The famous therapist Sigmund Freud created Psychodynamic therapy. Freud believed human behavior could be explained by intrapsychic processes and interpersonal patterns outside of a person’s conscious awareness based on childhood experiences. A general definition of psychodynamic theory is that forces outside of a person’s awareness explain why they behave a certain way.
Today psychodynamic theory consists of many related theories regarding human development and personality. Moreover, these different theories have various treatment processes, some of which psychotherapists and other clinicians use, like talk therapy, dream analysis, free association, and transference.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is an approach to therapy that focuses on understanding the unconscious processes and dynamics that influence a person's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It draws heavily from the work of Sigmund Freud and his psychoanalytic theories. In psychodynamic psychotherapy, the therapist and client work together to explore and uncover the underlying causes of psychological distress, often rooted in early life experiences and unconscious conflicts. The therapist helps the client gain insight into these unconscious patterns and works towards resolving them through the therapeutic relationship.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy involves various techniques, such as free association, dream analysis, and interpretation of transference and resistance. Applying the free association technique encourages clients to speak freely and express their thoughts and feelings without censorship. Dream analysis involves exploring dreams' symbolism and hidden meanings to shed light on unconscious desires and conflicts. Transference occurs when the client unconsciously transfers feelings and expectations onto the therapist, reflecting patterns from past relationships. By analyzing these dynamics, the therapist helps the client develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their relationships, leading to personal growth and psychological healing.
Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is often long-term and aims to create lasting changes by addressing the root causes of psychological distress rather than just managing symptoms.
Many modern therapies emphasize mitigating or getting rid of the symptoms of a problem. For example, if a person struggles with anxiety, cognitive behavioral therapy helps them address their stress symptoms.
The psychodynamic approach explores a person’s deeply rooted drives, needs, and desires. It’s considered a more global approach to therapy than modern, problem-based therapy. You can also see it as a difference between focusing on a person’s emotions and behavior.
Psychodynamic therapy has proven helpful for a variety of mental health problems, including:
- Depressive disorders
- Anxiety disorders
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
What Is Object Relations Therapy?
You might invest a lot of time into your relationships, but you might not use that time effectively if you view your relationships incorrectly. Most theorists believe that your earliest interactions — or object relations — during childhood play a large part in how you view your current relationships. So if you are struggling now, it may be directly linked to how you viewed relationships as a child. Object relations therapy can improve existing relationships by addressing unhealthy patterns from the past.
During the early years of life, we subconsciously form ideas and standards through experiences from our closest relationships — our object relations. Most often, we are unaware of these standards. Therefore, if we have difficulty interacting with others as adults, it may result from standards we unknowingly created as children. Since we weren’t aware of developing these standards, overcoming our current challenges is difficult until we become more fully aware of the past and explore those object relations.
A therapist using object relations therapy will help clients explore their past to find these standards and then work on altering them to enable healthier relationships in the present and future. By focusing on your relations to “objects” — or people — you can take steps forward and better understand your relationships.
Object relations is a psychodynamic theory based on these core beliefs:
- Each therapist who developed object relations-focused therapy believed that the bond between mother and child is developmentally significant.
- These object relations founders believed this bond plays a vital role in the child’s psychic structure for the first several years of life.
- Central to object relations theory is the idea of object constancy, which refers to a person's ability to form a bond separate from the need for attention and sustenance.
What Is the Goal? How does it work?
What Is the Goal?
Object relations therapy aims to help people improve relationships by improving how they function internally. The provider will review patients’ childhood object relations through treatment to see how those interactions may influence their current relationships.
How Does It Work?
When object relations therapy begins, the therapist works to establish trust with the patient. During treatment, they show empathy as they learn about the patient’s hopes, fears, family background, and inner world. They show acceptance of the patient as they listen. Once the object relations therapist has established trust, they can start guiding the patient through the more difficult places in their lives.
The purpose of object relations-focused therapy is for the patient to gain greater self-awareness of their internalized image or images. When interacting with the patient, the therapist will be able to recognize general ways in which the same person interacts with others. These insights help the patient gain awareness, leading to a more remarkable ability to form healthy object relations, replacing or transforming any old and unhealthy object relations. The key to object relations therapy is the therapist’s ability to connect with the patient and build trust around their object relations. If this connection does not happen, the patient will not be comfortable abandoning their current attachment style and exploring their object relations, even if they have led to unhealthy relationships. The therapeutic environment needs to be safe and comfortable — the optimal conditions for improving object relations through therapy.
Helping Your Current Relationship
If you had unhealthy relationships with those closest to you as a child or a child’s fears that weren’t addressed, it could be difficult for you to have healthy relationships as an adult. While you most likely don’t even know that you are doing it, you are projecting object relations from your past (such as with your mother or father) onto the people with whom you are intimately involved today. These unconscious emotional conflicts can lead to unhealthy adult relationships, too much anxiety, unbearable feelings of abandonment, aggressive impulses, and negative patterns that repeat themselves, no matter how hard you try to break them.
Why Psychodynamic Therapy Might Be Right For You?
- Improvement in interpersonal functioning and relationships.
- Increased functioning at and ability to find satisfaction with work.
- Improvement in self-esteem.
- Better ability to pursue long-term goals.
- Improved management of aggression and negative expressions of emotion.
- Decrease in symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Insight into unconscious conflict.
- Improvement in the use of mature psychological defenses and coping mechanisms.
- More flexibility in perceptions of and behaviors with other people.
- Improved quality of the mental representations of relationships.
- Better ability to comprehend the mental states within themselves and others.
Roberts, L. W. (2019). The American Psychiatric Association Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry. Seventh edition. American Psychiatric Association Publishing.
Kay, J. (2006). The essentials of psychodynamic psychotherapy. FOC. 4(2):167-172.
Steinert, C., Munder, T., Rabung, S., Hoyer, J, & Leichsenring, F. (2017). Psychodynamic therapy: as efficacious as other empirically supported treatments? A meta-analysis testing equivalence of outcomes. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 174(10):943-953.
Abbass, A. A., Kisely, S. R., Town, J. M., et al. (2014). Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapies for common mental disorders. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (7).