About Psychodynamic Psychotherapy

  • What is Psychotherapy?

    In general the psychotherapies aim to clear blocks to a satisfying life. Broadly defined, psychotherapy is a process through which you can discover a deeper understanding of your feelings, thoughts, and behaviour. It is not about getting rid of, getting control of, or finding solutions to your life problems. It is about understanding your problems - learning how to listen to them more and fear them less, and discovering the ways in which you have protected yourself from your fears. This leads to greater self awareness of those desires, needs, beliefs and motivations that lie just out of consciousness, but which still influence and even control your life. The kind of wisdom gained in this endeavor can profoundly enhance your sense of meaning and fulfillment in life.

    The relationship between therapist and client provides the means of exploring where the past is in the present. For many clients, the interest, attention to detail and curiosity about their feelings and life story is both novel and transformational in itself.

    A psychotherapist may have specifically trained in psychotherapy, or may be a psychologist or psychiatrist who has elected to specialise in psychotherapy. In NZ, psychotherapists are required to be registered with the Psychotherapists Board of Aotearoa NZ (PBANZ), in order to practice. Membership of the New Zealand Association of Psychotherapists is also an important reassurance of ethical and professional practice. Such psychotherapists have engaged in extensive specialist post graduate study, and are required to undergo their own personal psychotherapy (learn more).

  • What is Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

    Psychodynamic Psychotherapy is more particularly aligned with psychoanalytic principles, using the basic assumption that everyone has an unconscious mind, and that feelings held in the unconscious mind are usually there because they are too painful to be faced. We then create defences to protect us from knowing about these painful feelings. Psychodynamic therapy works with the understanding that these defences have become overdeveloped or gone awry, and in this way the solution has become the problem. It tries to unravel them because experience has shown that once there is an awareness of what is really going on in your mind the feelings - and the blockages created by them - can be freed up. The therapist tries to develop a relationship with you that will assist your discovery of what is going on in your unconscious mind. This relationship evolves from a combination of theoretical understandings, clinical experience and personal knowledge of themselves. Although a psychotherapist can guide you, no one can do the work for you - any change that happens in your life can only ultimately come from you and your own efforts. And while treatment is an interactive process this does not mean that the psychotherapist's job is be a friend or to give advice; rather, the psychotherapist must help the client understand his or her unconscious motivation. This is therapeutic neutrality, in which the therapist holds a strong awareness of keeping the therapeutic relationship deliberately focused on the clinical process of healing.

  • How might I know that I could benefit from it?

    • If you know you are unhappy but don't know why
    • If you know why you are unhappy but feel stuck with it
    • If you know you are repeating unproductive, unsatisfying, even self-destructive patterns but can't seem to stop
    • If you have lost track of something in yourself
    • If you feel driven by apparently irrational behaviour, feelings, or beliefs
    • If you simply want to understand yourself more deeply
    • If you have been diagnosed with depression

  • How long does it take?

    Psychodynamic Psychotherapy generally consists of between one and three 50 minute sessions per week, at a regular appointment time, over a period of months or years. Patients may sit up or lie down. It can seem a long time, but this kind of deep work cannot be achieved by rushing. To put it in perspective, you could say that twelve sessions are equivalent to a weekend workshop, or a full year of once weekly psychotherapy is equivalent to an intensive 10-day seminar. It can be cheaper than many other short term ways of relieving distress, such as overseas holidays, moving house, drug/alcohol addiction or divorce.

    Learning to navigate and understand your interior world - just like any intensive course of study - is a process that takes hard work, commitment, and an investment of time and money which will benefit your health and wellbeing in the long term.

  • How much does it cost?

    • Fees in NZ range from approximately $100 - $180 per session for individual, couples, child and family work.
    • Group fees may be from $40 - $70.
    • Training organisations or agencies may offer lower cost therapy, between $30 - $60.
    • Government subsidies are sometimes available in special circumstances, such as for sexual abuse, for mental injury as a result of traumatic events, for those on benefits, including students and for children.


  • So what can I reasonably expect to gain?

    • Sustainable positive change in your self esteem.
    • More satisfying relationships.
    • More meaningful work life.
    • Smoother transitions of life and greater capacity to cope with change.
    • Discovery/rediscovery of your own voice, and the capacity and choices to assert them.
    • Atmosphere of trust, confidentiality and collaboration - if you have come from an environment where the process of revealing your private thoughts, feelings and beliefs was discouraged, you may believe you should be able to handle your problems alone. This can make it difficult to imagine that psychotherapy has anything to offer. In fact these very beliefs may be part of what is tripping you up, and moving beyond them becomes a substantial gain in itself.
    • Improved quality of emotional life and relationships for future generations.

  • What are the limitations of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy?

    Not all conditions can be "fixed" by psychotherapy or counselling alone. Clinical experience and research show that many conditions, such as clinical depression, chronic severe anxiety, attention deficit disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are significantly influenced by neurobiological processes. Even though we now know that the brain is not static and nerve cells can change, grow, and rejuvenate under the influence of long term psychotherapy, new learning, stress reduction and exercise, the enormity of such change can sometimes be assisted with appropriate medication.


  • What about Psychoanalysis?

    The current practice of both psychiatry and psychology has been deeply influenced by the theories of psychoanalysis, although all three practices have separate roots. Psychiatry is rooted in medicine and psychology in the academic study of animal and human perception. Psychoanalysis, both a theory of mental functioning and a specific type of treatment philosophy, was developed by Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s. The basic premise of psychoanalysis is that most psychological problems are the result of our unconsciously avoiding many of the unpleasant truths about ourselves. Classical psychoanalysis consists of more than one weekly session, with the patient lying on a couch. Psychoanalytic therapy sits somewhere in between psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis.

  • What are the differences between these fields?

    ... Counselling

    A counsellor may become qualified through various avenues, and may specialise in different areas. Membership of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors is a good indication of appropriate skills and training. The primary goal of counselling is to assist you to ventilate feelings and discuss issues around your current problems, in order to enable you to make valid and appropriate decisions. Counselling can be beneficial if you need short term support for an issue or crisis which has suddenly intruded into your life. Counselling offers a safe place to explore aspects of your life and the ways you interact in the world. It may support you to make changes in your life. The counsellor will listen, reflect back, and provide a framework in which you can achieve what you need for yourself.

  • ... Psychiatry

    A psychiatrist has attended medical school and is a physician who has received specialized training in the field of psychiatry. As with other fields of medical practice, psychiatry tends to focus mainly on the use of medications for treatment. Psychiatric training does not necessarily encompass training in psychotherapy and psychiatrists are not required to complete any personal psychotherapy. Psychiatry is important to those suffering moderate to severe mental illness which requires pharmacological management.

  • ... Psychology

    A psychologist usually holds a degree from a university or professional school. Psychology is the science of behaviour and mental processes. It uses systematic methods and its goals are to describe, explain, predict, understand and influence/control behaviour. Psychologists engage in a research based training which branches into either academic research or clinical psychology. Clinical Psychologists are qualified to administer various psychological tests, do court reports and often offer short term therapy based on Cognitive Behavioural principles. This can be very helpful in reducing troublesome symptoms when the need to explore underlying causes is not considered desirable or necessary.

  • ... however

    In practice the lines between the different fields of practice often blur and overlap, or clinicians may consult each other in particular areas of expertise.