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What is the difference between psychodynamic and behavioural

Theory Application PaperBehaviorism and psychodynamic theory are just two of many major factors in what affect a human being throughout their life. These two theories are known to help patients with mental disorders. Psychodynamic theory focuses more on childhood, and how experiences as a child can affect them throughout their whole life. Behaviorism focuses on the study of a human being. It focuses on how a person behaves. Both theories are very beneficial to psychologists to help them figure out more about a person.Psychodynamic theory is a form of psychotherapy that takes you all the way back to your childhood memories. Sigmund Freud talked about how psychodynamic theory “focuses on the client reaching self-awareness of unconscious

Psychologist John Watson invented the term behaviorism, defining it as being “the view that psychology ’s goal should be to study directly observable behavior and to understand how the events in the environment outside the organism produce behavior” (Watson 17). Watson believed it was unscientific to study “Private Events” and that someone’s behavior should be directly observed. Studying a person’s behavior is not just one step, but many. These steps include watching someone’s reaction to everything. Behaviorism focuses more on a person’s behavior to the environment in which surrounds them. Many theories of psychology are focused on biology and philosophy instead of trying to understand the things we can see, which is how someone acts. “psychologists often find themselves studying and trying to observe hidden processes.” (Watson 165) Instead of putting our attention on focusing on things we can observe and touch, we put our attention to studying the unseen behaviors. Watson believes that “Psychology should make the study of behavior its final objective, rather than using behavior only as an indirect measure of unobservable mental processes. “(Watson 165) I highly agree with this quote, I think it is unscientific to focus on things we cannot see. One of the strengths of behaviorism theory is easily being able to identify the behavior of the patient, without trying to get into their head. Another strength of behaviorism is it can be easily changed. It can focus on the unhealthy behaviors that are a part of everyday life, and observing what causes those behaviors. With that, it is easier to improve unhealthy behaviors by having the patient focus on how to make them healthy again. Weaknesses of this therapy include not knowing what goes on inside the patient. All you know is how the patient reacts due to the environment. Yes, observing a behavior is beneficial, but when the patient

When you begin your search for a therapist, it’s likely you’ll come across  the terms CBT and psychodynamic therapy. What are these therapy modalities and how do you know which one is best for you?

Psychodynamic therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) are two major schools of thought in the therapy field. Both are talk-based therapies that are highly effective for a number of issues and concerns. Which one is right for you depends on many factors. We’ve collected the need-to-know information about both so you can make an educated decision as you search for the perfect therapist for you.

Psychodynamic therapy

Psychodynamic therapy looks to your past to understand your present

Psychodynamic therapy is insight-oriented. In other words, this approach focuses on helping you gain insight into how your early life experiences affect your present day. This can include taking a long look at your relationship with your parents, early attachment style, or how you interacted with your siblings growing up.

You will dive into deep-rooted aspects of yourself, such as ongoing relationship patterns, various interpersonal struggles, different facets of your personality, as well as your stages of emotional development.

The goal of psychodynamic therapy is to heighten self-awareness and self-empowerment

In psychodynamic treatment, you’re working towards the development of a greater understanding of yourself, both now and in your past.

The ultimate aim is to harness this newfound internal insight to:

  • Reshape your understanding of yourself
  • Heal emotional wounds
  • Shift unhealthy relationship patterns and behaviors

Psychodynamic therapy is often relatively long-term, lasting several months or years

There is no set end date to psychodynamic therapy. It’s often a long-term treatment, lasting from several months to many years. There is a form of psychodynamic therapy called brief psychodynamic therapy, which is short term. Brief psychodynamic therapy is set up to help you discover what is blocking you from progressing in a certain area. Once the reason for being blocked is uncovered, therapy usually ends. However, with traditional psychodynamic therapy, the overall duration depends on your specific needs and situation.

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Situations and mental health conditions psychodynamic therapy can help with

Psychodynamic therapy is often used in the treatment of mental health conditions, including:

It can also be helpful in helping clients navigate distressing situations like:

Note that you don’t need to have a specific mental health diagnosis or condition to benefit from psychodynamic therapy. In fact, this approach is a common choice for individuals who feel that they might benefit from gaining insight into themselves and their pasts, but aren’t targeting a pressing issue or condition.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)

CBT focuses on finding practical, skills-based solutions to present-day problems

Cognitive behavioral therapy, often shortened to CBT, focuses on recognizing negative thought patterns and changing thoughts and behaviors and feelings through concrete skills. The focus is on finding practical solutions to your present-day challenges instead of looking for the root cause of the problem.

CBT often entails homework assignments

Sessions often involve homework assignments, also called “action plans,” for you to implement outside of sessions.

Typical homework assignments include:

  • Journaling, especially about any negative thoughts that arise throughout the day so you can begin looking at these thoughts and challenging them
  • Writing self statements to counteract the negative thoughts you have throughout the day
  • Practicing positive reinforcement when you recognize and change a particular thought you can reward yourself
  • Mastering meditation practices to calm and center yourself
  • Learning visualization techniques to help you to change the negative script in your head into a successful and pleasant script
  • Doing breathing exercises to help deal with anxiety and calm your mind

CBT is often a short-term treatment style, lasting 2-3 months

This type of therapy is typically more short-term, usually eight to 12 weekly sessions, over the course of two or three months.

Situations and mental health conditions CBT can help with

CBT is often used in the treatment of the following conditions:

Your therapist may incorporate both approaches into treatment

Some therapists practice pure versions of each approach – they may offer strictly CBT sessions, for example, or only draw from elements of psychodynamic therapy.

But others will incorporate both approaches. They might, say, use CBT tactics to provide symptom relief in the beginning before diving deeper into a psychodynamic perspective. The exact calibration often depends on the therapist’s overall approach, as well as your symptoms.

You might prefer another type of therapy altogether

In addition to CBT and psychodynamic therapy, there are tons of other types of therapy approaches, from brainspotting to solution-focused therapy. It’s likely that some of these therapy approaches appeal to you more than others, and that some are more relevant to your reasons for seeking therapy. You can use Zencare’s therapist directory filter to search for any specific Approach, if you find yourself leaning towards one or the other.

Most therapists, however, use some combination of the approaches and skills they’ve learned through various training sessions. So when you’re looking for a great therapist, ask potential providers how they approach treatment. Doing so will help you get a feel for what therapy with them might look like. This will then, in turn, help you decide whether their approach would work for you!

Psychodynamic therapy is talk therapy that has a focus on the unconscious mind and emotions, and considers past experiences. CBT is therapy that works on the thinking and behavior patterns that a person has.

What is Psychodynamic therapy?


Psychodynamic therapy focuses on how a person’s past and unconscious thoughts can impact present day behaviors. It can be confused with cognitive behavioral therapy, but it does not focus on behavior as much, but rather on emotions. The foundations for psychodynamic therapy are found in psychoanalytic theory, and are related to Freudian ideas and the ego.


The idea behind this type of therapy is to focus on issues during development, and to examine a patient’s emotions and the unconscious mind. Past relationships and events also provide insight into current issues a patient may be having. The therapy involves talking and it relies on a close relationship being established between the patient and therapist. Psychodynamic therapy can be a short-term process or a long-term form of therapy. Short-term therapy lasts a maximum of 8 months and is about 25 sessions, while long-term therapy lasts longer than 8 months.


Psychodynamic therapy can be used to help patients who have struggles with substance abuse, and it is also a common way to treat patients with mental illnesses. People with depression, anxiety, and personality disorders also often benefit from this type of therapy.


Psychodynamic therapy helps patients to better understand their own feelings and why they may act the way they do. The patient is able to gain more confidence and learn a better way to relate to other people, and thus, improve relationships.


A drawback of psychodynamic therapy is that it can make a patient feel worse initially, because it explores a patient’s past history and traumas.

What is CBT?


Cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is a short-term type of therapy in which the focus is on helping an individual cope with life challenges through examining patterns of thinking and behavior.


The method of CBT is focused on learning ways to better cope and overcome maladjusted or poor coping strategies and thought patterns. It is a short-term type of therapy in which there are limited numbers of sessions, ranging from 5 to 20 sessions.


CBT can help people learn to cope with stressful events in their life and is also helpful for people who are grieving. A person does not have to have a diagnosed mental illness to benefit from CBT. Similarly to psychodynamic therapy, CBT does work when patients are feeling anxious or depressed.


CBT can be very helpful in aiding people in changing maladaptive and also pessimistic thinking. A further benefit is it gives a person a way to deal with real world problems that they encounter. CBT is a therapy that is often useful regardless of your age, and it can work well with or without medication.


The effectiveness of CBT does depend on patient motivation, and if they are willing and eager to put forth the effort to change. There are also often assignments or homework that needs to be done outside of therapy, again meaning a person needs the determination to change and do what they need to. People with severe phobias and also individuals with complicated mental diagnoses may not benefit as much with this type of therapy. It can also make a person initially stressed due to anxiety and worry.

Difference between Psychodynamic therapy and CBT?


Psychodynamic therapy focuses on the past, emotions, and the unconscious mind. CBT focuses on behavior and patterns of thinking.


The time it takes for psychodynamic therapy is either short or long-term. CBT, on the other hand, is a short-term type of therapy.

Focus on the past

Psychodynamic therapy aims to help a patient by exploring what happened in their past history. CBT does not dwell on a patient’s past experiences and history.

Focus on emotions

Psychodynamic therapy does have a particular focus on the emotions of the patient. CBT does not focus on the patient’s emotions.


The pros of psychodynamic therapy are that it is often helpful in treating patients who have personality disorders and various mental health issues. The advantage of CBT is that it helps to change maladaptive thought processes and behaviors.


A potential weakness of psychodynamic therapy is that a patient may at first feel bad because of exploring past traumas and problems. A weakness of CBT therapy is that it will only be helpful if the patient is determined and motivated to improve.

Table comparing Psychodynamic therapy and CBT

Summary of Psychodynamic therapy Vs. CBT

  • Both therapy types help depressed or anxious patients, and can be used along with medication.
  • Psychodynamic therapy has a focus on past history and relationships.
  • CBT is focused on thought and behavioral patterns that are not working for a patient.