What Does A Psychodynamic Therapist Do?

Updated March 17, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Lauren Guilbeault

The role of a psychodynamic therapist involves working with patients who are afflicted with unresolved issues from the past which are currently affecting their quality of life in the present. As one might imagine, this is an incredibly complex process which requires a lot of effort, time and persistence. No two patients are exactly alike, nor will any two patients have the same experience when undergoing psychodynamic therapy.

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Reviewing Psychodynamic Therapy

One of the best ways to understand what psychodynamic therapists do is first to understand psychodynamic therapy in its entirety. The ultimate focus of this treatment revolves around issues and experience from the past which the patient may have subconsciously repressed. Underlying experiences and emotions are regarded as the root issues which are impacting the patients in the present day.

In dealing with these issues with the help of a psychodynamic therapist, the patient should experience a series of positive benefits. First and foremost, should come the improvement of interpersonal relationship, a healthier emotional state, improvement of self-esteem and the overall ability to productively function in society. On the surface, this sounds relatively simple, but in actuality, the process of psychodynamic therapy is extremely complex.

The Challenge Of Digging Beneath The Surface

The challenge of digging beneath the surface is arguably one of the most challenging aspects of psychodynamic therapy. This is largely because uprooting underlying emotions, thoughts and experiences is not always easy. As a matter of fact, it can be downright uncomfortable. Many people subconsciously repress certain things for various reasons. This is a psychological defense mechanism, but it can also be very damaging.

The truth of the matter is that nothing can be improved until it is addressed and confronted. Therefore, one of the critical tasks of a psychodynamic therapist involves helping patients to understand the adverse impacts which are associated with repressed experiences and emotions. Helping patients to confront this reality is one of the initial steps towards building rapport and helping to create a willingness to dig beneath the surface. For the process of psychodynamic therapy to prove successful, patients must eventually get to the point where they are willing to open up and truly analyze the events of their past.

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The Time Frame

Many individuals who either know of or are considering working with a psychodynamic therapist may question how long the process lasts. While this inquiry is quite reasonable, the truth of the matter is that there is no one answer to this question. Psychodynamic therapy can last for weeks, months or even years. It all depends upon the patient, how long it takes for the patient to analyze and study events and emotions which are associated with their past, etc.

The quality and extent of what lies underneath is also another determining factor in regards to the time frame of psychodynamic therapy. Patients who have less challenging or serious issues may be able to go through the process faster than patients who have extremely complex, deep-seated issues which take time to address. This is commonly associated with seriously impactful events, such as various traumas.

Furthermore, it's worth noting that a shorter time frame does not mean that psychodynamic therapy was "better" than a process which requires more time. At the end of the day, the success of psychodynamic therapy will depend upon the patient. As previously stated, after completing one's work with a psychodynamic therapist, patients should notice some serious improvements in their lives. The ultimate goal of psychodynamic therapy is to cease letting the experiences from the past negatively impact a patient's present and future.

Recurring Themes While Working With A Psychodynamic Therapist

When a patient finds themselves working with a psychodynamic therapist, there will typically be certain recurring themes seeing as these pertain to the treatment process. Having a thorough comprehension of these recurring themes is particularly beneficial, especially for those who are interested in what psychodynamic therapists do.


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When working with a psychodynamic therapist, patients should certainly expect the events of their childhood to come up quite frequently. This is largely because early experiences can impact one's outlook, opinions, decisions and general thoughts about life. The events which one experiences in childhood can also have a strong impact on their personal and psychological development. Therefore, it is not uncommon for psychodynamic therapists to ask their patients about their childhood.


Another recurring theme which typically occurs in psychodynamic therapy is patterns. Believe it or not, the patterns which one experiences in life can be very telling about the theme as an individual. Depending on the nature of a patient's circumstances, this can be either good or bad. Of course, there are some patterns which are more desirable than others.

The patterns which psychodynamic therapists explore with patients can pertain to interpersonal relationships, the manners in which patients deal with difficult events and more. In many cases, the exploration of various patterns in one's life can help psychodynamic therapists unearth certain factors which are impacting patients in the present day.

Important Details About Psychodynamic Therapy Sessions

The nitty-gritty details of psychodynamic therapy and all that it entails is certain impactful. However, patients who are thinking about working with a psychodynamic therapist should also have a fundamental understanding of the sessions.

In the majority of cases, patients who work with psychodynamic therapists will meet with their given specialist for about one hour each week. Open-ended questions and discussions about things which reside in the patient's conscious mind will commonly take place during sessions, particularly in the initial stages.

When taking psychodynamic therapy, patients should develop the ability to take what they are learning from their therapists in sessions and apply it to the real world. It's important to understand that doing this can take weeks, months or longer of working with a psychodynamic therapist. Patients who struggle with applying what they learn in sessions in the real world should not beat themselves up. Remember, the process and time frame of psychodynamic therapy sessions will vary based upon the patient and the issues which they face.

The Endgame Of Psychodynamic Therapy

If the psychodynamic therapist has properly done their job, then towards the end of treatment, the patient should experience certain benefits. This not only includes general life improvements but also having a higher quality of self-awareness and an understanding of how past events impact the present. This doesn't mean that patients will never experience challenges or setbacks in life; however, when the process of psychodynamic therapy is complete, the patient should be equipped enough to deal with the expected things which life may throw in their direction.

Having a higher quality of self-awareness will allow patients to make decisions which are more conducive to their success and betterment as human beings. This can mean different things for different people. For some individuals, a higher quality of self-awareness may mean cutting off certain toxic relationships. Someone else's increased levels of self-awareness may manifest in the form of improving the quality of certain environments or living a healthier lifestyle.

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When patients who undergo psychodynamic therapy understand how the past impacts the present, then they are truly on the road to recovery. Not only does this understanding indicate the success of psychodynamic therapy, but it furthermore allows them to make better decisions going forward. The decisions which we make in the present will later become the decisions of our past. This past will impact the new present which in turn affects what lies ahead.

In Closing

If you are interested in working with a psychodynamic therapist or any type of mental health specialist, then you should know that your options are limitless. You may also find that certain types are therapy are a better fit for you than others. Nevertheless, you have options, and it's important to know that asking for help is a very brave thing.

To this day, there are still certain individuals who struggle with the idea of potentially working with a mental health specialist. There are a variety of reasons behind this. Some people may think it's a sign of weakness while others may not feel completely comfortable with working with a therapist. However, it's OK to have questions and concerns. That's normal, but at the end of the day, regardless of which mental health specialist you work with, their job is to be of service to you.

If you are unsure of where to seek therapy or other mental health services, then you are officially in luck. BetterHelp has a world-class team of specialists who would be thrilled to work with you, no matter who you are, where you come from, or what your story may be. Help and guidance will always be available to those who are open and receptive to it. As a matter of fact, seeking out help is one of the first steps towards making the rest of your life the best of your life.

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