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What is psychodynamic therapy and how could it help you?

The language used by counsellors to talk about different therapies can be confusing - especially when you just want to know what will help you to feel better!

That’s why I think it’s so important to address that language if we’re going to help more people to understand exactly what sort of therapy might be helpful for them.

The talking therapy that I specialise in is psychodynamic therapy - I think it’s brilliant!

In this article, I’m going to begin to demystify the term psychodynamic therapy. I hope that after you’ve read it, you’ll have a much better idea of what it means and whether it’s the right therapy for you.

So, what is it? Who is it for? How can you expect to feel afterwards? And how on earth can talking about your problems help you to feel better?

What happens in psychodynamic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is all about understanding how language, relationships and experience impact our mental suffering and psychological changes. It also involves a lot of pattern recognition.

We are all used to processing our own experiences and behaviours in a certain way, and this causes us to develop coping mechanisms. In psychodynamic therapy, you’ll gradually unpack those patterns with your counsellor and figure out where they come from. This will help you to understand them and give you a chance to change them for the better.

I bet you’re thinking “but that’s what all therapy wants to achieve!” right? So is psychodynamic therapy actually any different from any other kind of talking therapy?

How is psychodynamic psychotherapy different from any other therapy?

Despite its similarities, there are also some key points that make psychodynamic therapy unique:

🦋 It focuses on early experiences (what you might call childhood) and how it shapes the pattern of your life. It believes that early experiences shape the pattern of your life.

🦋 It pays attention to your lived experiences right up until the point you walk into your counsellor’s office.

🦋 In addition to this, it also explores what life is like in between your sessions, once you have begun the therapy. The way you talk about your current life experiences is as interesting to the counsellor as the way you talk about past experiences. Imagine your past and your present constantly influencing each other - the past moulds and shapes the present, whether consciously or unconsciously, which means that how you react to things happening right now tells us a lot about what happened in your past too.

🦋 But by far, the most dynamic part of the therapy is the fact that the relationship between you and your counsellor is constantly evolving and unfolding. It’s real, it’s live, and it’s happening right now to both of you. Your counsellor will use that live material to help you understand and unpack your own patterns (exciting, right?!).

The relationship with your therapist is the most dynamic part of the psychodynamic therapy
Photo by Official on Unsplash

The importance of the client-counsellor relationship in psychodynamic therapy

As a psychodynamic counsellor, I am deliberately bringing myself into the room and into my relationship with my clients. I can understand my clients much better when I experience how they relate to me in the very meaningful and emotionally involved relationship that we develop during our sessions.

For example, if I find myself saying “I wonder whether you felt I let you down…”, it’s because I am interested in the client’s response to being let down. This can range from denying it, to getting angry, to blaming themselves, or all of the above.

From the client’s point of view, being able to explore these with me in a safe way can bring immense relief and insight into their own way of being.

Exploring childhood

My clients often find themselves saying: “OMG. Why do we always have to stir up the past? Everything that happened in my childhood has already happened. What am I supposed to do about it now?!”

Or maybe “Why do we always have to blame my mother?” (believe me, I really don’t want to blame your mother for everything!)

The truth is, everyone has issues from their childhood. Confronting our relationships with mothers and fathers is an incredibly important part of making sense of our childhood and the way that early experiences have shaped our current lives. This is because our parents were significant caregivers in our early years. We attached to them and they helped us to define love, hate, comfort, and a myriad of emotions in between. They were also the people who taught us, explicitly or implicitly, how to relate to others.

So for example, if you had adverse experiences in childhood, this can have a huge impact on your capacity to process experiences and to cope with daily life. This is because your resilience is eroded by these sorts of experiences.

You might be thinking “That’s just life” – but is it?

It can be really hard to deal with “just life” when you have had adverse childhood experiences. If you don’t take the time to understand it, you will not be able to change those patterns in your current life now.

You’re right that therapy won’t change the past, but it can make the present more bearable, and help you to be accepting of the pain caused by those early experiences. Psychodynamic therapy can really help you to get through life in a more resilient, stable and reliable way.

Exploring childhood in psychodynamic therapy
Photo by Liana Mikah on Unsplash

Who will benefit from psychodynamic therapy?

Often my clients have tried other things to cope before they try psychodynamic therapy, including other therapies but also drugs, sex, drinking, working too much, shouting, eating to shut down their emotions, etc. All of these are coping mechanisms and are used as a way to survive. Some of them might be fun but some might cross the line into being unsustainable if you’re going to maintain a healthy lifestyle. When this happens, you might feel ready to ask for help.

In my opinion, psychodynamic therapy is most effective for those who have tried other therapies and/or medication but who feel they still need help.

That’s because it’s a robust long-term approach that can have lasting psychological improvements…but it requires commitment. It works because clients feel seen and heard. And when that happens, the healing starts.

It’s a commitment – YES! It’s an enormous commitment to see me once a week, and one that might feel uncomfortable and beneficial at the same time.

But if you have tried all those things before, this commitment is necessary in order to finally help yourself.

A therapist writes on her notebook.
Photo by Kate Hliznitsova on Unsplash

Let’s recap

So, psychodynamic therapy is different from other therapies because it is about:

🦋 Seeing the whole person, including their past experiences, childhood, and current lives.

🦋 Developing a meaningful relationship between the counsellor and the patient.

🦋 The counsellor using that relationship to stabilise the patient by really focusing on that one person and using the dynamics between them to make sense of the client’s world.

🦋 Commitment and trust.

Could now be a good time to reach out for help?

If you’re considering having counselling and/or psychodynamic therapy it’s important to choose the right therapist for you. Your relationship with them will dictate how effective your therapy is, so it’s a big decision!

For more help and advice to get this right, why not check out my blog How to choose a therapist. There, you’ll find nine things to think about before making your choice.

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