The term “psychodynamic” emerged in the second half of the last century as a result of the shift that psychotherapy profession made when many practitioners decided to move away from psychoanalysis for a variety of reasons.
Psychoanalysis in its classic form was no longer meeting the needs of many consumers (therapy patients). The new demands of high-stress and high-paced life made it impossible for many people to adhere to the strict structure of the psychoanalytic process when patients were expected to attend sessions 3-5 times a week, lie on the couch and “free associate” (say out loud anything that comes to mind) while the therapist would mostly stay silent for the whole session and only occasionally interject his/her interpretations of what the patient has said.
In addition to the time pressure, the economic pressures contributed a lot into the shrinking practice of psychoanalysis. Insurance companies were no longer willing to cover the treatments of indefinite length and with unspecific goals and switched to “managed care” plans that emphasized symptom reduction treatments within a very constricted time frame.
The dramatic economic and societal changes of the second half of the 20th century impacted what people needed and what they expected to get from mental health services. Many people became much less interested in taking a prolonged inner journey of self-discovery as opposed to getting some practical guidance from a therapist that would help them deal with their every day life struggles head on.
Psychoanalysis was being challenged on all fronts. It was being challenged by the demands of the new life as well as by the newly developed schools of thought such as CBT (cognitive-behavioral) and humanistic-existential that emerged as a response to the changing needs of the society.
Many practitioners, however, remained faithful to the major ideas of psychoanalysis such as that our behavior is often unconscious and that we are often unaware of the true motives and reasoning behind our actions, feelings and thoughts. They also continued to believe in the importance of understanding early childhood experiences for the purpose of addressing one’s problems.
On the other hand, those practitioners were not dogmatic followers of psychoanalytic theories. They accepted some of the criticism of psychoanalysis posed by CBT and humanistic-existential therapists as valid and attempted to incorporate some of the ideas from those new approaches in their practice.
Thus, psychodynamic psychotherapy has essentially developed from the attempt to make psychoanalytic process and structure less rigid and more open to various ideas outside the established psychoanalytic theories and methods. One could think of psychodynamic psychotherapy as a “soft” or flexible form of psychoanalysis that uses psychoanalytic theories more as general guidelines as opposed to direct instructions.
If you are shopping for a therapist and you hear a prospective therapist calling him/herself “psychodynamic”, what it means is that he or she believes in some fundamental premises of psychoanalysis but doesn’t use psychoanalytic methods rigidly and may also employ some of the methods from other psychotherapeutic approaches.