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. Over the past century psychoanalytic ideas have been applied 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 in the practice of psychodynamic psychotherapy including psychoanalysis.
Psychoanalysis is a form of intensive psychotherapy that offers a way of understanding ourselves, our relationships, and how we conduct ourselves in the world. 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. The patient typically lies on a couch attempting to say whatever comes to mind. In order to facilitate deep exploration, sessions occur four or five times a week. Memories, feelings, dreams, fantasies, and unconscious ideas surface, informing the patient and analyst as fully as possible about his/her intrapsychic life.
In the course of treatment insight into the sources of many of the difficulties the patient encounters in his/her life are discovered as they are re-experienced within the intimate partnership with the psychoanalyst. Psychoanalysis helps people learn how they became who they are and why they do and feel the things they do. These insights pave the way towards emotional freedom necessary to make deep and enduring changes, thereby reducing troubling moods, enhancing relationships, and decreasing internal barriers to being effective in school or in work. This kind of treatment helps people recognize and manage their strengths and weaknesses, accept themselves, and realize their fullest potential. Psychoanalysis helps people to work and to love.
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.