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Is Psychoanalysis Right for Me?

Psychoanalysis is for those who want it, need it, and can take it.

Along with your physical health and your ability to provide for your basic needs, your mental health is the foundation on which your entire life is built. So, if you decide to seek out psychotherapeutic treatment, you want it to be the right kind of treatment. It wouldn’t make sense to invest your trust, effort, time, and money in a treatment that isn’t going to help you. So the question, “Is psychoanalysis right for me?” is an important one.

The Western New England Institute for Psychoanalysis has some good information about this question, adapted from a more comprehensive facts page available on the website of the American Psychoanalytic Association. Those are good places to start.

To delve into the question further, I look to psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s wisdom. He wrote, “By and large, analysis is for those who want it, need it, and can take it.” For me, that’s as good a starting point as any.

Psychoanalysis is for those who want it.

The experience of psychoanalysis is suited to some but not to everyone’s unique personality. It is a particularly good fit for those who want to develop a deeper understanding of themselves—for those who want to know how the pieces of their story fit together, the past and the present as well as their interior and exterior lives.

Psychoanalysis might be the right approach for you if you want to make sense of your experiences, if you are curious about how your mind works, and if you want to deal with your problems at their root. It could be right for you if you want relief in the short-term, yes, but also if you want to make changes that last—and you know the difference between the two.

Psychoanalysis is for those who need it.

Simply put, psychoanalysis is a treatment for those who are suffering and in emotional pain. It offers a unique kind of help for those who have been trying to cope with their difficulties but have found that they can’t do it on their own and have had limited success with other treatment approaches.

Psychoanalysis could be right for you if you take your need for help very seriously, especially if you have psychological difficulties that are longstanding: chronic or recurring depression, anxiety, anger, relationship difficulties, or low self-esteem. Psychoanalysis can get beneath the surface to the core dynamics that might be leading you to feel lost in life, trapped in vicious cycles, or unable to engage in your life in a constructive way.

You may be interested to know that, for many people, psychoanalysis is not their first psychotherapy experience. Almost all of my patients were in therapy with someone else before me. In most cases, their previous therapy experiences weren’t terrible. They were positive enough that my patients weren’t turned off altogether.

But these experiences also were unsatisfying enough that my patients continued to feel the need for help, recognized the need for something deeper, and could tell the difference between their previous therapist’s approach and mine. By seeing this contrast, my patients tend to develop a conviction that psychoanalysis has something unique to offer, something that they both want and really need.

Psychoanalysis is for those who can take it.

Psychoanalysis isn’t easy. No matter how much someone may want and need analysis, they have to be able to take it. Not only do they need to have time and financial resources available, they have to be able to withstand the heat, to manage the intensity of thorough self-examination as well as feedback from the analyst. They must be able to face painful and undesirable feelings, thoughts, and impulses. They must be willing and able to travel the long, two-steps-forward-one-step-back journey of getting better.

The capacity to take the treatment is often referred to as psychological “sturdiness.” While it may sound like an oxymoron, to be in analysis, those suffering great emotional pain must, at the same time, be sturdy enough to bear great emotional pain. It can be difficult to know if a person has the sturdiness to take an analysis at first, but you discover it as you go.

Psychological sturdiness often appears as a person’s tenacity to get well, a determination to overcome the obstacles in his or her way. Sometimes it shows itself in an indirect way as a kind of stubbornness or feistiness. As the process of analysis unfolds, I become more and more hopeful when I find myself sitting across from a fighter, no matter how troubled he or she might be.

In conclusion

If, after reading this post, you think psychoanalysis is something that you might want, need, and be able to take then I encourage you to look into it further. Do some research to find an analyst who has been trained at your local psychoanalytic institute. If you don’t have a referral from someone you know, the Psychology Today Therapy Directory is a great online resource.

Once you have identified a potential analyst, make a call and set up an initial consultation. Let the analyst get to know you and then advise you about whether or not they think that psychoanalysis might be right for you. If not, they will refer you to someone working with a different approach who might be better suited for you and your unique needs. If they think psychoanalysis might be right for you, then I encourage you to take a deep breath and give it a try.

Copyright 2014 Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.

Check out earlier blog posts in this series:

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