Originating in the work of Sigmund Freud, psychodynamic therapy is the oldest of the modern therapies. It is also known as psychoanalysis and insight-oriented therapy, and focuses on unconscious processes as they are manifested in a person’s present behavior. Events that occur in childhood can remain in the unconscious, and cause problems as adults. The current psychodynamic theory has evolved since Freud’s times, but still states that events in our childhood have a great influence on our adult lives, shaping our personality. In its evolution, a modern psychodynamic approach also focuses on conscious thinking, in addition to unconscious processes at work.
The goals of psychodynamic therapy are increasing a client’s self-awareness and fostering an understanding of the influence of the past on present behavior. In its brief form, a psychodynamic approach enables the client to examine unresolved conflicts and symptoms that arise from past dysfunctional relationships. Psychodynamic theory stresses the importance of a close working relationship between therapist and client. The therapist will aim to build an accepting and trusting relationship, encouraging the client to talk about his childhood relationships with parents and other significant people. The psychodynamic approach encourages clients to verbalize free association, interpretation and especially transference, where feelings a client experienced in previous significant relationships are projected onto the therapist. The patient is encouraged to bring their true feelings to the surface so they can experience, understand and gain insight into aspects of the self of which they were previously unaware. These feelings may be held in the unconscious mind because they are difficult to face. The therapist then offers suggestions as to what is going on and in doing so, it is hoped these feelings become more bearable, the client is able to see how these past conflicts link to their current problems and find alternative ways of doing things. For example, difficulties in current relationships may be due to feelings of anger towards a parent for neglect as a child.
Several different approaches to brief psychodynamic psychotherapy have evolved from psychoanalytic theory and have been clinically applied to a wide range of psychological disorders.