Psychodynamic counselling/psychotherapy is a well-established and evidence-based “talking therapy” – which is to say that it involves talking in confidence with a professional person, who is outside your immediate situation. It derives from psychoanalysis and analytical psychology, and is informed by the findings of modern attachment research and contemporary neuroscience. However, whereas psychoanalysis involves attending therapy sessions 3-5 days per week, psychodynamic counselling and psychotherapy are oriented to once- or twice-weekly sessions; as such this option may be more accessible for some people.
The therapy itself unfolds through a regular and ongoing conversation between therapist and client, in which together they can explore the client’s thoughts, feelings, memories and dreams in order to better understand the client’s psychology. Sessions will usually take place at the same time and place each week, and in a setting which is quiet, private and without interruptions. Particular emphasis is placed on two fundamental ideas: 1) that much of our mental life is actually outside of our conscious awareness but still exerts a formidable influence over our daily lives; 2) that psychological and interpersonal problems in adult life have their roots in childhood experiences – insofar as our emotional lives develop throughout our lives in relation to our environment and relationships.
In the therapeutic conversation, careful reflection on what is known about our lives (including what we do and do not remember of childhood) can allow us to make inferences, find words, and assign meaning where previously this was missing – things start to make a bit more sense. But one of the distinctive features of psychodynamic therapy is that psychodynamic counsellors and psychotherapists pay great attention to the unconscious aspects of the mind, as manifested in symptoms (such as things we do or keep doing without knowing why, or things we avoid and keep avoiding even though it makes no sense to do so), in dreams (which draw our attention to many things we know, and need to know, but didn’t know we knew), and through the medium of the therapeutic relationship itself (which is to say that the client’s way of relating to themselves and the therapist helps to reveal the client’s “templates” for what relationships are going to be like – often based on aspects of relationships that go back to childhood).
Why do this? To see more clearly that which was entirely outside of our awareness, and to reach an understanding of it, allows us to be more in charge of ourselves, and to make new and perhaps better choices in the here-and-now (rather than living on a kind of auto-pilot in which we are swayed too much by unconscious factors).
As well as reaching new insights about themselves, for many people, therapy may also represent a different way of being with oneself and “doing” relationships. To talk about and reflect on the things that matter most, with another person who is supportive and respectful, and who seeks to understand rather than judge us, can in itself be an enriching and beneficial experience.
Psychodynamic therapy differs from other popular forms of therapy in that it aims not only to reduce and manage the suffering caused by symptoms, but also to promote psychological growth and development. While a session or two may well be helpful, it is not usually a quick fix. It is important to be realistic about the fact that deeper change is likely to take place over a longer period of time, and this being so it is not unusual for the therapy to be a matter of months rather than weeks, quite often a year and sometimes several years.