What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

July 26, 2019

Psychodynamic psychotherapy makes three major assumptions. The three cornerstones of psychodynamic therapy include:

  1. The idea of a dynamic unconscious. Psychodynamic psychotherapists believe that we are all driven by thoughts and feelings that are outside of our conscious awareness.
  2. A belief that people can grow and change throughout their lives.
  3. The belief that every individual is unique. Each will be addressed in turn.

1. We are driven by unconscious thoughts and feelings

The idea, here, is that we are driven by thoughts and feelings that outside of our awareness; we call this, “the unconscious”. When our thoughts and feelings are unbearable to us, we (unknowingly) push them out of our awareness. For this reason, we don’t always know what drives our behavior.

Take for example, the outstanding college student who allows his father to choose his major. As he approaches graduation, he finds himself too anxious to study and begins to fail his courses. He may be unaware of how frightened he is of being on his own and growing up.

Likely he does not recognize how angry he is at his parents for making key decisions for him and thereby undermining his sense of his own capacities.

Thus, his symptoms serve dual functions: they allow him to avoid adulthood and they let him express, albeit indirectly, his anger and resentment toward his parents. So, what is the psychoanalyst’s role in this effort?

The Psychoanalyst’s Role to help make the unconscious conscious

In my role as a psychoanalyst, I work to help you to “make the unconscious conscious”. That is, I work to help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings.

My goal is to help you to excavate those thoughts and feelings that are buried. I want to help you learn about those things that drive your behavior that are outside of your conscious awareness.  For this reason, I discourage homework or preparation for therapy. Instead, I encourage you to come as you are and to say whatever comes into your mind. I ask you to report day dreams, “flash thoughts” and fantasies. Also, I invite you to report your dreams.

Dreams, which Freud called, “the royal road to the unconscious” offer a window in to those aspects of yourself that are outside of your awareness in your waking life.

My role is to listen and to collaborate with you so that, together, we can decipher your hidden struggles. As you come to understand your feelings, you can make decisions about your life with greater clarity and comfort.

Examples of Psychodynamic Therapy

A highly successful, attractive, man in his thirties would like to marry and have a family. He’s had several long-term relationships. Yet, each of the women are reluctant to make a commitment. He comes to psychodynamic psychotherapy wondering, “why do I keep ending up with commitment-phobes. There may be many reason for his difficulties. Unconsciously, he himself, may be afraid of intimacy.

Another possibility is that he may harbor, unconscious, guilt. In fact, he may feel so guilty that he feels that he doesn’t deserve the kind of relationship that he wants. There are endless possibilities. In the context of psychodynamic therapy or psychoanalysis, he may deepen his understanding of himself so that he can achieve this goal.

A very bright, highly educated, young woman in her twenties is underemployed, working at a job that she hates. She’d like to make pursue an interesting and lucrative career but she can’t seem to identify a career goal. Her efforts to work with career counselors have failed. She comes to psychodynamic therapy to understand why she can’t seem to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

2. A focus on human growth and development

As human beings we are always growing and developing throughout our lives. Therefore, psychodynamic therapists  believe that there is always a possibility of change.

3. A belief that every individual is unique

Like most psychoanalysts and psychodynamic therapists, I prize the uniqueness of every person. I attempt to understand each person in the context of their unique history and current situation. The past influences the present. Like many of today’s psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapists, I place a heavy emphasis on what happens between us in the therapeutic relationship. While I value the importance of early childhood experience, I feel that recognizing the individual’s strengths as well as the “here and now” are equally important.

Finally, because of the emphasis on the uniqueness of the individual, psychoanalysts and psychodynamic therapists are devoted to developing a deep understanding of each person. For this reason, your psychodynamic therapist will want to get to know you very well and will encourage frequent sessions.

More questions:

I’m interested in exploring a consultation with you, what’s my next step?

If you are interested in a consultation for psychodynamic psychotherapy, or psychoanalysis, with me, feel free to reach out: 301.656.9650. Please let me know the days and times when it is easiest to reach you. I welcome your call.

If you are seeking consultation from a Psychologist in DC. I welcome your call: 301.656.9650.




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