When people ask this question, they usually want to know about treatment. As a therapy, psychoanalytic treatment is based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of many of the factors that determine their emotions and behavior.
These unconscious factors may create unhappiness, sometimes in the form of recognizable symptoms and at other times as troubling personality traits, difficulties in work or in love relationships, or disturbances in mood and self esteem. Because these forces are unconscious, the advice of friends and family, the reading of self help books, or even the most determined efforts of will, often fail to provide relief.
Psychoanalytic treatment demonstrates how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behavior, traces them back to their historical origins, shows how they have changed and developed over time, and helps the individual to deal better with the realities of adult life.
Analysis is an intimate partnership, in the course of which the patient becomes aware of the underlying sources of his or her difficulties not simply intellectually, but emotionally – by re-experiencing them with the analyst. The patient can come once or twice a week, but can come up to four or five times a week. They may lay on a couch or sit and are encouraged to say everything that comes to mind. These conditions create the analytic setting, which permits the emergence of aspects of the mind not accessible to other methods of observation. As the patient speaks, hints of the unconscious sources of current difficulties gradually begin to appear – in certain repetitive patterns of behavior, in the subjects which the patient finds hard to talk about, in the ways the patient relates to the analyst.
The analyst helps elucidate these for the patient, who refines, corrects, rejects, and adds further thoughts and feelings. During the time that an treatment takes place, the patient wrestles with these insights, going over them again and again with the analyst and experiencing them in daily life, in fantasies, and in dreams. Patient and analyst join in efforts not only to modify crippling life patterns and remove incapacitating symptoms, but also to expand the freedom to work and to love. Eventually the patient’s life – his or her behavior, relationships, sense of self – changes in deep and abiding ways.
Psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy are effective treatments for many people with moderate to severe difficulties and have had unsuccessful attempts with briefer therapies.
Because analytic treatment is highly individualized it is always important to meet with a psychoanalyst to discuss your goals and to see if the relationship is a good fit. If you feel your life has been impaired by longstanding symptoms of depression or anxiety, sexual concerns or incapacities, or physical symptoms without any certain underlying physical cause.
Many people come to analytic treatment because of a recurring pattern of failures in their relationships and work life. Some recognize destructive patterns they feel unable to change that interfere with their happiness, while others suffer from feelings of deep emptiness or an indefinable sense of unease. Talking with an analytic therapist can help to determine the best course of treatment and how to get started.