Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic

Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic: What is the difference?

The terms “psychoanalysis” and “psychodynamic” therapy are typically used interchangeably amongst people in mental health. There is a difference between the two therapies and patients may receive some subtle differences in the two treatments. So what is Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic?

What is Psychoanalysis vs Psychodynamic therapy?

Psychoanalysis is a term used to describe intensive psychotherapy treatment. This involves long-term rehabilitation treatment that can take multiple years. A patient will undergo treatment multiple times a week. Treatment typical takes place with a patient lying on a couch while a certified psychoanalyst therapist conducts the session. This is the typical way in which most people believe therapy occurs. Oftentimes on television, this is how therapy is represented.

Psychoanalysis is talk therapy, which is a term that gets used more and more when professionals speak about therapy these days. This form of therapy enables a patient to become aware of the hidden meanings or thought patterns in what is said or done which could contribute to the individual’s problems. This gives a person the chance to talk about their past and the problems they have encountered with a person or situation. A person is able to talk through their issues and overcome them in the future.

How long are psychoanalysis psychotherapy sessions?

Typically, psychotherapy sessions last for around 50 minutes in length. Sessions may take place more than once a week, but in some cases, one session per week may be used. A person is likely to receive treatment for one year or more years. Consistency is key to psychoanalysis psychotherapy sessions. Patients will attend sessions in the same rooms, at the same time, and with the same therapist.

Talk therapy can:


  • Bring relief to a patient
  • Reduce the confusion they have about what helps and what doesn’t
  • Identify changes to make in daily life to get better
  • Help a patient come to terms with issues that cannot be changed


Psychoanalysis is based on Sigmund Freud’s research. That research has been developed and flushed out to create modern psychoanalysis. Freud’s research claimed a person’s bad thoughts and experiences during childhood are repressed. However, these repressed thoughts influence a person’s feelings in adulthood.

Who can psychoanalysis psychotherapy help?

Psychoanalysis psychotherapy helps adults suffering from psychological problems. It can improve individuals experiencing issues such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Relationship and couple difficulties
  • Post-traumatic difficulties
  • Personality difficulties

What is Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is similar to psychoanalysis. It makes various assumptions about the mind and how it works using psychoanalytic theory. However, the practice is different from traditional psychoanalysis treatment provided to patients in a therapy setting. Psychodynamic therapy sessions are brief and there may be as few as 15 sessions.

Patients undergo psychodynamic therapy around once a week. Sessions are completed face-to-face. The presiding therapist may not even be a certified psychoanalyst. The therapist is trained in psychoanalysis and/or psychodynamic therapy. and considers that his or her therapeutic orientation.

Psychodynamic therapy helps individuals access the subconscious. Individuals typically build defense mechanism to prevent painful feelings from being shared.

Three commonly used defense mechanisms include:


  • Denial
  • Repression
  • Rationalization


Who is psychodynamic therapy for?

Psychodynamic therapy helps individuals obtain insight into their present-day problems. Therapists also evaluate the patterns a person develops over a period of time.

Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic Therapists will review certain parts of a person’s life including:


  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Early-life experiences
  • Beliefs


Psychodynamic therapy helps a person see the recurring issues and patterns in their lives. Once these patterns are identified, a person can work toward avoiding distressful situations while developing ways to cope with them. The insight a person learns during sessions allows them to see these patterns and adapt accordingly.

During psychodynamic sessions, therapists encourage patients to talk about their emotions in a free and relaxed environment. Patients are also able to speak about their desires, and fears. The openness of the sessions allows patients to feel relaxed to let go of vulnerable feelings. Psychodynamic therapists believe a patient’s vulnerability allows them to share hurtful feelings. During sessions, these feelings are processed and the defense mechanisms built around them are reduced or resolved.

Alternatives to psychoanalysis therapy and psychodynamic psychotherapy

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy are alternative styles of therapy. There are other alternatives to the two, however.

Besides psychodynamic vs psychoanalytic, other treatment options include:



Psychodynamic therapy has been shown to be effective for depression, anxiety, Borderline Personality Disorder and eating disorders. Studies showed there was no real benefit using psychodynamic therapy for PTSD, OCD or substance abuse. Therefore, with Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic, current evidence supports relatively long-term psychodynamic treatment for some very specific  personality disorders, particularly borderline personality disorder1 And long term psychoanalytic therapy for all other mental health and substance issues.

References & Citations: Psychodynamic vs Psychoanalytic

  1. Layard R, Clark D. Thrive: the power of evidence-based psychological therapies. London: Allen Lane; 2014. []
  2. Stratton P. Formulating research questions that are relevant to psychotherapy. Ment Health Learning Disabilities Res Practice. 2007;4:83097. []
  3. Henggeler SW, Pickrel SG, Brondino MJ. Multisystemic treatment of substance-abusing and dependent delinquents: outcomes, treatment fidelity, and transportability. Ment Health Serv Res. 1999;1:171–84. [PubMed] []
  4. Mellor-Clark J, Cross S, Macdonald J, et al. Leading horses to water: lessons from a decade of helping psychological therapy services use routine outcome measurement to improve practice. Adm Policy Ment Health. (in press) [PubMed] []
  5. Zilcha-Mano S, Dinger U, McCarthy KS, et al. Changes in well-being and quality of life in a randomized trial comparing dynamic psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy for major depressive disorder. J Affect Disord. 2014;152-154:538–42. [PubMed] []
  6. Nemeroff CB, Heim CM, Thase ME, et al. Differential responses to psychotherapy versus pharmacotherapy in patients with chronic forms of major depression and childhood trauma. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2003;100:14293–6. []
  7. Knekt P, Lindfors O, Laaksonen MA, et al. Effectiveness of short-term and long-term psychotherapy on work ability and functional capacity – a randomized clinical trial on depressive and anxiety disorders. J Affect Disord. 2008;107:95–106. [PubMed] []
  8. Leichsenring F, Salzer S, Beutel ME, et al. Long-term outcome of psychodynamic therapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy in social anxiety disorder. Am J Psychiatry. 2014;171:1074–82. [PubMed] []
  9. Eisler I, Dare C, Russell GF, et al. Family and individual therapy in anorexia nervosa. A 5-year follow-up. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 1997;54:1025–30. [PubMed] []
  10. Emmelkamp PM, Benner A, Kuipers A, et al. Comparison of brief dynamic and cognitive-behavioural therapies in avoidant personality disorder. Br J Psychiatry. 2006;189:60–4. [PubMed] []
  11. Bateman AW, Gunderson J, Mulder R. Treatment of personality disorder. Lancet. 2015;385:735–43. [PubMed] []
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