Which is Better Between Psychodynamic Therapy and CBT?

    psychodynamic therapy vs cbt

    When it comes to addressing mental health issues, two therapies are often considered: psychodynamic therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Both offer unique approaches, but which one is better suited for your needs? We’ll answer that in this article as we discuss further psychodynamic therapy vs. CBT and see which is better.

    What is psychodynamic therapy?

    Psychodynamic treatment is a cornerstone of psychoanalysis, pioneered by Sigmund Freud and expanded upon by other significant thinkers. It is based on the notion that our unconscious mind has a considerable influence on our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It looks at the depths of the unconscious to uncover hidden motivations, conflicts, and unresolved issues that shape our psychological well-being.

    Psychodynamic therapy involves exploring the complex details of our life history. This is because of the belief that our past experiences, particularly those from childhood, leave enduring imprints on our psyche. Through a process of introspection and dialogue with the therapist, individuals are encouraged to unearth deep-seated emotions, buried memories, and unconscious patterns of thinking. These deep thoughts may be contributing to their current struggles.

    What does it treat?

    Psychodynamic therapy casts a wide net when it comes to addressing mental health issues. Anxiety disorders and depression are examples of frequent issues, while personality disorders and interpersonal challenges are more complex. It’s a therapy that offers a comprehensive approach to healing. By uncovering the root causes of psychological distress, psychodynamic therapy aims to facilitate profound and enduring changes in thought patterns, emotional responses, and interpersonal dynamics.

    Pros and Cons


    • Provides deep insight: By shining a light on the hidden recesses of the psyche, psychodynamic therapy offers individuals a deeper understanding of their inner world.
    • Addresses underlying issues: Unlike surface-level symptom management, psychodynamic therapy seeks to unearth the root causes of psychological distress.
    • Can lead to profound and lasting changes: Resolving unconscious conflicts and integrating previously repressed emotions often leads to transformative shifts in their self-concept, interpersonal relationships, and overall quality of life.


    • Typically longer-term: Psychodynamic therapy often unfolds over an extended period, requiring a significant investment of time, effort, and financial resources.
    • Maybe less structured: While the open-ended nature of psychodynamic therapy allows for flexibility and depth in exploration, it may lack the clear structure and focus found in more directive approaches like CBT.
    • Relies heavily on the therapeutic relationship: The effectiveness of psychodynamic therapy hinges largely on the quality of the therapeutic relationship and the individual’s willingness to engage in deep introspection and self-exploration.

    What is a CBT?

    Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a commonly used and researched type of psychotherapy. It emphasizes the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis developed CBT in the 1960s. It is grounded in the belief that distorted or negative thinking patterns contribute to emotional distress and behavioral problems. It is an organized, goal-oriented strategy that seeks to uncover and change these tendencies to improve mental health and well-being.

    What does it treat?

    CBT is highly adaptable and may be used to treat a wide range of mental health issues, making it one of the most popular treatments. It has been shown to effectively treat anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and particular phobias. CBT is also used to treat depression, OCD, PTSD, eating disorders, substance misuse, and insomnia. Additionally, it can help address anger management issues, stress management, chronic pain, and relationship problems.

    Pros and Cons


    • Structured and time-limited: One of the significant advantages of CBT is its structured nature, often delivered in a time-limited format. Treatment normally lasts 12 to 20 sessions. It’s a practical option for individuals seeking relatively short-term therapy with measurable outcomes.
    • Focus on practical strategies: CBT provides clients with practical tools and techniques that may be used right away to treat symptoms and enhance coping skills. Cognitive restructuring exercises, behavioral studies, relaxation techniques, and problem-solving procedures are all possible options.
    • Strong research support: CBT is one of the most extensively researched forms of psychotherapy, with numerous studies demonstrating its effectiveness across various populations and mental health conditions. Its evidence-based approach gives clients confidence in its efficacy.


    • May not address underlying issues: While CBT is effective in symptom management, it may not always delve into the deeper underlying issues or unconscious conflicts that contribute to psychological distress. This limitation could result in temporary relief rather than a long-term resolution of issues.
    • Active participation required: CBT requires active participation and engagement from clients, as they are expected to complete homework assignments, practice skills between sessions, and challenge their thinking patterns. For people who struggle with motivation or self-directed learning, this can be difficult.
    • Limited suitability for severe conditions: While CBT is effective for many mental health conditions, it may not be suitable for individuals with severe or complex disorders, such as severe personality disorders, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder. These patients may require more rigorous and specialized care.

    Similarities and Differences

    Both psychodynamic therapy and CBT aim to alleviate psychological distress and improve overall well-being, but they differ in their theoretical foundations, treatment approaches, and goals.


    • Both focus on understanding and changing patterns of thinking and behavior.
    • Aim to develop self-awareness and understanding of psychological difficulties.
    • Can be adapted to individual needs and preferences.


    • Psychodynamic therapy explores unconscious motivations and past experiences, while CBT focuses on current thoughts and behaviors.
    • Psychodynamic therapy is often longer-term and less structured, whereas CBT is more short-term and goal-oriented.
    • CBT emphasizes practical skills and strategies, while psychodynamic therapy emphasizes insight and self-exploration.

    Which is better?

    It is difficult to determine which therapy is superior: psychodynamics or CBT. It hinges on various factors, including individual preferences, the nature of the presenting issues, and therapeutic goals. Psychodynamic therapy offers a deep exploration of the unconscious mind and past experiences, making it suitable for individuals seeking insight into underlying patterns and unresolved conflicts. It may be especially effective for those dealing with long-term challenges or severe psychological struggles.

    On the other hand, CBT offers practical skills and methods for managing symptoms in the present. Its structured approach and focus on changing negative thought patterns and behaviors can be effective for individuals seeking symptom relief and tangible coping mechanisms. CBT’s emphasis on skill-building and problem-solving may resonate with those looking for immediate and practical solutions to their mental health challenges.

    Finally, the decision between psychodynamic treatment and CBT is based on each individual’s unique needs and preferences. Some may thrive in the introspective space of psychodynamic therapy, while others may prefer the action-oriented approach of CBT. It may also be beneficial to consider combining elements of both therapies or exploring other therapeutic approaches to tailor treatment to individual needs and maximize therapeutic outcomes.

    Both psychodynamics and CBT are helpful therapies

    Both psychodynamic therapy and CBT are valuable and effective therapies for addressing mental health concerns. The choice between the two is determined by factors such as therapy objectives, personal preferences, and the nature of the presenting issues. Ultimately, the most important factor is finding a therapy that feels comfortable and resonates with you, regardless of the theoretical orientation.