A general definition of psychodynamic theory is that forces outside of a person’s awareness explain why they behave a certain way.

Psychodynamic theory was originally a theory of personality developed by Sigmund Freud, although it has evolved significantly over the years, and many theorists have contributed to it. A general definition of psychodynamic theory is that forces outside of a person’s awareness explain why they behave a certain way.

Psychodynamic therapists attempt to help clients find patterns in their emotions, thoughts, and beliefs in order to gain insight into their current self. These patterns are often found to begin in the client’s childhood since psychodynamic theory holds that early life experiences are extremely influential in the psychological development and functioning of an adult.

There are several key assumptions in psychodynamic theory:

  • All behaviour has an underlying cause
  • The causes of a person’s behaviour originate in their unconscious
  • Different aspects of a person’s unconscious struggle against each other
  • An adult’s behaviour and feelings, including mental health issues, are rooted in childhood experiences
  • Both innate, internal processes and the external environment contribute to adult personality

Psychodynamic therapy pushes for clients to:

  • Acknowledge their emotions: Over time, clients can start to recognise patterns in their emotions and address them, which can lead to making better choices.
  • Identify patterns: Clients can begin to see patterns in more than just their emotions, but also their behaviours and relationships. Or, if clients are aware of negative patterns in their life, therapy can help them understand why they make certain choices and give them the power to change.
  • Improve interpersonal relationships: Modern psychodynamic theory helps clients understand their relationships, as well as patterns they exhibit with relationships.
  • Recognise and address avoidance: Everyone has automatic ways of avoiding bad thoughts and feelings. Therapy can help clients recognise when they’re acting in a way to avoid distress and how to move forward addressing their emotions with healthy coping mechanisms.
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