Psychodynamic Therapy

The idea of a professional psychotherapist delving into the intricacies of your life to uncover the reasons behind your current struggles can be daunting. Realising that past events, especially from childhood, may contribute to present issues can heighten this apprehension. However, understanding the effectiveness of psychodynamic therapy in treating addiction shows that this approach is not something to fear but rather a valuable path to healing.

What is psychodynamic therapy?

Psychodynamic therapy is a type of talk therapy that helps individuals understand and resolve their deep-seated emotional issues by exploring their unconscious thoughts and feelings. It focuses on recognising patterns in relationships and behaviour, often rooted in early experiences. By bringing these hidden elements to the surface, individuals can gain insight into their current problems and develop healthier coping methods.

What kinds of issues is psychodynamic therapy used for?

Psychodynamic therapy is highly effective for various issues due to its focus on uncovering underlying emotional and psychological roots. Exploring past experiences and unconscious conflicts provides deep insights and promotes healing in many ways. Below, we look at some of the most common ways it’s used to help people.

Condition Description
Depression Psychodynamic therapy provides a compassionate space for people to uncover the underlying causes of their depression, often tied to past experiences and relationships. By gaining insight into these roots, individuals can better understand and manage their depressive symptoms, leading to a more fulfilling life.
Anxiety This therapy gently explores unconscious conflicts and fears, offering a deeper understanding that can ease anxiety symptoms. By bringing these hidden issues to light, people can address and reduce their anxiety, finding peace and calmness.
Personality disorders Psychodynamic therapy is a caring approach to understanding and changing deeply ingrained patterns of behaviour and thought that contribute to personality disorders. It helps individuals recognise and alter these patterns, fostering better emotional and relational health.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) It provides a safe and supportive environment for individuals to process and make sense of past traumatic experiences. By exploring these events, individuals can begin to heal and reduce the impact of trauma on their daily lives, moving towards a more peaceful future.
Eating disorders This therapy helps individuals explore and understand the emotional issues underlying their disordered eating patterns. By addressing these emotional factors, people can work towards healthier eating habits and improved self-esteem, embracing a more positive self-image.
Grief and loss Psychodynamic therapy offers compassionate support and insight into the complex emotions involved in grieving. It helps individuals navigate their grief, understand their feelings and find a path to healing, providing comfort and guidance during difficult times.
Addictions Psychodynamic therapy gently helps individuals with addictions by exploring and healing deep emotional wounds, offering a path to understanding and resolving these issues so they no longer feel the need to rely on substances.

Why is psychodynamic therapy effective in addiction treatment?

Psychodynamic therapy is an effective therapy to use in addiction recovery due to how versatile it is and how easily it can be used in conjunction with other therapies. It enables for a full, comprehensive treatment strategy. Below, we look at some of the most common addictions for which psychodynamic therapy can be used:

Substance addictions 

Psychodynamic therapy helps people understand the deeper emotional and psychological issues driving their substance use. By exploring past experiences and unconscious conflicts, individuals can gain insights that lead to healthier coping mechanisms and reduce their need for substances.

Behavioural addictions (e.g., gambling, shopping)

This therapy helps individuals uncover the emotional triggers and unresolved conflicts contributing to their compulsive behaviours. By addressing these root causes, people can develop healthier ways to manage stress and emotions, reducing the urge to engage in addictive behaviours.

Eating disorders 

Psychodynamic therapy delves into the emotional factors and past experiences influencing one’s relationship with food. By understanding these factors, individuals can break the cycle of emotional eating and develop a healthier relationship with food.

Sex-related addictions 

The therapy focuses on identifying and resolving deep-seated emotional issues and past traumas driving compulsive sexual behaviours. This understanding helps individuals develop healthier sexual behaviours and relationships.

Technology addictions (e.g., internet, gaming)

Psychodynamic therapy helps people explore the emotional and psychological reasons behind excessive technology use. By addressing these underlying issues, individuals can learn to balance their technology use and engage more fully in real-life activities.

Psychodynamic effectiveness in addiction – Research perspective


  • A 2023 meta-analysis on the effectiveness of psychodynamic therapy in addiction recovery found it to be as effective as other psychological treatments for substance dependence. It was empirically supported for treating; cocaine, opioid and alcohol addiction.
  • Research has shown that psychodynamic psychotherapy is beneficial for patients who struggle with anxiety, depression and personality disorders, which can contribute to their continued substance use.
  • One study found that short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on core issues, may be especially effective for pathological gamblers who seek to avoid or escape unbearable emotions and problems.
  • Research suggests that psychodynamic therapy helped reduce binge episodes in individuals with binge eating disorder by 25-78.4%.

What are the main aims of psychodynamic therapy in addiction treatment?

Psychodynamic therapy is a valuable tool in addiction treatment programmes, helping people understand and address the deeper psychological issues driving their substance use. Here’s how it works and what the main aims of the therapy are:

Understanding the root causes
Psychodynamic therapy digs into early life experiences and unresolved conflicts that may contribute to addiction. For example, someone might use substances to cope with childhood trauma or significant life events. By bringing these issues to light, therapy helps individuals see the connection between their past experiences and current behaviours.
Gaining insight
A key part of psychodynamic therapy is gaining insight into behaviours and motivations. This means looking at patterns and understanding why they developed in the first place. For instance, a person might realise they use substances to cope with feelings of inadequacy or to escape reality. Understanding this can be a powerful step towards change.
Developing healthy coping mechanisms
As individuals gain insight, they also learn healthier ways to handle stress and emotions. Instead of turning to substances or other addictive behaviours, they might start practising mindfulness and engaging in physical activities. These new strategies can help them manage anxiety, depression and other triggers more effectively.
Building self-awareness
Psychodynamic therapy helps people become more aware of their unconscious thoughts and feelings. This increased self-awareness can lead to better decision-making and greater control over actions. For example, someone might become aware of how their need for approval influences their behaviour and learn to validate themselves in healthier ways.
Strengthening relationships
Addiction often strains relationships, leading to conflict and isolation. Through psychodynamic therapy, individuals can explore how their addiction has affected their relationships and work on healing them. This might involve improving communication skills and rebuilding trust.
Long-term recovery
By addressing the deep-seated issues behind addiction, psychodynamic therapy supports long-term recovery. It helps individuals develop a stronger sense of self and build resilience against relapse. This comprehensive approach makes for a more sustainable recovery, as it tackles the root causes rather than just the symptoms.
Integration with other therapies
Psychodynamic therapy is often combined with other approaches, such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), group therapy and holistic therapies like meditation or art therapy. This integration provides a well-rounded approach that addresses both the mental and emotional aspects of addiction.

What’s next?

Most addiction treatment programmes will employ psychodynamic therapy as part of their comprehensive treatment plan, but if you feel as though you need guidance on choosing the right programme for you, don’t hesitate to reach out to UK-Rehab for a tailored search and further discussion. Your road to addiction recovery begins here.

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(Click here to see works cited)

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