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How Psychoanalysis Helps

Understanding how a person protects him/herself from painful emotions

How psychoanalysis helps: Understanding how a person protects him/herself from emotionally difficult states

Why do people seek a talking treatment?

They come to a helping professional to help them deal with problematic feelings, problematic relationships, and/or problematic functioning in their daily lives. Psychoanalysis or the somewhat less intensive psychoanalytic (or psychodynamic therapy) help the person by addressing conflicts

A psychoanalyst approaches a person’s problems with two basic assumptions, that have been empirically validated: that a great deal of mental activity is unconscious, that is, out of a person’s awareness; and two, that events in a person’s past influence how one experiences the present: emotions, relationships and attitudes towards work and play.

In working with a psychoanalyst a person will very soon become aware that an important aspect of the treatment includes encouragement and reassurance by the analyst, helping the patient clarify the nature of his or her fears and worries, and in general helping the patient develop a more realistic appraisal of his or her life and the origins of distress.

However, a very important aspect of a psychoanalytic approach is helping the patient explore aspects of his or her life which are out of his/her awareness. Most importantly, how a person hides painful emotions from him or herself. As patient and analyst are engaged with one another, the analyst may be able to show the patient how the patient avoids certain situations because the patient is concerned that common emotions need to be controlled. For example, when someone suffers a loss, painful feelings may be too unbearable and the person does a variety of things to mask those feelings, laughing instead of crying, for example. Another person, who suffers a potentially humiliating insult, may respond in a way to mask the problematic emotion, which is too painful.; the person may act powerful to overcome the shameful feelings.

In both these situations, and others, the person, may be totally unaware of the nature and meaning of his problematic responses. The psychoanalyst can help the patient begin to understand how the person masks the painful emotion. Eventually the person can learn why the emotion is so unbearable. Over time, the patient will begin to explore episodes in his or her life which are affecting his or her responses in the present. This kind of exploration can achieve greater personality modifications, beyond symptom change.

For an example of this approach see Regulation Focused Psychotherapy ( Although designed for children with problematic behaviors, the approach is applicable to a variety of situations in children, adolescents and adults.