Psychodynamic therapy: what is it and how can it benefit your mental health?
We speak with integrative psychotherapist and counsellor, Jeremy Sachs, to learn more about psychodynamic therapy, its benefits, and how to find out if it’s the right approach for you
Whether you’re struggling with a specific issue, or are looking for someone to talk things over with, there are many different reasons why you may reach out and start counselling. But did you know that there are a variety of different approaches out there that could help? Finding the right one that best suits your needs can feel overwhelming; that’s why it’s important to learn more about specific types and approaches.
What is psychodynamic therapy?
Also known as psychodynamic counselling, psychodynamic therapy is a therapeutic approach that embraces the work of all analytic therapies. In essence, psychodynamic therapy is based on the idea that our unconscious thoughts and perceptions develop throughout our childhood, affecting how we behave and think now.
A psychodynamic therapist is interested in your past, how you adapted to the people and environment in your past, and how these people and experiences shaped you. They believe how we relate to other people now is based on these beliefs/experiences from our childhood.
By working with a psychodynamic counsellor, you can unravel these deep-rooted feelings, to resolve the painful memories that you have unconsciously been holding on to. They can help you see where you might need to unlearn, relearn, or change the ways you see the world.
Integrative psychotherapist and counsellor, Jeremy Sachs, explains more: “Psychodynamic psychotherapy reflects on these key areas: the relationship between the client and therapist, the informative early experiences, and relationships of the client’s childhood, and their subconscious. The therapist will be interested in what the client believes about themselves, their relationships, and how they interact with the world as, often, these beliefs can be the source of psychological pain.”
What should I expect from psychodynamic therapy?
Using a variety of different techniques, at its core, psychodynamic therapy relies on the interactions between you and your therapist to reveal your unconscious. But what does that actually mean, and what can it help with?
Jeremy says: “Entering psychodynamic therapy, one could expect to examine past experiences that may feel particularly painful in the present. These could be losses, or instances that are traumatic. Alternatively, someone new to psychodynamic therapy may feel stuck, depressed, or anxious.
“Psychodynamic therapy can also be a useful mode of therapy for personality disorders. It is often called ‘deeper’ therapy, as it examines the root causes of pain, and is often long-term.”
What are the benefits?
Designed to help with a wide range of problems, it can be particularly effective in treating issues including anxiety, eating disorders, addiction, and depression. It can also help those who feel like they have lost meaning in their lives, or are struggling to form or maintain personal relationships.
Who is psychodynamic therapy for?
Taking that first step towards therapy can be tough. So, how can you know if psychodynamic therapy is the ‘right’ kind of therapy for you?
“Data tells us that the type of therapy comes second to the relationship you have with your therapist,” Jeremy explains. “I could be the ‘best’ psychodynamic psychotherapist this side of the equator, but if you don’t feel safe and comfortable with me, it is unlikely the therapy will help. However, if you find yourself disproportionately affected by past events, traumas, or that present relationships are challenging, it might be worth considering psychodynamic psychotherapy.”
How long does it take?
While the number of sessions needed, and frequency, varies from person to person, typically someone who undertakes psychodynamic therapy may meet their therapist one or more times a week. Short-term, you may work with a therapist for 25–30 sessions over six to eight months, or one study suggested you could expect therapy to last around 50 sessions over the course of a year. The length of time depends on the individual, and your preferred frequency of sessions.
What techniques are used?
Drawing on techniques used throughout both psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapists may use the following techniques to help them better understand how a patient’s mind works.
Where you talk freely to your therapist without shaping your ideas before saying them, and without using a linear story structure. This spontaneity is thought to allow your true thoughts and feelings to emerge without fear of how silly, illogical, or painful they may sound. This helps create an honest and open dialogue without fear of judgement.
Transference can occur during psychodynamic therapy when you project your feelings about someone else (typically from your childhood) on to your therapist. This could be positive (e.g. you see them as caring and wise), negative (e.g. experiencing feelings of anger, resentment, or distrust towards them), or sexualised (e.g. experiencing romantic, intimate, or sexual feelings towards them).
Typically staying quiet throughout your session, your therapist may occasionally interject with thoughts or interpretations of the topics you are choosing to discuss. Your therapist can help you to learn new ways of behaving and thinking that promote personal growth and development, overcoming limitations your unconscious feelings may be causing.
Content vs process
What you say (content) is at a conscious level, and can be limited to what you understand. Whereas, how you present that information (the process) may give your therapist insight into your unconscious, and what you may be trying to communicate outside of your awareness. By observing your non-verbal cues, such as stumbling on certain words, changing topics, or even how much emotion you are putting into what you are saying, they can gain a deeper insight.
Should I try psychodynamic therapy?
When it comes to choosing a therapeutic approach, the most important aspect is to find the right type for you. There’s no right or wrong answer; it’s about finding a style (and a therapist) that you can connect with, and feel comfortable working with. Consider what you want to get out of therapy – do you have a specific problem you want help with, or a goal in mind? Don’t be afraid to try having sessions online, in-person, or even by telephone, until you find a method that works for you.
To find out more about various therapies or to find a professional to support you, visit counselling-directory.org.uk.