the therapist) and countertransference (the therapist’s own feelings towards the client) are important aspects. These phenomena are used to gain a deeper understanding of the client’s inner world and relational dynamics.
  8. Working towards change: The therapy aims to not only provide insight but also promote changes in behavior and emotional well-being. This may include developing new ways of managing emotions, improving relationships and resolving specific psychological problems.
  9. Closure: As therapy goals approach fulfillment, the therapist and client begin the process of ending therapy. This often involves reflecting on the progress made and discussing how to maintain and continue the positive developments after the end of therapy.

Each psychodynamic therapy process is unique, and the length of therapy can vary from short-term treatments (a few weeks or months) to long-term courses (several years), depending on the client’s needs and the complexity of the problems.

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Written by Ellen Lindgren

Licensed psychologist

Ellen is a licensed psychologist and has experience mainly in clinical psychology where she has worked with various conditions such as stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia, crises and trauma in primary care and psychiatry. She has also worked with research while studying in the US and with affective disorders and insomnia at Karolinska Institutet, Sweden.