Psychodynamic Therapy vs. CBT

Rowan Tuffs

Exploring the Similarities and Differences Between Psychodynamic Therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The stigma against therapy has decreased significantly within the last generation. More people are opening up about their problems and want to seek help, and mental healthcare has become more accessible than ever before with the convenience of teletherapy and virtual appointments.

It’s fantastic that people want to be better versions of themselves, but what if you encounter new problems by trying to fix old ones? What if therapy isn’t providing you with the tools you need to improve?

Well, don’t give up on yourself just yet! Therapy is a very versatile profession that can come in a number of different forms, which can offer unique solutions to different problematic areas of your life. 

Two popular forms of talk therapy, psychodynamic and cognitive behavioral, are both useful in managing issues pertaining to your mental health. Let’s get to know what makes them effective tools, how they offer their own specialized benefits, and how they can both be crucial to improving your mental health.

Psychodynamic Therapy

How the Past Influences the Present

Psychodynamic therapy is a form of psychoanalysis that attempts to gain understanding of your current situation and behaviors by connecting them to circumstances that happened in the past. That may seem like a mouthful, but the takeaway is that psychodynamic therapy is based upon having productive discussions with your therapist where underlying problems are identified and appropriately addressed

The relationship between therapist and client is a crucial part of how psychodynamic therapy functions. Constructed as a long term approach, psychodynamic therapy does not follow a clearly defined structure and is rather loose in how it is applied to each individual. 

There is plenty to appreciate about how psychodynamic therapy can help manage your problems. No agenda is established by your therapist during these sessions, giving you the freedom to talk about anything that’s on your mind. Your therapist will spend time getting to know your personality and your personal history, allowing them to address current problems that may stem from either of those topics. 

Two woman are seated and talking to each other
Psychodynamic therapy involves insightful conversations with your therapist where problematic behaviors are identified and explored through analyzing the past. 

What Are the Benefits of Psychodynamic Therapy?

  • You are in control of the conversation and direct what is being talked about
  • Helps you shift away from unhealthy relationship patterns 
  • No homework is assigned to you to complete outside of the sessions
  • Your therapist gains a better understanding of your behaviors
  • Looking at situations with your therapist can help change your perspective and give you useful knowledge  

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is based on finding practical solutions to problems that are currently causing distress in your life. CBT focuses on identifying negative thought patterns in your life and altering those problematic behaviors and feelings through direct action. 

A common trait of CBT is homework assignments, which will help you prepare for the next session and allow you to reflect on your thoughts. Journaling can be helpful if you wish to keep track of negative thought patterns and behaviors so that you can attempt to counteract them. Meditation and positive reinforcement practices are also assigned as extracurricular work in CBT.   

CBT treatment is often short, lasting only a couple months before coming to an end. Still, it is an effective method of therapy useful in treating some mental health conditions that are difficult to manage. 

What Can CBT Help Address? 

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Alcohol and drug abuse problems
  • Eating disorders
  • Severe mental illness
A person writes in a notebook
Noticing negative behaviors or thoughts and writing them down in a journal is an effective way of confronting your problems. 

How Psychodynamic Therapy and CBT Relate

Even though they have different approaches to managing mental health, psychodynamic therapy and CBT are very alike in their functions as individualized therapies. 


  • They are both talked based therapies
  • Assumes that what goes on inside of your head influences your behavior
  • Change occurs by bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness
  • Both have goals of increasing personal and interpersonal function

Why Different Methods of Therapy Should Not Be in Competition

The world of psychology can sometimes appear to be a hectic patchwork of different methods that are constantly being strung against each other in the pursuit of effective treatment. You might wonder about the legitimacy of some practices when you hear the same rhetoric several times, claiming that one method cannot sufficiently manage mental health in comparison to other treatments. Be careful before you preemptively rush to any conclusions, though. 

Psychology is a vast field and there is still much to be understood regarding certain mental health conditions, therefore it is impossible to say with absolute authority that one specific kind of therapy is better than another. A much more effective approach to this dilemma is to treat the various types of therapies available as offering alternative ways to mitigate and manage current situations or behaviors that, when employed in a noncompetitive fashion, can work together to produce a more productive result.

Some practices are better suited for different folks, but that does not diminish the importance of psychological methods designed to promote wellness. 

A drawing of three stick people standing and one doing a handstand.
Though people can experience similar problems, each individual is unique and how they react to certain forms of therapy depends on their previous history.

What’s Right For Me?

Choosing a form of therapy that is catered towards your individual needs is perhaps the most important part of seeking mental health treatment. Therapy benefits those who experience it in ways that appropriately respond to the disorder, mental illness, or trauma that is being addressed. 

Even if you don’t know which approach to therapy will be most useful for you, that doesn’t stand in your way of getting treatment. There are many therapists who have training in both types and will be able to provide you the help that you need. 

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