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Psychodynamic therapy as a treatment for substance dependence

by Sarah Graham
Friday 17 July 2015
1023 12120

Substance dependence is an addiction to any substance that may initially, temporarily, have made you feel better. Substance dependence commonly refers to illegal, recreational drugs such as cocaine or heroin, but it's also possible to become addicted to prescription medication, nicotine, solvents and other inhalants. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that psychodynamic therapy is one of the most effective treatments for this form of addiction. We asked RSCPP therapist Lin Travis to explain what psychodynamic therapy is and how it can be used to treat substance dependence.

What is psychodynamic therapy and how does it work?

Psychodynamic therapy prioritises establishing a good therapeutic relationship between the therapist and client. This helps in creating a safe space, where difficult feelings can be more easily contained, managed and worked on. It may look at past events, and repeating patterns of behaviour in your past and present that cause you problems in your day-to-day life. In bringing these more into your awareness, psychodynamic therapy can help you make more sense of things and gain a deeper understanding of yourself. This could be thought of as a kind of clearing away of obstacles, allowing you to get on with your life more easily, less weighed down by the past.

Accredited Counsellor Lin Travis

How can psychodynamic therapy be applied to treating substance dependence?

It can help in containing and managing difficult feelings, so that you may feel less compelled to turn to substances, more in control of your feelings and yourself. It can also help in uncovering and working on underlying issues, making recovery not only more achievable but also more sustainable for the longer term.

Accredited Counsellor Lin Travis


How long does psychodynamic therapy for substance dependence typically last?

This depends on you and your particular needs. Often it is the underlying issues that need time to be worked on adequately to give the best chance of sustained recovery rather than relapse.

Accredited Counsellor Lin Travis


Who is psychodynamic therapy suitable for?

Psychodynamic therapy is suitable for you if: you would like to look at underlying issues, as well as substance misuse itself; there are specific events from your past, or particular circumstances that you would like to work through and make more sense of – such as abuse, trauma, complex bereavement, or relationship issues; you want help in containing difficult feelings.

Accredited Counsellor Lin Travis

What outcome can you expect from psychodynamic therapy as a treatment for substance dependence?

Psychodynamic therapy can help you gain a more healthy sense of control of your feelings and yourself. It can increase your understanding of yourself, so that you are better equipped to manage triggers and difficult situations in the future, and so less likely to relapse.

Accredited Counsellor Lin Travis


How can I tell if a therapist is qualified to offer psychodynamic therapy for substance dependence?

You can check their qualifications to see if their specific therapeutic training is psychodynamic, and if they have experience in the particular field of substance misuse.

Accredited Counsellor Lin Travis

All therapists on are accredited, registered or chartered by a UK professional body. Therapists who offer psychodynamic therapy will in addition have completed training in psychodynamic practice.

RSCPP Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Richard Snowdon

Finding support

If you are concerned about the issues raised in this article then you may like to read about finding the right therapist for you. If this route is not appropriate for you, your GP can assess you and direct you towards support.

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Updated 17 July 2015