What it is: Psychodynamic therapists believe that your past shapes your current behavior, and that understanding its influence allows you to break old patterns. Basically, it’s about getting to the root of the problem.
“Psychodynamic therapy addresses the underlying factors that created the circumstances a person faces today,” says Nancy Nereo Ph.D., a psychodynamic therapist in NYC. Those factors include the way your family communicated, challenges you faced (like moving often or losing a loved one), and how supported you felt growing up. “Those factors typically show up in many situations and relationships, and patterns start to emerge,” says Nereo. Once you see the patterns, you can start to break them.
Psychodynamic therapists emphasize the client-therapist relationship, and use it to create change. They believe that transference—when the client transfers feelings about an important person in their life onto the therapist—can allow a client to work through those feelings in a safe space.
How it works: “Psychodynamic therapy sessions begin with the client,” says Nereo, meaning that the client chooses what to talk about depending on what’s on their mind that day. “Often, concerns focus on relationships, both past and present,” she says. “The therapist helps the patient recognize themes that come up across sessions.”
A patient may choose to end treatment after their symptoms fade, but psychodynamic therapists believe that it’s possible to go deeper. That means understanding how you interact with others and conduct yourself in the world, says Dr. Nereo. Rather than delivering a test to diagnose a particular disorder, a psychodynamic therapist will typically assess the client informally and may never offer an explicit diagnosis.
Who it fits: All therapies aim to relieve symptoms, but people who want to gain insight about the deeper patterns in their lives will thrive in psychodynamic therapy.
Shown to treat: Personality disorders, anxiety, depression and “problems of daily living” including relationship issues, professional obstacles, identity concerns and role transitions.
Duration: Indefinite. Client typically decides when to end therapy. Sessions usually occur once per week, but can be up to 3-4 times per week.
Where to find a psychodynamic therapist: A referral is your best bet, says Dr. Nereo. Try asking your doctor or a friend—anyone you trust. If that’s not an option, Nereo recommends contacting an area psychoanalytic institute for a referral. “Low fee psychotherapy is also available through the institute itself,” she adds.
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