Evidence of the Effectiveness of Psychodynamic Therapy: What is it and How can it Help?

Have you considered exploring psychodynamic therapy?

Evidence of the Effectiveness of Psychodynamic Therapy: What is it and How can it Help?

Psychodynamic therapy is a therapeutic approach that helps us better understand our unconscious thoughts, feelings, and memories, which in turn influence our behavior and relationships. This blog post will delve into:

  1. The history of psychodynamic therapy 
  2. How psychiatrists and psychotherapists perform psychodynamic therapy
  3. The mental health conditions it helps treat
  4. Evidence of its effectiveness and its overall success rate

At The Happiness Psychiatrist we incorporate integrative techniques—from meditation to holistic psychotherapies to online personal coaching—to help treat a wide range of life issues and conditions. Discover all of our services and join us as we explore the history and current applications of psychodynamic therapy.

The History of Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic therapy has its roots in the theories and practices of Sigmund Freud, who founded psychoanalysis in the late 19th century. Freud believed that unresolved unconscious conflicts, often stemming from early childhood experiences, could lead to psychological distress and maladaptive behaviors. His theory of psychoanalysis sought to bring these unconscious conflicts to consciousness, allowing individuals to gain insight and resolve them.

Over time, several prominent psychoanalytic theorists expanded on Freud's ideas and contributed to the development of psychodynamic therapy. These theorists include Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, and Melanie Klein, among others. Despite their differences, these theorists shared a common emphasis on the importance of unconscious processes, early experiences, and the therapeutic relationship.

A Timeline of Major Events in the History of Psychodynamic Therapy

While the origins of psychodynamic therapy and evidence of its effectiveness can be traced back to Freud, advancements have occurred—and are still occurring—to treat major disorders. A consolidated timeline of major events in the history of psychodynamic therapy is proof of this, including such milestones as: 

  • 1886: Sigmund Freud opens his private practice in Vienna
  • 1892: The American Psychological Association (APA) is founded, with its first formal meeting held at the University of Pennsylvania
  • 1896: Clinical psychology as we know it is born, as the first psychological clinic opens at the University of Pennsylvania
  • 1913: Carl Jung develops his own theories, departing from Freud's psychoanalytic style due to differences in acknowledging the role of religion and spirituality in mental health; Jung’s new school of thought comes to be known as “Analytical Psychology”
  • 1913: Jacob L. Moreno applies group psychotherapy methods in Vienna, emphasizing spontaneity and interaction; this practice comes to be known as “Psychodrama and Sociometry”
  • 1942: Carl Rogers publishes “Counseling and Psychotherapy,” suggesting that a more respectful therapeutic approach is the foundation for effective treatment of mental health issues
  • 1945: The Journal of Clinical Psychology is founded
  • 1952: The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association (APA), marking the beginning of modern mental illness classification.
  • 1953: B.F. Skinner outlines behavioral therapy, supporting new approaches for behavioral psychology via research
  • 1968: Clinical psychology becomes officially recognized in academia. The first Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) professional degree program is established in the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois—Urbana/Champaign
  • 1973: The American Psychiatric Association passes vote to declassify homosexuality as a disorder
  • 1990: Michael White and David Epston publish Narrative Means to Therapeutic Ends, the first major text in a new form of psychotherapy known as “Narrative Therapy”
  • 2013: DSM-5 is released at the American Psychiatric Association’s  Annual Meeting, celebrating fifty years of mental health identification and classification

While innovations in the treatment of mental disorders using psychodynamic and other therapies continue to this day, it is always edifying and enlightening to explore its evolution and history.

A triptych of black and off-white abstract art, with the two outer panels featuring images that appear to be rocks stacked on top of each other, and the inner panel curved maze-like lines
Identifying patterns of behavior is a key step in the psychodynamic therapy process.

How Psychodynamic Therapy is Performed by Psychotherapists

Psychodynamic therapy typically occurs in individual sessions between a client and a trained psychotherapist. Sessions may be scheduled weekly or more frequently, depending on the individual's needs and the psychotherapist's approach. The 5-step therapeutic process involves:

  1. Establishing a therapeutic alliance.
  2. Exploring past experiences.
  3. Identifying patterns.
  4. Performing interpretation and gaining insight.
  5. Processing  and resolving issues. 

Let’s take a closer look at each step and how it impacts individual psychodynamic therapy. 

Establishing a Therapeutic Alliance 

The psychotherapist and client build a trusting relationship, which is essential for creating a safe space where the client can explore their thoughts and feelings. It involves: 

  1. Active listening 
  2. Empathy
  3. Creating a non-judgmental environment

A strong therapeutic alliance enhances the effectiveness of therapy, facilitating the patient’s journey toward personal growth and healing.

Exploring Past Experiences 

The psychotherapist helps the client identify and examine significant past experiences, particularly those that occurred during childhood, to gain insight into how these events might be influencing current thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

By exploring these past experiences, individuals can better understand the underlying causes of their present issues, enabling them to make meaningful changes in their lives. This process of exploration and insight is fundamental to psychodynamic therapy, as it helps patients develop a deeper self-awareness and work through unresolved issues for long-term emotional growth and healing.

Identifying Patterns

The psychotherapist works with the client to recognize recurring themes and patterns in their life, which may reflect unconscious conflicts or unresolved issues.

Through the exploration of these patterns, patients can uncover dynamics that shape their current experiences and choices. Recognizing these patterns is essential as it enables patients to break free from unconscious, self-defeating cycles and empowers them to make more conscious and constructive decisions in their lives.

Performing Interpretation and Gaining Insight

The therapist offers interpretations of the client's thoughts, feelings, and experiences, helping the client gain insight into the underlying causes of their psychological distress.

This process of gaining insight into one's inner world allows clients to make connections between their past experiences and present challenges, ultimately leading to increased self-awareness and the potential for transformative change

Working Through and Resolving Issues

The client, with the psychotherapist's guidance, works through and processes their unconscious conflicts and emotional pain, thus allowing for personal growth and improved mental health.

Mental Health Conditions Treated with Psychodynamic Therapy

The psychodynamic therapeutic approach offers a deep and holistic understanding of the underlying factors contributing to many mental health conditions and disorders. We explore how psychodynamic therapy can be tailored to meet the unique needs of individuals experiencing different mental health concerns, highlighting its potential to promote lasting healing and emotional well-being. 

Psychodynamic therapy can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including:


Psychodynamic therapy equips clients with coping strategies and healthier ways to manage anxiety, making it a valuable approach for those seeking relief from this common mental health concern.

Psychodynamic therapy has also demonstrated its effectiveness in healing anxiety by addressing the potential root causes of anxious feelings and behaviors, such as: 

  • Past experiences
  • Unconscious conflicts
  • Recurring patterns of thought and emotion 

Individuals undergoing psychodynamic therapy gain valuable insights into the underlying drivers of their anxiety, allowing them to confront and process these issues, leading to reduced anxiety symptoms and improved emotional resilience. 

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Psychodynamic therapy can be a part of your journey to a happier, healthier you


Psychodynamic therapy encourages individuals to explore their past experiences, relationships, and unconscious processes, allowing them to gain insight into the origins of their depression. By making these connections, clients can work through any unresolved issues, manage self-defeating thought patterns, and develop healthier ways of coping with their emotions. 

Psychodynamic therapy provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to express their feelings and process their pain, ultimately promoting emotional healing and a reduction in depressive symptoms, making it a valuable approach for those seeking relief from depression.

Personality Disorders

Individuals with personality disorders can gain insight into the origins of their maladaptive patterns of behavior and thought through psychodynamic therapy. Patients can develop a greater understanding of why they engage in certain behaviors and how these behaviors may be related to their personality. Psychodynamic therapy provides a supportive space for individuals to work through these issues, fostering personal growth and facilitating healthier ways of relating to oneself and others. 

While treatment for personality disorders can be long-term, psychodynamic therapy's emphasis on insight and self-awareness can significantly contribute to improved functioning and enhanced quality of life for those living with these disorders.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Psychodynamic therapy has shown effectiveness in treating Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) by helping individuals confront and process the deep emotional wounds and unresolved traumas that underlie their symptoms. Through the therapeutic process of uncovering patterns of thought and behavior related to their trauma, clients can gain valuable insights and develop healthier coping mechanisms. 

Eating Disorders

Psychodynamic therapy has demonstrated effectiveness in the treatment of eating disorders by focusing on the underlying emotional and psychological factors that contribute to such complex conditions as binge eating, emotional eating, and bulimia nervosa. 

By developing  self-awareness and insight into the root causes of their condition, clients can work through unresolved issues and develop healthier attitudes towards food, body image, and self-esteem. At The Happiness Psychiatrist, we offer psychodynamic therapy in conjunction with GLP-1 therapy, a cutting-edge treatment that employs medications like Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro, and Saxenda. With this therapeutic approach, patients have experienced: 

  1. Weight loss
  2. Reduced binge-eating behavior
  3. Decreased Food Chatter
  4. Improved metabolic health
  5. Psychological benefits 

Addressing the deep-seated emotional pain often associated with eating disorders—through psychodynamic therapy, GLP-1 therapy, and other approved means—can ultimately promote long-lasting recovery and improved mental and physical health.

Substance Abuse and Addiction

Psychodynamic therapy has shown effectiveness in helping individuals examine their past experiences, traumas, and personal and familial contributors to substance abuse. Psychodynamic therapy can also help individuals confront their emotions and develop the self-awareness needed to break the cycle of addiction, developing awareness of specific triggers along with coping mechanisms to ward off relapse. 

While it is often used in conjunction with other addiction treatment modalities, psychodynamic therapy plays a crucial role in helping individuals with substance abuse issues achieve lasting recovery and emotional healing.

Relationship Issues

Psychodynamic therapy’s focus on relationship issues offers a comprehensive understanding of the deep-seated dynamics that influence the way individuals relate to one another. This therapeutic approach helps individuals explore their past experiences, particularly those related to early attachment and family relationships, which often shape their current patterns of relating.

Psychodynamic therapy also promotes self-awareness and emotional growth, allowing individuals to: 

  1. Identify and work through insecurities
  2. Pinpoint communication barriers 
  3. Develop healthier relationships 
  4. Build stronger connections
  5. Improve overall interpersonal skills 

Through increased insight and understanding, patients are better equipped to navigate and resolve conflicts within their relationships, leading to more fulfilling and harmonious connections with others.

Self-esteem and Identity Issues

Psychodynamic therapy encourages clients to express and process their emotions, particularly those related to childhood and early relationships, which often shape one's sense of self-worth and identity. Continued therapy can promote self-awareness, self-acceptance, and a greater understanding of one's true self beyond the constraints of negative self-perceptions. 

As patients work through these underlying issues and develop a healthier sense of self, they often experience an improvement in self-esteem, a clearer sense of identity, and increased confidence, ultimately leading to a more fulfilling and authentic life.

It is worth noting that psychodynamic therapy may be used in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or medication, depending on the individual's needs and the specific condition being treated.

The Success Rate of Psychodynamic Therapy

The success rate of psychodynamic therapy varies depending on several factors, including the client's motivation level, the therapist's skill, and the specific mental health condition being treated. Research has shown that psychodynamic therapy can be very effective in reducing symptoms and improving overall mental health.

A meta-analysis of 23 studies found that psychodynamic therapy had a moderate to large effect size for treating various mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety disorders. Additionally, the benefits of psychodynamic therapy have been shown to persist and even increase over time, suggesting that the therapeutic gains achieved during treatment are lasting.


Psychodynamic therapy is a well-established therapeutic approach that focuses on the role of unconscious processes and early experiences in shaping an individual's thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. It has been found to be effective in treating a range of mental health conditions, with benefits that last beyond the end of treatment. By gaining a deeper understanding of their unconscious conflicts and resolving these issues, clients can experience personal growth, improved mental health, and a greater sense of well-being. It is essential to work with a skilled therapist who can tailor the therapy to your specific needs and provide necessary support and guidance throughout the process.

What Does The Happiness Psychiatrist Offer Via Psychodynamic Therapy? 

Ready to begin your journey to a more fulfilled, happier self? Contact The Happiness Psychiatrist today, and experience our expert, therapeutic methods, including: 

Interested in an enhanced concierge psychiatry experience? Join one of our exclusive courses, and discover your best self today: 

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