Psychoanalysis and the Benefits of Psychodynamic Therapy
What is Psychoanalysis?
Psychoanalysis refers to a set of psychological theories and therapeutic methods which fundamentally view psychological issues as rooted in the unconscious mind. Accordingly, manifest symptoms (i.e., undesirable or dysfunctional thoughts, behaviours, and other defensive mechanisms) are the result of hidden factors, such as unresolved issues and traumatic experiences during developmental years. In response to traumatic early life experiences, individuals may learn maladaptive defence mechanisms, unconsciously triggered by scenarios in their environment which are negatively attached to their repressed conflict.
So how psychoanalysis is used in therapy?
Perhaps the key distinguishing feature from other talk therapies, psychoanalysis aims to bring the repressed conflict from the unconscious into consciousness, where the patient can begin to address and process it. This is known as insight. By focusing more on the unconscious reasons that trigger problematic behaviours, as opposed to targeting manifest symptoms through behaviour change, psychoanalysis aims to uncover the psychological ‘roots’ of the problem. It is part of the human condition to develop defence mechanisms. These range from denial to projection and rationalisation; such behaviour is influenced by unconscious thought, which, once identified, addressed, and processed, can reduce or resolve defence mechanisms. Learn more about the unconscious mind in our blog post
Psychodynamic Therapy – What exactly is it?
Grounded in traditional psychoanalysis, psychodynamic therapy (PDT) acknowledges that many dysfunctional patterns of behaviours and thoughts stem from a source that may lie ‘below the surface’ – i.e., the unconscious. Psychodynamic therapists assist clients to uncover ‘the unconscious reasons for conscious behaviours’, developing insight into their lives and current issues by delving into a range of factors such as the client’s emotions, thoughts, beliefs and early life experiences.
Here are some techniques used in psychodynamic therapy:
Free association. Much of this work is performed using a technique known as free association – a process in which the client expresses themselves – speaking freely about their emotions, thoughts and anxieties – without censorship. This enables identification of recurring patterns of behaviours, thoughts, or emotions and thus, insight and understanding into the defence mechanisms they may use to cope and/or avoid psychological distress. Free association is the primary tool of PDT, and you can read more about it in our blog post here.
Transference. The client, in speaking freely about their emotions, thoughts, anxieties, and motivations, reveals unconscious vulnerabilities that can be worked into the conscious awareness. Through the therapeutic relationship, certain projections of the client’s prominent life figures (e.g., parental role, romantic partner) and their relational experience to that figure (e.g., resentment towards punishing experiences) may emerge – a phenomenon known as transference. Such behaviours and patterns within therapist-client interactions can provide important insight into the client’s problematic relationship patterns.
How can psychodynamic therapy benefit you?
A review into the efficacy of psychodynamic therapy found that most benefits were associated with capacity building and increasing the client’s inner resources. This makes sense, as psychodynamic therapists work alongside the client to uncover unconscious motives behind their [problematic] behaviours. This aims to reduce, relieve and resolve distressing and anxiety-inducing symptoms typically associated with problematic behaviours or thoughts, thereby improving the client’s internal experience – including their self-esteem, confidence in personal abilities, and self-awareness.
In addition to being equally effective to other mainstream treatments, research shows that the positive recovery effects of patients receiving PDT were maintained well after treatment ceased. The fact that patients continued to improve after treatment had ended suggests that PDT may set in motion important psychological processes that result in positive, ongoing change. These long-lasting benefits may indicate their positive impact on the patient’s internal experience and capacity to engage with the external world in a meaningful way, and greatly enhance one’s own overall quality of life.