What Is Psychodynamics?

Medically reviewed by Nikki Ciletti, M.Ed, LPC
Updated October 12, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Psychodynamic psychology—or "psychodynamics"—is the branch of study in psychology regarding the underlying factors affecting behavior in a person, particularly the subconscious mind. Our past experiences from childhood can factor into and affect our day-to-day choices and behaviors. 

Psychodynamics focuses on these factors and how they may intertwine in our development and mindset. This form of psychology concentrates on how these findings can be of use in therapy and in understanding the human psyche in general.

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The Goal Of Psychodynamics

We all may experience situations and emotions in our upbringing and past that consciously and subconsciously affect our day-to-day choices, perceptions, and behaviors.

The goal of psychodynamics is to analyze past events and their impact on us in order to understand the long-term effects of these various experiences.

By doing so, mental health professionals can provide appropriate treatment in helping us understand ourselves, overcome issues that may be of particular concern and deeply instilled, and provide the appropriate and specialized treatment we may benefit from if we’re struggling with delayed or impaired emotional development.

The Origin Of Psychodynamics

Psychology has many different branches, but psychodynamics stems from the work of Sigmund Freud. Freud conceived that a person's childhood experiences and development are a determining subconscious factor in their later behavior, perceptions, and personality. This is what is referred to as "psychodynamic psychology." This, however, originated from his initial work of psychoanalytic theory.

Psychoanalytic Theory

Freud's psychoanalytic theory is the concept of an individual's behavior stemming from the three facets of the mind: the id, the ego, and the superego. These are non-physical components of the brain that develop at different stages throughout a person's life, and all come together to form the type of person we are and how we interact with and perceive the world around us.

The id, defined in simple terms, is an element of the mind that is considered instinctual and is present in an individual from the moment of birth, comprising of aggressions and drives attributed to a person's core. The ego is the label attached to the psychological component that mediates and provides a balance between the id and the superego. The superego encompasses an individual's concept of morality that determines their conscience. According to Freud’s theory, these three elements combined are what determines each person's personality.

The id is the part of our mind's workings that is present from birth and is instinctual, whereas the ego and the superego do not develop until later in life. Id is something ingrained in the unconscious parts of our minds and does not change as we grow older. It lies underneath the more "reachable" parts of the psyche and demands action based upon impulses, strongly affecting whether we are satisfied or displeased by achieving or acquiring the things we want.

It’s only with the development of the ego and the superego that the id can be kept in check since it naturally has no concern for the concept of consequences. Think of it as the small, selfish, childlike part of our minds that demands what it wants and demands it immediately, whereas the later-developing facets are the maturity that forms over time to promote healthy and reasonable behaviors in reaction to those impulses caused by the id.

While the id is selfish and childlike, the ego is the mediator facet that processes the world through a filter of reason and logic. It seeks to satisfy the wishes and impulses of the id but does so by finding reasonable and logical approaches to the demands of the id without experiencing unpleasant consequences due to social and situational factors. This component comes along with life experience and increased maturity; it focuses on ways to promote pleasurable emotions, but while also considering all outside factors to find the best possible course of action. 

The id, for example, may unconsciously make us want to get a new car (and by any means possible since it has no concern for anything but what it desires). But the ego would decide that the quick act of simply stealing one would clearly be a terrible idea and therefore devise a strategy to save the funds necessary and maybe even find a way of getting a loan or financing to afford this new vehicle we want. Some of us may struggle with controlling the id component of our minds and consequently behave recklessly and make poor choices that result in unfortunate consequences. In these cases, the ego may not be strong enough to overcome those natural impulses, and this is a situation that psychodynamics addresses. The ego embodies self-control and problem-solving on behalf of the three components of the mind.


The superego can be described as the morality component and encompasses the values and morals we grow to have as we’re influenced by the world and the people around us. Whereas the ego is a mediator between both the id and the superego, the superego attempts to impose a moral view upon the id and the ego in an attempt to modify both to meet personal and social standards. The ego may focus on problem-solving and rationality, but the superego places even greater restrictions on what may be wrong or right, rather than just what may be the most plausible course of action. When the ego satisfies the id by choosing a certain path to reach our goals that the moral compass of the superego conflicts with, it can regulate this behavior (and future choices) by causing a sense of guilt in the person.

This is what is commonly referred to as a person's "conscience." This conscience (the superego) can allow us to feel good when doing something that has a positive impact and can cause us to experience guilt and shame upon doing something we probably should not have done. 

Having an underdeveloped ego may have significant negative consequences on our behavior and life choices, and this is something explained via psychodynamics and addressed with psychodynamic therapy.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy involves analyzing the subconscious and unconscious factors in our minds and behavior to understand how they affect our personalities, perception of the world around us, and present actions. Understanding psychoanalytic theory may help us to see the three components at play within the mind. Therefore, we may be able to analyze them better and make adjustments via therapy when needed.

Though biological factors may play a part in some of us, the main causes of delayed emotional growth (and by proxy the growth of the ego and superego) may generally be attributed to trauma, abuse, or neglect while one is a child. 

Psychodynamic therapy seeks to help us pinpoint the areas in which development has not taken place and address the issues that may have caused these challenges. A therapist can help us to find new strategies for daily life and how to process our urges and emotions appropriately, and consequently our behaviors from then on. This is handled with the standard psychological counseling and therapeutic approach of talk therapy.

Everyone is unique in their own way, so it can be beneficial to consider talk therapy with a certified mental health provider to explore your subconscious. Studies have found that digital therapy interventions had “meaningful improvements in depression and anxiety.”

Online therapy has a list of benefits including increased accessibility for people in remote locations and more affordability since it reduces the cost of traveling to an in-person appointment and therapists can charge less since they don’t need to account for renting office space.

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Therapy generally starts with the therapist and client deciding on a primary concern that may have the most significant lifelong effect and focusing on treatment for that main area or specific topic.

Our thought processes and responses in treatment may be explored first. Then, connections will be made regarding which events or experiences affected which areas of our brain and in what manner they caused challenges for us.

Our behaviors and responses to specific events in our present lives may have deep roots in the unconscious and subconscious mind. Our therapist may bring our attention to how our past issues have affected our current mental and emotional development. In this branch of psychology, human behavior is considered in the context of early childhood development and childhood experiences. Some individuals may have developed defense mechanisms at a subconscious level.

Then, we may begin to work together to create a plan of action for alleviating these miswirings within the psyche and work towards coping with past trauma, as well as developing psychological maturity for a better future prognosis.

This may take months or even years to accomplish as we may prefer to take therapy at a comfortable pace. With consistent therapeutic care, guidance from a licensed professional and active involvement on our part, it’s possible that we may overcome the events of early life and further develop the emotional maturity to assist the ego and superego to function in harmony.


The psychodynamic theory evolved from the work of Sigmund Freud, who developed the psychoanalytical theory (suggesting that the id, ego, and superego, non-physical components of the brain, are responsible for a person’s development throughout life). The psychodynamic approach studies the subconscious and unconscious mind to get a better understanding of one’s behavior, personality, and emotional growth can be attained.

If you feel as though a psychodynamic approach to therapy may help with overcoming challenges in regard to emotional development and would like to seek further help in a clinical psychology setting or wish to receive additional information, reach out to a licensed professional at BetterHelp.

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