This blog curates the voices of the Division of Psychoanalysis (39) of the American Psychological Association. This post was submitted by Fred Pisoni, PsyD, clinical psychologist in McLean, Virginia.

Flickr/Enrico cc license
Source: Flickr/Enrico cc license

The image that many people have of psychoanalysis is from the 1950s or maybe even earlier. Times change. And so has psychoanalysis. Below are some of the ways that modern psychoanalysis has changed to stay fresh and relevant.

1. Patterns, not Parents

Modern psychoanalysis does not focus on digging back into the past to unearth some long-forgotten episode of trauma or interactions with parents at those early ages. There may be important events that occurred in a person's life in early childhood and as those come up, they will, of course, be talked about and explored, but the main focus is on the present.

Together the analyst and person look for patterns in the person's present day relationships and work or school that contribute to unhappiness, fear, disappointment, reduced utilization of potential and, in general, to some sort of pain in the person's life.  There may be patterns that a person is aware of and there may also be patterns that, at the start of the work, a person is not aware of. The goal is to explore a person's thoughts, feelings and actions so that patterns can be identified and then understood.  As these patterns are understood, a person becomes freer to make choices that enable increased pleasure in interpersonal relationships and increased satisfaction in work and school.

2. Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis:  Not Two Completely Different Things

The distinguishing aspect of working from a psychoanalytic mindset is the focus on exploring thoughts, feelings and actions, looking for patterns and the emotional meanings of those patterns. The frequency of sessions can vary from once a week to several times a week. There is no sharp dividing line between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis based on the frequency of sessions. It is the search for patterns and the emotional meanings in those patterns that makes the work psychoanalytically oriented. 

3. Analysts Are People, Too

Gone are the days of the silent, expressionless analyst. Analysts are human just like the people they work with. And in the modern day, their warmth, seriousness and humor are no longer hidden.

4. To Couch or Not to Couch

Drawings in The New Yorker and other publications nearly always show a person in analysis lying on a couch. Contrary to those drawings and contrary to common perception, the use of a couch is not a requirement. The deciding point on whether a person would use the couch or not is not some rule or requirement, it is whether using the couch would be helpful to a person by minimizing distractions when thinking and talking about their emotional lives. For some people using the couch is helpful in that regard while for other people sitting in a chair is the most helpful approach. There is no right answer. Or said differently, the right answer is the one that works best for each individual person.

5. What Has Stayed the Same

Some aspects of psychoanalysis have remained the same over time. Analysts try to help people derive increased pleasure and satisfaction in their interpersonal relationships and work. Psychoanalysts have a deep respect for each person as a unique individual. The aim is to increase a person's ability to be both well connected to others and also, at the same time, be their own, separate and unique person.  Contemporary psychoanalysis continues to change and evolve as it strives to help people lessen their inner suffering in today's modern world.

About the Author

Kristi Pikiewicz

Kristi Pikiewicz, Ph.D., is managing editor of the American Psychological Association's Division of Psychotherapy DIVISION/Review.

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