Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

Our rating
 2 smilies: This treatment is useful. It is supported by scientific evidence as effective, but the evidence is not as strong.

What is it?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy aims to understand a person’s internal conflicts and how they may impact their feelings, behaviour and relationships. These conflicts are believed to stem from childhood experiences, and people are often unaware of them. Psychotherapy aims to uncover and explain these internal conflicts, and reduce their impact on everyday life.

How does it work?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy adopts the view that insight or self-knowledge is an essential condition for lasting recovery and change. A trusting, consistent relationship with the therapist allows the patient to gradually reveal emotional and behavioural issues which are causing them problems. Sometimes, these issues are linked to past events. One goal of therapy is to recognise these problematic past events, and move on from them so the patient can live more in the present. By identifying and talking through problems, psychodynamic therapy aims to help the patient understand themselves better, develop good coping skills, have better relationships with others and improve their self-esteem.

Is it effective?

There is some good scientific evidence on psychodynamic psychotherapy for the treatment of depression. Studies have shown that psychodynamic therapy is more effective than no treatment at reducing symptoms of depression. Psychodynamic therapy can also be combined with antidepressant medication.

A review of the research evidence found that psychodynamic therapy did not reduce people’s depression symptoms as quickly as other psychological treatments. However, after 3 to 12 months of therapy, people had a similar depression score regardless of which psychological treatment they received.

Are there any disadvantages?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy involves weekly sessions for many months. A session is expected to last for approximately 45 minutes. This can be expensive, however in Australia psychiatrists are covered by Medicare, and rebates are now provided for visits to clinical psychologists.

Where do you get it?

Psychodynamic psychotherapy is offered by some counsellors, psychologists, clinical psychologists and psychiatrists (see Psychologists and other therapists). Counsellors and clinical psychologists are listed in the Yellow Pages. To see a psychiatrist, you would need a referral from a GP.


Psychodynamic psychotherapy appears to be effective in the treatment of depression.

Key references

  • Driessen E, Cuijpers P, C.M. de Maat S, Abbass AA, de Jonghe F, J.M. Dekker J. The efficacy of short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy for depression: A meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review 2010; 30: 25–36.
  • Leichsenring F. Effectiveness of long-term psychodynamic psychotherapy: a meta-analysis. JAMA 2008; 300: 1551-1565.

Last reviewed and updated: 1 December 2016