Daniel Katz, Psy.D
Depth Psychotherapy: Psychodynamic-Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis
Updated: Feb 28
Depth Psychotherapy is a term that can be confusing for people. The purpose of this article is to help clarify what depth psychotherapy is and how it can be beneficial. Depth psychotherapy is not a particular theory or methodology. Rather it is a blanket term describing several different therapeutic approaches. What these approaches have in common is an appreciation of the complexity of the human mind. Depth psychotherapy aims not only to improve symptoms but to address root causes. Most of these approaches have an appreciation for the unconscious aspects of our mind or the thoughts, feelings, and motives that are often not in our immediate awareness but can have great influence on our life.
To understand depth work, let’s use the iceberg as an analogy for a mental health problem. Icebergs are huge, but often only a small portion is visible above the water. The majority of its vastness is hidden beneath the ocean’s surface. Likewise, there are many therapeutic techniques to help people address the tip of the iceberg, perhaps reduce it, or make it not as jagged. What depth work is focused on is addressing the ice below the surface. A skilled therapist or psychoanalyst can help guide you into the depths of your mind. Like an iceberg, if you only address the visible portion, the mass beneath the surface will continue to cause problems.
The main therapeutic techniques that encompass depth psychotherapy are psychodynamic-psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Both are effective therapeutic techniques with many similarities and some differences. For example, they focus on uncovering and addressing the roots of one’s personality and issues. The key differences are in the training of the therapist, techniques utilized, and frequency of sessions.
Let’s continue with the ocean metaphors to better understand the differences in some of these approaches. Perhaps a coral reef is dying and causing all kinds of debris and muck on the surface of the water. Many quick-fix therapists are primarily focused on cleaning up the surface. Depending on the issue, this can be done usually within 8-16 sessions. If the priority is to rapidly address symptoms (clean up the surface) these approaches are helpful and effective.
A psychodynamic psychotherapy approach is still concerned with what is on the surface, but is also concerned with all of the beauty and marvel beneath the surface. If a quick fix is skimming the top, psychodynamic psychotherapy is like snorkeling. It is looking beneath, and sometimes diving down to further examine and understand. You can spend a lot of time and see and understand quite a bit of what is going on with the Coral Reef. You can even address many of the problems. However, with a snorkel, you cannot go into the depths of the ocean and you must keep popping back up to the surface to get some air.
Psychoanalysis in this analogy would be a SCUBA expedition. This is a journey that will take time. You will take many prolonged deep dives into your unconscious. You will explore, understand, and work through large parts of the depths of the ocean to address the problems regarding the reef. Often you will find beautiful creatures to marvel and you may find treasure. You may also find terrifying things that you may address, or learn to accept and better deal with. Through this thorough and comprehensive process, you will likely address and better resolve the roots of many problems.
A key difference between psychodynamic psychotherapy and a psychoanalysis is time and frequency. A psychodynamic-psychotherapist will typically meet with clients 1-2 times a week. A psychoanalyst typically meets with the client four to five times per week. This increased frequency leads to more sustainable and robust change and greater depth of therapeutic experience.
In fact, several studies have found that when compared to other approaches (CBT, solution focused, Humanistic, etc.) the improvements from psychoanalytic treatment are often more robust and continuous. Studies have even found that the improvements psychoanalytic patients gain persist more than to 10 years after treatment has ended!
Hopefully this post helped clarify what a depth approach is and how it can be beneficial. I am passionate about depth work and so are all of the therapists at Houston Therapy. If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to us. Depth psychotherapy is one of our specialties and we would be happy to speak with you about it.
Daniel Katz is a psychologist and founder of Houston Therapy. He is passionate about depth work and is currently a psychoanalytic candidate at the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies in Houston Texas.