Many wonder what the difference is between the word psychodynamic and the word psychoanalytic. They seem so close to each other, and are sometimes used interchangeably in conversation (though, admittedly, only between people interested in therapy). This article is an attempt to gather some thoughts on the similarities and differences between the two words, as used by academics and practitioners.
Psychodynamic, in general, refers to mental forces - hence the two parts of the word, psycho and dynamic, mind and forces. The idea is that human behaviour can, at least in part, be explained in terms of psychological forces, or patterns of energy in the mind. It is often held by those thinking psychodynamically that these forces have their root in childhood experiences.
USE OF THE TERM PSYCHODYNAMIC BY FREUD
In Freud's time, thermodynamics was all the rage in physics. Freud, used the term psychodynamics partly to parallel this, reflecting the idea that perhaps human behaviour, too, could be explained in terms of energy flow. Freud's supervisor Brucke applied principles of the conservation of energy to the human mind, an idea which Freud extended. In simple terms, if energy cannot escape a system, it must transform into something else. Although these principles are not so strictly applied these days, they have influenced much psychodynamic thinking. Hence all the terms, such as repression and projection, which suggest physical movement or blockages.
Analysis is the detailed examination of something. Freud wanted to practice in a way akin to the medical profession, where a doctor examines the patient, and treats accordingly. Therefore, the term analysis might be best understood as a mirroring of the way a doctor analyses an illness to discover a diagnosis and speculate on treatment.
In order to analyse the patient, Freud and others developed a very intense way of practicing therapy, meeting the patient several times a week. This method was called psychoanalysis, although it often fed upon the general psychodynamic idea above that behaviour can be explained in terms of energy flows. So you could say that psychoanalytic therapists often think psychodynamically.
In contrast, a less intense method called psychodynamic therapy involves meeting only once or twice a week, unlike the more frequent psychoanalytic method.
SYNONYMOUS THINKING, DIVERGENT PRACTICES
So in terms of ways of thinking, there is a lot in common between forms of psychoanalytic thinking and psychodynamic thinking. They could almost be used synonymously in many situations.
But in terms of ways of practicing, psychoanalytic therapists generally meet the patient several times a week, whereas a psychodynamic therapist may only meet the client once a week or so.
A NOTE ON MORE RECENT THINKING
Since Freud's time, psychodynamic thinking has gone beyond this idea of energy being trapped in a system like thermodynamics. In particular, partly influenced by computers, we tend to see things very much in terms of information and patterns. So you will also hear psychodynamic thinkers talk about mental models developed in childhood, not only about mental energy flows.
Typical usages, then, might be:
1. Fred is a psychoanalyst. He sees his patients several times a week.
2. Jane is a psychodynamic therapist. She sees her clients once a week.
3. Fred is very influenced by psychodynamic thinking, especially Freud.
4. Jane is not a psychoanalytic practitioner, but in her psychodynamic work she shares many principles used in psychoanalysis.
5. John has gone into psychoanalysis. He sees his therapist every day.
6. Elaine has opted for psychodynamic therapy. She sees her therapist once a week.
7. Freda is an integrative therapist who draws on psychodynamic thinking in her work.
I hope this helps to clarify some of the ways in which the two words psychoanalytic and psychodynamic are used. Every practitioner will be somewhat precious about what THEY mean, but I have tried to give a flavour, rather than cover all avenues. If I have offended anyone, then it's in the cause of simplifying!