In psychodynamic therapy, therapists help people review emotions, thoughts, early-life experiences, and beliefs to gain insight into their lives and their present-day problems and to evaluate the patterns they have developed over time. Recognizing recurring patterns helps people see the ways in which they avoid distress or develop defense mechanisms as a method of coping so that they can take steps to change those patterns.

The therapeutic relationship is central to psychodynamic therapy as it can demonstrate the manner in which the client interacts with his or her friends and loved ones. In addition, transference in therapy—the transferring of one’s feelings for a parent, for example, onto the therapist—can also help illuminate the ways that early-life relationships affect a person today. This intimate look at interpersonal relationships can help a person to see his or her part in relationship patterns and empower him or her to transform that dynamic.