About Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalytic theories of mental functioning, and the treatments based on these theories, all derive from the discoveries of Sigmund Freud over a century ago. The most fundamental of Freud’s discoveries was that conscious mental processes (thoughts and feelings) and behaviors (from small actions to major life choices) are determined to a great extent by mental processes outside our conscious awareness- that is, are unconsciously determined. These unconscious processes can be inferred by careful attention to mental associations, dreams, slips of the tongue, non-verbal behaviors, and other cues. Freud’s explicit intention was to create a theory that could explain both normal and abnormal mental processes, i.e., that would be generally applicable to all people. The theory is relevant to the inner experience of individuals as well as to the interpersonal dynamics that emerge between people in relationships, groups, cultures, and nations. Psychoanalytic theory has evolved and expanded greatly since its inception, and new perspectives continue to contribute to the richness and complexity of psychoanalytic thought. The past 115 years have also seen widespread application of psychoanalytic ideas in fields as diverse as the performing arts, literature, studies of groups, education, sociology, politics, and organizational dynamics. Of course, the most direct application remains the analytic treatments including psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a form of intensive verbal psychotherapy that offers a way of understanding ourselves, our relationships, and how we conduct ourselves in the world. Psychoanalysis helps make sense of our unhappiness, enhances our capacity for relationships, reduces troubling moods, and decreases internal barriers to being effective at school or work.

People may be only partially aware of what determines their emotions and behaviors because these sources are often unconscious. Sometimes personal history or trauma may create symptoms such as anxiety or depression, troubling personality traits, difficulties in work or love relationships, or disturbances in mood and self-esteem.

In treatment, one uncovers the sources of difficulties as these are re-experienced within the intimate partnership with the psychoanalyst. In order to facilitate continuity and deep exploration, sessions occur four or five times a week. The patient typically lies on a couch attempting to say whatever comes to mind. Memories, feelings, dreams, fantasies, and unconscious ideas surface, informing the patient and analyst of his/her deeper internal experiences. The joint efforts of patient and analyst help the patient understand his/her life story, talk about difficult topics, and recognize repetitive patterns.

Psychoanalysis helps people learn how they became who they are and why they do and feel the things they do, paving the way towards the emotional freedom necessary to make deep and enduring changes. It helps people recognize and manage their strengths and weaknesses, accept themselves, and realize their fullest potential.

For more information, see our Frequently Asked Questions page; or Click here to Find a Psychoanalyst or Therapist.

To learn about research on the effectiveness of psychoanalysis please visit the research pages of the American Psychoanalytic Association.

To read about ethical standards in the practice of psychoanalysis please click here.