What Is Psychodynamic?

Updated October 5, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When it comes to treating the mind and human behavior, there are many types of therapy for you to pick from. One that may work well for you is the psychodynamic approach, aka psychodynamic therapy.

Having A Hard Time Finding Mental Health Support?

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is one of the oldest forms of therapy around. It involves making the client be more aware of themselves and looking at behavior in the past and present that has affected their lives and the mental states they’re in.

Psychodynamics can thus make people feel better about themselves because it teaches people how to manage relationships, conquer addiction, and helps with other ailments of the mind.

Psychodynamic Vs Psychoanalysis

Many people can mix up psychodynamic therapy and psychoanalysis. If you or someone you know has, don't feel bad doing so because they are similar, but there are differences.

Psychoanalysis is all about understanding people and clinical presentations. It tends to be much longer than psychodynamic therapy and can last for many sessions, with it sometimes going on for years.

The treatment can take place multiple times weekly. It is also heavily focused on the relationship between the psychodynamic therapist and the client.

The Differences Between These Two

Regarding psychodynamics, the treatments tend to last once every week, and it may be just 15 sessions. The therapist himself may be trained in psychoanalytic techniques but may not be certified.

The psychodynamic approach focuses on the relationship between the patient and the world around them and less on the relationship between client and therapist. The therapist may ask leading questions for the client to discuss childhood experiences, psychological factors in their life, and any mental illness diagnoses they may have.

As you can see, there is a difference. Some people can benefit from shorter sessions provided by psychodynamics as opposed to sessions that can last for years.

History Of This Theory

As mentioned, psychodynamic therapy is quite old, and it's a product before even the Freudian era. It was published in 1874, by a scientist named Ernst Wilhelm von Brücke, who hailed from Germany.

His book, Lectures on Psychology, introduced psychodynamic theory. Von Brücke helped to supervise Freud while he was a student at the University of Vienna, and Freud used psychodynamics for his form of psychology.

American psychologist Freud believed in psychosexual stages and focused on the thoughts and feelings, and innate drives of middle-aged women and men through their early experiences in life. According to Freud, mental health was heavily connected to psychosexual development and sex as a whole. Through regular meetings of psychoanalysis with clients, Freud coined the true term “psychodynamic” and was a huge player in the field of simple psychology.

Since Freud, many studies have been put out in the psychological bulletin journal of New York and the International Universities Press standard edition about psychodynamic therapy and how it can help patients.

Other psychologists involved in social psychology down the road expanded on Freud’s ideas and helped develop the psychodynamic theory as well. For example, in the beginning of this treatment, schizophrenia was known as dementia praecox, and was often treated with this method.

So, psychodynamics is one of the oldest forms of therapy in modern history, and it has to do something if it lasts, right?

How Psychodynamic Therapy Helps

Psychodynamic therapy has plenty of uses, and here are just a few of the different kinds of conditions and mental states it can address.

  • Depression
    • Many of these therapies are good for depression, and psychodynamic therapy is especially depression friendly, as it requires less of a commitment.
  • Relationship issues
    • Psychodynamic therapy may help those who have trouble with relationships. Not just romantic, but other personal relationships too.
  • Loss of Meaning
    • Psychodynamic therapy may help those who don't know what their life means. If you've lost the meaning of your life, try three parts of this therapy and see if it might help.
  • Addiction
    • Psychodynamic therapy may be good if you're suffering from any form of addiction, be it drugs or something else.
  • Eating disorders
    • You may benefit from psychodynamic therapy if you're suffering from anorexia, bulimia, or any other eating disorder.

How This Therapy Works

Psychodynamic therapy's basic function involves being more aware of yourself. As humans, we'd like to believe that we know the mind our conscious resides in, but many of us don't.

We are always on autopilot, and we don't have time to analyze ourselves, and we may need a second mind to help us out. That's where the psychodynamic approach comes in. Here are some of the psychodynamic principles:

Having A Hard Time Finding Mental Health Support?

  • The psychodynamic approach helps people look at the problems they face and the flaws they may have.
    • By speaking to a psychologist about yourself, they can point out the problems you may have.
  • Once you've recognized the problem, you must admit that you have it.
    • For some, that's easy. For others, it requires them to swallow some pride.
  • Psychodynamic theory wants you to express the problems you're having honestly.
    • No tapdancing around it.
  • Finding the hidden.
    • Psychodynamic theory also wants you to find what emotions are lying dormant inside you.
    • There are unconscious thoughts inside that can destroy a person, and psychodynamics is there to help you find them.
  • Psychodynamics wants you to overcome emotions that you're feeling and help you live a better life.

So that's the gist of it.

To summarize, psychodynamic therapy helps the patient find underlying issues that may be driving their depression, relationship problems, and other negative mental states.

Other Psychodynamic Beliefs

The psychodynamic approach relies on a handful of assumptions.

Here are a few assumptions found in psychodynamics:

  • Behavior is mostly unconscious.
    • The unconscious mind influences many of the things we feel, judge, and act upon. It's a trite comparison, but your mind is like an iceberg, where only a little bit of it comes from the surface.
  • The id, ego, and superego are also big elements.
    • Developed by Freud, they're what he thought made up the psyche.
    • Your id is your impulses or desires one may seem as negative. Your superego is your desire for perfection. It believes that you should do good, and instills values typically taught to a person. The ego serves to try to mediate the two.
  • Your early childhood widely affects how you behave today.
    • Even if you don't think you've had bad childhood experiences, there can be events that are responsible for how you behave like an adult.
  • Slips of the tongue are important.
    • This is when you try to say something, and something else comes out. This can be a look into your personal unconscious This is different than you misspeaking or stuttering on a word.

What Happens In A Psychodynamic Therapy Session

You may wonder what to expect when it comes to a psychodynamic therapy session.

Depending on your therapist, psychodynamics may work differently, but generally, you begin to talk about what's on your mind. Don't feel like you have to censor yourself, either. It's between you and the therapist, and no one else.

When you talk, here are some things worth mentioning to your psychodynamic therapist:

  • It may sound obvious, but plenty of people are afraid of talking about what they fear, and your fears can be connected to an underlying issue without you knowing it.
    • Never be afraid to talk about what scares you right now.
  • Dreams are mysterious.
    • Sometimes they feel like they have no meaning, while other times, they can be a sign of an underlying problem.
    • Talk to your therapist about what dreams you're having. It may be worth it to keep a dream diary, as dreams typically go away the longer you're up.
  • What do you want most right now? To live a better life? To get a promotion? To shut someone up?
    • Don't be afraid to talk about your desires to someone else. Your psychologist needs all the information they can get. This is known as free association.
  • Current events. Talk about what's going on with yourself currently, or what's going on in the news.
    • Help your psychologist to develop a well-rounded opinion about you.

Why Are These Questions Important?

Those are just some of the things you need to bring up when talking to your psychologist. This can help them to figure out just the kind of person you are and help them pull out any unconscious feelings you may have.

Also, by letting your feelings out, you can improve your self-esteem. With psychodynamics, you'll soon learn why you have trouble with relationships, what talents you have, and much more by uncovering the motivational forces that cause you to feel and behave the way you currently do.

Is It Effective?

With all these forms of psychotherapy, you may wonder just how effective some of them are. Some therapies are speculation and pseudoscience and have little-to-no benefit on people’s mental states, while others are backed up by research

Psychodynamic therapy is old and thus has had many years of systematic study and research through many international universities and has improved since the Freudian years. Studies have shown that it's an effective form of therapy, with the American Psychological Association finding that psychodynamics is an effective way to treat many mental states conditions and giving people a stronger sense of personal agency.

It's All About Finding The Right Treatment For You

With that said, one form of therapy won't work for everyone, and sometimes, you may not get many benefits from psychodynamic therapy. However, you should remember that despite its shorter length, you may have to get multiple sessions to get the most out of its effectiveness.

Looking For A Therapist

When you look for one, do some research on licensed therapists in your area. There are plenty of resources that can let you see someone's credentials, see reviews from other clients, and much more. Do your research and find a therapist that works best for you.

Seek Help If You Need It!

No matter what your mental situation is, you can benefit from therapy. Psychodynamics is a timeless form of therapy with decades of empirical findings and support that’s designed to let you know more about yourself, and when you find a good therapist, you can be on your way to feeling better. Whether in person or online, some therapists can help you understand yourself much better, regain control over the emotional forces in your life, and improve overall mental functioning and wellbeing.


You don't need to do this alone. While talking to a loved one can be beneficial, a trained professional is better at getting the unconscious thoughts to the conscious level. If you haven't tried therapy before, psychodynamics is worth a shot, and some therapists are affordable and ready to help you.

Below are some commonly asked questions on this topic:

What is psychodynamic in simple terms?

Psychodynamic therapy, or simply psychodynamics for short, is a therapeutic technique associated with Sigmund Freud and used by psychologists and other mental health professionals to help people overcome a variety of mental states.

Psychodynamics works by trying to make people more self-aware of their emotional forces and this often involves trying to bring their subconscious feelings to the surface. Certain experiences, such as trauma from our early childhood, can get tucked away in our memories, and even though we can try to forget the past, they can continue to affect our mental states in the present. By becoming aware of them again, psychodynamics can then help the individual change their behaviors and, consequently, their feelings.

What is psychodynamic example?

A very common example of psychodynamics can involve excessive handwashing. A negative event in the distant past, such as their early childhood, may have created a fear of germs or contamination, in general. Now, in one’s adulthood this has manifested in these hand-washing behaviors. By making a client aware of the motivational forces acting on these behaviors, psychodynamics will guide them in the right path to correcting them.

What is psychodynamic theory?

Psychodynamic theory is a set of beliefs founded by Sigmund Freud, and elaborated on by figures such as Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, who would also develop their own psychodynamic theories. To summarize Freud's theories, psychodynamics is the concept that states that our unconscious mental processes are what drives our behaviors.

What is the difference between psychoanalysis and psychodynamics?

While there is often some overlap between them, there is a distinction between psychoanalysis and psychodynamics, Psychoanalysis is an approach that is focused on understanding the individual and their clinical presentations, whereas psychodynamics is centered around the assumptions mentioned above, particularly the relationship between the subconscious and human behavior.

Psychoanalytic therapy also tends to be longer than psychodynamics, but nonetheless, they can be closely related, since our unconscious processes can cause clinical presentations in different mental health issues that cause psychological distress.

What is psychodynamic personality?

Psychodynamic personality refers to the theory that’s centered around a person’s behavior and their id, ego, and superego. In psychodynamics, these are all components of one’s unconscious mind and are the motivational forces acting and shaping their personalities.

What does psychodynamic therapy focus on?

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on the psychodynamic, or internal psychological processes that influence human behavior. This approach emphasizes the role of the unconscious mind and its ability to mold individuals and their behaviors

The goal of psychodynamics is to help people become more aware of these inner psychological forces and how they affect their thoughts, feelings, and actions. By understanding the emotional forces and factors that contribute to problems or symptoms, patients can learn to make healthier choices and develop coping mechanisms to deal with difficult situations and gain insight into their relationships

What is the main cause of psychodynamic behavior?

In psychodynamics, the main cause of our behaviors is our past experiences, especially early childhood events. Sometimes these events get pushed into our subconscious minds without realizing it, and this can influence the behaviors in your present and shape your adult personality and current human functioning.

What are the 3 elements of psychodynamic theory?

Psychodynamics states that there are three elements to the human psyche and unconscious mind - the id, ego, and superego. The theory of psychodynamics also believes that these motivational forces acting on each other are often in conflict and this plays a role in shaping our behaviors and mental or emotional forces.

What are the basic principles of psychodynamic perspective?

The principles found in psychodynamics involve the notion that our behaviors are driven by the subconscious and are shaped by our experiences, and that the subconscious or unconscious mind can be divided into the three key areas mentioned above

By uncovering these hidden thoughts, feelings and other mental or emotional forces by examining the past, you can work towards correcting or overcoming behaviors that are preventing you from living a happier and healthier life.

How is psychodynamic therapy used?

Psychodynamics is typically used on individuals who are experiencing emotional issues but cannot figure out why they feel the way that they do. It helps people find and recognize the unconscious mental processes developing the psychological problems in their lives, which may have laid dormant for years and bringing them to the conscious part of their minds instead.

Psychodynamics is typically a shorter form of the therapy because it doesn’t take years to discover these emotional forces in the subconscious mind and start learning healthy coping skills and changing for the better through awareness and the conscious mind.

For Additional Help & Support With Your Concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started