Harvard Women's Health Watch

Types of psychotherapy

Which type of psychotherapy works best? There's no simple answer. Just as people respond differently to different drugs, you might do better with one type of therapy than with another. Many people find that a blended approach — one that draws on elements of different schools of psychotherapy — suits them best. There are many forms of psychotherapy, but the two most popular forms are psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how life events, desires, and past and current relationships affect your feelings and the choices you make. In this type of therapy, you and your therapist identify the compromises you've made to defend yourself against painful thoughts or emotions, sometimes without even knowing it. For example, someone with an overbearing parent may unconsciously find it difficult to risk developing intimate relationships, out of fear that all close relationships will involve a domineering partner. By becoming aware of links like this, you may find it easier to overcome such obstacles.

The process of psychoanalysis developed by Sigmund Freud may be the most familiar form of psychodynamic therapy, but it's not the most common. Psychoanalysis is designed to uncover the unconscious roots of your symptoms and help you apply this understanding to your current life. Classic psychoanalysis is time-consuming (it requires meeting several times a week, possibly for many years) and not widely used today. However, it's still influential in the thinking behind much psychodynamic therapy, which can be short- or long-term, and may focus broadly or more narrowly on a particular issue or symptom.

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