Psychoanalytic vs. Psychodynamic

What's the Difference?

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches are both rooted in Sigmund Freud's theories, but they differ in some key aspects. Psychoanalytic therapy focuses on uncovering unconscious conflicts and desires that may be causing psychological distress. It places a strong emphasis on the role of early childhood experiences and the influence of the unconscious mind. Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, is a more modern and flexible approach that incorporates elements of psychoanalysis but also considers the influence of current relationships and experiences. It aims to help individuals gain insight into their unconscious processes and develop healthier coping mechanisms. While both approaches share a common goal of understanding and resolving psychological issues, psychodynamic therapy is often seen as a more practical and adaptable form of treatment.


FounderSigmund FreudSigmund Freud
FocusUnconscious mind, childhood experiencesUnconscious mind, childhood experiences
Therapeutic ApproachIntensive and long-term therapyIntensive and long-term therapy
Role of the TherapistNeutral observer, interpreterNeutral observer, interpreter
Role of the PatientFree association, dream analysisFree association, dream analysis
Emphasis onUnconscious conflicts, sexual drivesUnconscious conflicts, sexual drives
Developmental StagesOral, anal, phallic, latency, genitalOral, anal, phallic, latency, genital
Importance of ChildhoodSignificant influence on adult personalitySignificant influence on adult personality
Role of Defense MechanismsUsed to protect against anxietyUsed to protect against anxiety
Focus on the UnconsciousCentral to understanding behaviorCentral to understanding behavior

Further Detail


Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches are two influential theories in the field of psychology that aim to understand and explain human behavior, thoughts, and emotions. Developed by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis laid the foundation for psychodynamic theory, which expanded upon Freud's ideas. While these approaches share some similarities, they also have distinct differences in their theoretical frameworks, therapeutic techniques, and focus on the unconscious mind.

Theoretical Framework

Both psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches emphasize the significance of the unconscious mind in shaping human behavior. According to Freud, the unconscious contains repressed thoughts, desires, and memories that influence our conscious thoughts and actions. Psychoanalysis focuses on uncovering these unconscious conflicts through techniques such as free association, dream analysis, and interpretation of slips of the tongue.

Psychodynamic theory, on the other hand, builds upon Freud's ideas but places less emphasis on the sexual and aggressive instincts. It incorporates a broader range of psychological factors, including early childhood experiences, interpersonal relationships, and the influence of society. Psychodynamic therapists explore the unconscious mind through various techniques, such as exploring past experiences, analyzing defense mechanisms, and examining transference and countertransference dynamics.

Therapeutic Techniques

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches employ similar therapeutic techniques, but with some variations. In psychoanalysis, the therapist typically adopts a more passive role, allowing the patient to freely associate and express their thoughts and feelings. The therapist then interprets these associations to uncover unconscious conflicts and provide insight to the patient.

Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, often involves a more active and collaborative approach. The therapist engages in dialogue with the patient, exploring their thoughts, emotions, and experiences in the present moment. This approach aims to help the patient gain self-awareness, understand the impact of past experiences on their current behavior, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

Both approaches also utilize the therapeutic relationship as a crucial tool for healing. The therapist provides a safe and non-judgmental space for the patient to explore their inner world, fostering trust and facilitating the process of self-discovery and personal growth.

Focus on the Unconscious Mind

One of the fundamental similarities between psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches is their focus on the unconscious mind. Both theories propose that unconscious processes significantly influence human behavior, often in ways that individuals are not consciously aware of.

Psychoanalysis places a strong emphasis on the role of the unconscious in shaping personality development and psychological disorders. Freud believed that unresolved conflicts from childhood, particularly related to sexuality and aggression, could manifest as psychological symptoms in adulthood. By bringing these unconscious conflicts into conscious awareness, psychoanalysis aims to alleviate symptoms and promote psychological well-being.

Psychodynamic theory expands upon Freud's ideas by considering a broader range of unconscious factors. It recognizes the impact of early childhood experiences, such as attachment patterns and parental relationships, on the development of personality and the formation of unconscious beliefs and patterns of behavior. Psychodynamic therapy aims to uncover and work through these unconscious processes to promote personal growth and improve interpersonal relationships.

Application in Clinical Practice

Both psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches have made significant contributions to clinical practice and have influenced various therapeutic modalities. While psychoanalysis is often associated with long-term, intensive therapy, psychodynamic principles are integrated into various shorter-term therapies, such as psychodynamic psychotherapy and brief psychodynamic therapy.

Psychoanalysis is typically recommended for individuals with complex psychological issues and deep-seated conflicts that require extensive exploration and analysis. The long-term nature of psychoanalysis allows for a comprehensive understanding of the patient's unconscious processes and the resolution of deeply rooted psychological issues.

Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, is often used for a broader range of psychological difficulties and can be adapted to fit different treatment durations. It focuses on helping individuals gain insight into their unconscious patterns and develop healthier ways of relating to themselves and others.


Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic approaches share a common foundation in their emphasis on the unconscious mind and the significance of early experiences in shaping human behavior. While psychoanalysis focuses more on the sexual and aggressive instincts, psychodynamic theory incorporates a broader range of psychological factors. Both approaches utilize therapeutic techniques to explore the unconscious, but psychodynamic therapy often adopts a more active and collaborative approach. Despite their differences, both approaches have made significant contributions to the field of psychology and continue to influence clinical practice today.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.