Psychoanalytic therapy is a form of in-depth talk therapy that aims to bring unconscious or deeply buried thoughts and feelings to the conscious mind so that repressed experiences and emotions, often from childhood, can be brought to the surface and examined. Working together, the therapist and client look at how these repressed early memories have affected the client’s thinking, behavior, and relationships in adulthood.
When It's Used
People with depression, emotional struggles, emotional trauma, neurotic behavior patterns, self-destructive behavior patterns, personality disorders, or ongoing relationship issues, may benefit from psychoanalytic therapy. One small study found that 77 percent of patients reported significant improvement in symptoms, interpersonal problems, quality of life, and well-being upon completing psychoanalytic therapy. At a one-year follow-up, 80 percent reportedly experienced improvements.
What to Expect
Some very specific techniques are used in psychoanalytic therapy: Free association uses spontaneous word association. The client says whatever first comes to mind when the therapist says a word. The therapist then looks for and interprets patterns in the client’s responses so they can explore the meaning of these patterns together. Dream analysis uncovers repressed feelings that may be hidden in symbols that appear in the client’s dreams. The therapist helps the client discover the meaning and significance of those symbols. Transference analysis explores the transfer of the client’s feelings and emotions from one person to another. For instance, the client’s repressed childhood feelings toward a parent may be transferred to a partner in an adult relationship later in life, or to the therapist during the psychoanalytic process.
How It Works
Based on Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis, psychoanalytic therapy uses analytic techniques to help release repressed thoughts, experiences, and emotions, but it is a modified, generally briefer, and less intense version of early Freudian analysis. The therapist-patient relationship is central to the healing process, as are the original theories of attachment, which focus on the quality of bonding between infant and parent; transference, the transfer of earlier emotions and needs to people and events in the present time; and resistance, the stage of therapy when the client becomes overwhelmed by the release of painful, repressed feelings and tries to avoid dealing with them. Eventually, as patients become more comfortable and less resistant to facing their issues and are able to understand their own motives and behavior, healing can begin.
What to Look for in a Psychoanalytic Therapist
A psychoanalytic therapist is a licensed, experienced social worker, psychotherapist, or other mental health or medical professional with advanced training in psychoanalysis. In addition to finding someone with the appropriate educational background and relevant experience, look for a psychoanalytic therapist with whom you feel comfortable discussing personal issues.
- American Psychoanalytic Association website. Accessed March 16, 2017.
- Leichsenring, F., Biskup, J., Kreische, R., Staats, H. The Guttingen study of psychoanalytic therapy: First results. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis April 2005;86(2):433–55.