Psychoanalysis is a method of intensive therapy that helps people understand their own mind, especially how they experience relationships, and what drives their thoughts, feelings, wishes, and behavior.Psychoanalysis privileges subjective experience and more deeply understanding how the past, especially early life experiences and family dynamics, linger into the present, and have profound effects on our present lives, usually outside our awareness.
The Talking Cure
Psychoanalysis is a collaboration in which the patient and analyst work together to explore unconscious feelings, thoughts and conflicts through talk.
Psychoanalytic treatment is based on the idea that we are frequently motivated to act by impulses that we don’t recognize because they originate in our unconscious. If we are too conflicted about our unconscious wishes, these conflicts can create negative feelings – emotions such as unhappiness, anxiety, or depression – which can be expressed in many ways, including self-destructive behavior, or difficulties with personal relationships or work.
Psychoanalysis is sometimes called the “talking cure” because each patient is encouraged to talk about anything that comes to mind. Nothing is off limits. Through the process of this unrestricted talking, people learn how they came to be who they are and why they do and feel the things they do. It is this understanding of oneself that paves the way toward the emotional freedom necessary to make substantive, lasting positive changes in self-perception, self-esteem, mood, anxiety, relationships, and troubling behavior.
Psychoanalysis is based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of many of the internal factors that influence their emotions and behavior. These unconscious factors may drive emotions more than someone might realize. Instead, we may be prone to believe that external factors–what is happening in a person’s life and environment–is all there is. When someone ignores their inner life, they may be prone to negative feelings unwittingly, such as unhappiness, sometimes in the form of symptoms and at other times as troubling personality traits, difficulties in work or in love relationships, or disturbances in mood and self-esteem. Because these internal factors are unconscious, the advice of friends and family, the reading of self-help books, or even the most determined efforts of will, often fail to provide relief.
Psychoanalytic treatment demonstrates how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behavior, and traces them back to their origins. A psychoanalyst would be interested to help you learn and recognize how these unconscious factors have changed and developed over time, and then can work to help you to deal better with the realities of life.
Analysis is an intimate partnership, in the course of which the patient becomes aware of the underlying sources of his or her difficulties not simply intellectually, but emotionally – by re-experiencing them with the analyst. Typically, the patient comes four or five times a week, lies on a couch, and attempts to say everything that comes to mind. These conditions create the analytic setting, which permits the emergence of aspects of the mind not accessible to other methods of observation. As the patient speaks, hints of the unconscious sources of current difficulties gradually begin to appear – in certain repetitive patterns of behavior, in the subjects which the patient finds hard to talk about, in the ways the patient relates to the analyst.
The analyst helps describe these for the patient, who refines, corrects, rejects, and adds further thoughts and feelings. During the years that an analysis takes place, the patient wrestles with these insights, going over them again and again with the analyst and experiencing them in daily life, in fantasies, and in dreams. Patient and analyst join in efforts not only to modify crippling life patterns and remove incapacitating symptoms, but also to expand the freedom to work and to love. Eventually the patient’s life – his or her behavior, relationships, sense of self – changes in deep and abiding ways.
Psychoanalysts strive very hard to listen deeply and sensitively to their patients– and to understand. This focus on listening and understanding is one of the dynamics that separates psychoanalysts from those mental health practitioners.
The key to psychoanalytic treatment is in the relationship the patient develops with the analyst. Typically, psychoanalysis involves the patient coming several times a week, lying on a couch, and communicating as openly and freely as possible.
The frequency of psychoanalytic sessions is something that can be worked out between patient and analyst, but four to five sessions per week is usually recommended by the American Psychoanalytic Association. This frequency allows for the possibility of a deeply personal experience which helps a person come to learn about themselves, their internal conflicts, and what is causing those conflicts to be debilitating.
About Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy
Many psychoanalysts also practice psychoanalytic psychotherapy. This method is based on the theory and technique of psychoanalysis, but the primary difference is that the patient and analyst meet less frequently.
As with psychoanalysis, the frequency of sessions can be customized to the needs of the patient. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is very much like analysis in its use of free association, the importance placed on the unconscious, and the centrality of the patient-therapist relationship.
Psychotherapists do not all practice psychoanalytic psychotherapy, so ask about what type of therapy you can expect when you consult with a psychotherapist. The psychoanalysts and psychotherapists affiliated with the Michigan Psychoanalytic Institute and Society all have advanced training in psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
When a Child or Adolescent Needs Help
There are times when your child is showing signs that they need help. If you think your child might benefit from help, you can discuss with a psychoanalyst what the issues are, and together determine what kind of approach might be the most beneficial.
When a child is depressed or anxious, they may not be able to tell you directly that they are struggling with an emotional issue, but you may see that they are struggling at school or with family members. Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy with children and adolescents generally uses a different format to account for the developmental stage of the child. Interaction can be based on play, where emotional themes within the play are used to understand with the child the issues that are interfering with optimal emotional and social growth. Working within a psychoanalytic approach can often avoid medications that might interfere with your child’s emotional or social development.