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Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy is form of analytical psychotherapy which places emphasis on a person’s unconscious and the influences it can have on behaviour. Practitioners believe that unresolved conflicts from the past can have a direct effect on present behaviour. By examining these past influences, it is believed that an individual can achieve greater self-awareness and enjoy a more fulfilled existence.


Psychodynamic counselling and psychotherapy has its roots in the psychoanalytical theories of Sigmund Freud who used the term psychodynamics to describe the processes of the mind as channels of psychological energy.

This theory was originally posited by Ernst Brucke at the University of Vienna, who suggested that all living organisms are essentially energy-systems to which the principles of energy conservation apply.

Freud adapted developed these theories during his work with 19th century neurologist, Jean-Martin Charcot at the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. Charcot used hypnosis to treat sufferers of hysteria but also spent time talking to his patients about traumatic past events.

He found that engaging his patients in this way alleviated their symptoms. With this in mind, Freud went on to develop his own brand of therapy which focused on past experiences.

The Psychodynamic approach was advanced further by psychologists Carl Jung, Anna Freud, Erik Erikson and Alfred Adler.

And in the 1940s and 50s, scholars at the Object Relations School of Psychoanalysis pioneered an approach that focused on the relationship between the client and their close friends and family.


Psychodynamic therapists believe that an individual’s behaviour is symptomatic of unconscious forces. Each manifest (conscious) thought or action hides a latent (concealed) intention or motive which reflects instinctive drives formed by early experiences, especially those which took place before the age of five.

The influence of our parents is seen to play a major role in how we behave as adults.

Psychodynamic theorists postulate that behaviour is the result of a compromise between three elements of the human psyche:

  • Ego
  • Superego
  • ID

Every individual has certain impulses which originate from their ID and need to be satisfied such as drinking, sex or aggression. However, these are prevented by the Superego, which stops us from acting out these impulses. The Ego attempts to find a balance between the two by allowing the individual to satisfy certain drives which are also acceptable to the superego.

This process can result in the emergence of defence mechanisms such as displacement which converts unconscious impulses into more acceptable forms. For example, a person might be angry with their father but instead takes it out on a friend.

The compromise between the ID, Superego and Ego is thought to be determined in the early psychosexual stages of childhood. If the child encounters any problems during this time, they may become fixated (trapped) at a certain stage. Consequently, the residue of that stage will remain with them as adults.

The Psychodynamic practitioner looks for hidden meanings in what their subject thinks or says during sessions – this can include descriptions of dreams as well as free association.

Information is then examined for repeat patterns and themes which may symbolise unconscious motives. Sessions usually take place once a week..

How can Psychodynamic Therapy help?

The Psychodynamic approach, which is considered to be insight-driven, is often used to address general problems such as depression, although it can prove effective at treating other conditions such as anger and social isolation.

Useful Psychodynamic Therapy Resources

British Association For Counselling and Psychotherapy

The Melanie Klein Trust