Key Takeaways Key Takeaways
  • Psychodynamic therapy, rooted in Sigmund Freud’s principles of psychoanalysis, is explained as a multifaceted approach that delves deep into the unconscious mind to provide profound insights into an individual’s mental and emotional landscape.

  • Psychodynamic therapy encompasses four key techniques, including free association, transference, countertransference, and exploration of defense mechanisms. These techniques help patients uncover hidden thoughts and emotions.

  • Psychodynamic therapy is presented as highly effective for individuals dealing with various mental health conditions, especially those rooted in early life experiences and unresolved conflicts. It is particularly beneficial for depression, anxiety, personality disorders, trauma and PTSD, relationship issues, and personal growth even without a specific diagnosis.

What is Psychodynamic Therapy?

People who see a therapist are unlikely to know the specific type of therapy their therapist is using for their particular case. Did you know there are four major types of talk therapy? Most are probably familiar with common therapy like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The other three most popular types of talk therapy are Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Humanistic Therapy and Psychodynamic therapy.

Psychodynamic therapy is rooted in the principles of psychoanalysis, which was founded by perhaps the most famous and well-known neurologist of our time, Sigmund Freud. Psychodynamic therapy is a multifaceted approach that delves deep into the human psyche, offering profound insights into one’s mental and emotional landscape. It is a form of talk therapy that explores the unconscious and its relationship with thought, emotions which ultimately shapes an individual’s behavior and experiences.

Psychodynamic therapy seeks to uncover the underlying factors that contribute to a person’s psychological challenges and to promote self-awareness and personal growth. Jared Whitmore, a licensed professional LifeStance counselor summarizes the core principle of psychodynamic therapy well, “There’s a great emphasis on there being an unconscious mental life, meaning that there are things or reasons that we do things that are not entirely in our awareness.”

The Origins of Psychodynamic Therapy

To understand the roots of psychodynamic therapy, we must journey back to the early 20th century when the legendary Sigmund Freud pioneered this school of thought. Freud’s groundbreaking work revolved around the concept of the unconscious mind, where hidden desires, fears, and unresolved conflicts resided. He believed that by delving into this enigmatic realm, individuals could gain a deeper understanding of themselves and find relief from their emotional struggles.

Types of Psychodynamic Therapy Techniques

Psychodynamic therapy encompasses various techniques and strategies to help individuals unearth their unconscious thoughts and emotions. Four key techniques include free association, transference, countertransference, and exploration of defense mechanisms.

In psychodynamic therapy, patients are encouraged to freely express their thoughts, without censorship or judgment. This is known as free association. This technique allows for the exploration of hidden feelings and memories.

Transference is another fundamental concept in psychodynamic therapy. It involves the patient projecting their emotions, feelings, and attitudes onto the therapist. This provides a unique opportunity to explore the patient’s relational patterns.

Countertransference, closely associated with transference, refers to the therapist’s emotional responses and reactions to the patient. By examining their own countertransference, therapists can gain insights into the patient’s dynamics and better assist them. According to Jared, “countertransference is our reactions, both good or bad, to the patient and how that can be used to understand, one, ourselves and the patient.”

Lastly, psychodynamic therapy often explores the defense mechanisms individuals employ to cope with stressors and unresolved conflicts. These mechanisms may include repression, projection, and displacement. A lot of defense mechanisms used are also rooted and impacted by relationships with parents, family, and childhood experiences.

Mental Health Conditions Psychodynamic Therapy Help Treat

Psychodynamic therapy stands as a highly effective approach for individuals dealing with a variety of mental health disorders and conditions, particularly those stemming from early life experiences and unresolved conflicts. It proves particularly beneficial in several scenarios:

Firstly, for individuals contending with Depression and Anxiety, psychodynamic therapy serves as a powerful tool to unearth the underlying causes of their symptoms, offering a pathway to address and resolve lingering issues.

Secondly, individuals grappling with certain Personality Disorders, such as Borderline Personality Disorder, can find significant value in psychodynamic therapy. It facilitates a deeper understanding of their behaviors and patterns, fostering personal insight and growth.

Thirdly, for those who have endured Trauma and suffer from PTSD, psychodynamic therapy provides a safe therapeutic environment to explore the enduring impact of their experiences and embark on a journey towards healing.

Additionally, psychodynamic therapy proved instrumental in helping individuals navigate complex relationship issues. It aids in unraveling intricate dynamics, attachment styles, and patterns that may hinder the cultivation of healthy and meaningful connections with others.

Lastly, even without a specific diagnosis, anyone seeking profound self-awareness and personal development can embark on a transformative journey through psychodynamic therapy. It opens doors to self-exploration and growth.


Psychodynamic therapy is a profound and effective approach for individuals seeking to navigate the complexities of their inner worlds. Rooted in a rich history and employing a variety of techniques, it offers a unique opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth.

Whether you’re contending with Depression, Anxiety, Trauma, or simply seeking deeper self-awareness, psychodynamic therapy can provide invaluable insights and a path to healing. Psychodynamic therapy opens the door into the depths of the mind—a journey well worth taking.

Authored By 

LifeStance Health
LifeStance Health

LifeStance is a mental healthcare company focused on providing evidence-based, medically driven treatment services for children, adolescents, and adults suffering from a variety of mental health issues in an outpatient care setting, both in-person and through its digital health telemedicine offering.

Reviewed By

Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S
Nicholette Leanza, LPCC-S

Nicholette is a faculty member at John Carroll University’s Clinical Counseling program, and she is also the host of the LifeStance podcast, Convos from the Couch.