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Psychodynamic psychotherapy

What is psychodynamic psychotherapy?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is an approach to psychological therapy that focuses on discovering how the unconscious patterns in a person’s mind (e.g., thoughts and feeling they are not aware of) might play a role in their problems. Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy usually takes less than a year (often about 20-30 weeks), while long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy can take more than a year, sometimes many years. Long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy is sometimes called psychoanalysis, and can involve lying on a couch while the therapist listens to the client talk about whatever is going though their mind, although more often the client and therapist sit and talk to each other in a similar way to other types of psychological therapy.

How is it meant to work?

In psychodynamic therapy the therapist uses the thoughts, images and feelings that pass through the client’s mind, as well as their relationship with the client, in order to discover patterns that give clues about psychological conflicts that the client is not aware of, especially issues that are related to experiences early in life such as during childhood. By making the client more aware of these unconscious conflicts, they can deal with them and resolve issues that can cause depressed moods.

Does it work?

There have been relatively few good quality studies of psychodynamic psychotherapy for depression specifically. However, recent studies that have pooled the results of studies on a range of mental health problems have found that both short-term and long-term psychodynamic therapy are better than no treatment and are just as effective as other standard treatments, such as cognitive behaviour therapy, for mental health problems in general, including depression. However more studies are required before we can be confident about this conclusion for depression specifically.

Are there any risks?

No major risks are known. However, the long-term therapy can be expensive and time consuming. It might be important to consider whether a short-term treatment might not be just as effective.


Both short- and long-term types of psychodynamic psychotherapy appear to work for depression. However, some larger studies should be done so we can be more confident of this.

Taken from: Mental Health Wiki


Fonagy P, Roth A, Higgitt A. The outcome of psychodynamic psychotherapy for psychological disorders. Clinical Neuroscience Research 2005; 4(5-6):367-377.
Leichsenring F, Rabung S. Effectiveness of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy: A meta-analysis. JAMA 2008; 300(13):1551-1565.
Leichsenring F, Rabung S, Leibing E. The efficacy of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy in specific psychiatric disorders: A meta-analysis. Archives of General Psychiatry 2004; 61(12):1208-1216