Psychodynamics a therapeutic approach that embraces the work of all analytic therapies. Its roots lie predominantly in Freud's psychoanalysis approach, but Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Otto Rank and Melanie Klein are all widely recognized for further developing the concept and application of psychodynamics. 

Like psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy, the aim of psychodynamic support is to bring the unconscious mind into consciousness - helping individuals to unravel, experience and understand their true deep-rooted feelings, which are connected to past traumatic experiences,

in order to resolve them. It takes the view that our unconscious holds onto painful feelings and memories, which are too difficult for the conscious mind to process. In order to ensure these memories and emotional experiences do not surface, many people will develop defences, such as subconscious repression, denial, deflection or projection. According to psychodynamic therapy, these defences will often do more harm than good.


Whilst it shares the same core principles of psychoanalysis, psychodynamic counselling is typically far more thorough - focusing both on immediate problems and attempting to find appropriate solutions, as well as bringing to light deeply suppressed emotions which can cause a person to have extreme difficulty in finding appropriate coping mechanisms in order to deal with life's daily challenges. It does however tend to provide more extensive benefits - and is used to help people with a wide range of psychological disorders to make significant changes in thought and behavioural patterns, which affect how they make decisions, deal with situations and interact with others.  

How does psychodynamic treatment work?   

As briefly aforementioned, the psychodynamic approach is guided by the core principle that the unconscious mind harbours deep-rooted feelings and memories that can affect our behaviour. Psychodynamic therapists will work according to this, in context-specific ways, catering their techniques and therapy style to the individual. They maintain an equal relationship with their client, adopting the attitude of unconditional acceptance and aiming to develop a trusting relationship. This encourages the client to open up and explore unresolved issues and conflict hidden in their unconscious, that are affecting their moods and behaviours. 

In order to help the client understand what their unconscious disturbances are and how their mind works, psychodynamic therapists will draw on similar techniques used in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapy. These are listed below: 

Free association

This technique involves the client talking freely to the therapist - saying the first things that come to mind. There is no attempt to shape ideas before they are said, nor do clients tell things in a linear story structure. The spontaneity allows for true thoughts and feelings to emerge without any concern for how painful, illogical or silly they may sound to the therapist. 

Therapeutic transference

This is the redirection of feelings for a significant person - especially those unconsciously retained from childhood - onto the therapist. Clients will form a specific relationship with their therapist over time and transference of feelings can manifest in many  forms such as hatred, mistrust, extreme dependence, sadness and rage, or comfort, love, euphoria, happiness and contentment. Through recognition and exploration of this relationship, the client can begin to understand their feelings and resolve any conflicts with figures from their childhood. 


The therapist is likely to stay relatively quiet throughout the sessions, but will occasionally interject with thoughts or interpretations of the topics the client chooses to discuss. The application of these interpretations will depend on bringing into awareness the client's mental state and capacity to integrate material that they are not conscious of. 

Ultimately, the goal is to help clients learn new patterns of behaviour and ways of thinking that promote personal development and growth - helping them to overcome any limitations caused by unconscious feelings. Generally this process tends to have long lasting results and solution-focused, and sessions will take place usually once a week, lasting for around 50 minutes. Psychodynamic therapy seeks to resolve more immediate problems. 

Short-term psychodynamic treatment

Since the 1950s a shorter, more intense type of psychodynamic treatment has emerged. Following its introduction in a series of workshops, the method of short-term psychodynamic treatment (also know as intensive short-term dynamic psychotherapy - ISTDP) was eventually developed in the 1960s and 1970s by psychiatrist Habib Davanloo. Davanloo's aim was to enhance the efficacy of psychoanalysis and minimise the length of treatment.

While the primary goal of short-term psychodynamic treatment is very similar to psychoanalysis (and thus psychodynamic therapy), rather than acting as a neutral observer of a client's personal development, a short-term psychodynamic therapist will be an active advocate of change. They will guide the client through the process by applying non-interpretative techniques including encouragement to feel. This method was essentially founded on Davanloo's discovery that the dynamic unconscious has many layers. His specific interventions allow the therapist to access those layers, and when applied in a specific style and at specific times in the therapeutic process, help the client to overcome unconscious blocks and resistance as quickly and efficiently as possible. Generally speaking, short-term treatment requires consultations 2 to 3 times weekly.

Whilst the general consensus varies, short term support is usually effective only in those patients with less severe psychological symptoms.

Who can benefit from the psychodynamic approach? 

The psychodynamic approach is designed to help individuals with a wide range of problems, but tends to be most effective in treating more specific issues such as anxiety or stress related disorders due to past trauma in it's many forms, issues arising from physical, sexual or psychological abuse, depression, phobias and obsessive compulsive disorders, addictive behaviour such as substance abuse, self-mutilation or eating disorders.

There tends to be a certain type of individual who responds particularly well to psychodynamic treatment.

These individuals are genuinely interested in exploring themselves, and seek self-knowledge in addition to symptom relief. They will have the capacity for self-reflection and a natural curiosity for their internal life and why they behave the way they do. For example, someone who keeps choosing abusive partners may want to learn how to break that pattern by exploring their unconscious conflicts through free association. If a client is willing to commit themselves wholly to psychodynamic treatment, they should see definite benefits in their lives and be able to practice newly learned principles to help them achieve a more mentally stable and rational approach to life, whilst ridding themselves from feelings of inner anger, resentments, pain, shame, guilt and sadness.




One 2 One Therapeutic Support is an international organization, offering help to clients worldwide through online sessions and also personally at our physical location in Cape Town, South Africa. All qualifications are under the auspices of the MHCPC (Manor House Centre for Psychotherapy and Counseling) and the BACP (British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy) in The United Kingdom and Great Britain. MHCPC UK registration no. 1131804.

We do not have a South African Registration.

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