The empirical status of psychodynamic psychotherapy - an update: Bambi's alive and kicking

Psychother Psychosom. 2015;84(3):129-48. doi: 10.1159/000376584. Epub 2015 Mar 28.


Background: The Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures proposed rigorous criteria to define empirically supported psychotherapies. According to these criteria, 2 randomized controlled trials (RCTs) showing efficacy are required for a treatment to be designated as 'efficacious' and 1 RCT for a designation as 'possibly efficacious'. Applying these criteria modified by Chambless and Hollon, this article presents an update on the evidence for psychodynamic therapy (PDT) in specific mental disorders.

Methods: A systematic search was performed using the criteria by Chambless and Hollon for study selection, as follows: (1) RCT of PDT in adults, (2) use of reliable and valid measures for diagnosis and outcome, (3) use of treatment manuals or manual-like guidelines, (4) adult population treated for specific problems and (5) PDT superior to no treatment, placebo or alternative treatment or equivalent to an established treatment.

Results: A total of 39 RCTs were included. Following Chambless and Hollon, PDT can presently be designated as efficacious in major depressive disorder (MDD), social anxiety disorder, borderline and heterogeneous personality disorders, somatoform pain disorder, and anorexia nervosa. For MDD, this also applies to the combination with pharmacotherapy. PDT can be considered as possibly efficacious in dysthymia, complicated grief, panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and substance abuse/dependence. Evidence is lacking for obsessive-compulsive, posttraumatic stress, bipolar and schizophrenia spectrum disorder(s).

Conclusions: Evidence has emerged that PDT is efficacious or possibly efficacious in a wide range of common mental disorders. Further research is required for those disorders for which sufficient evidence does not yet exist.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / psychology
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / therapy*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Disorders / psychology
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychotherapy, Psychodynamic*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic