Explained: What is Psychoanalytic Therapy and How Does it Work?

Sigmund Freud is probably one of the most popular as well as controversial psychologists known in the world. Although a neurologist initially, his studies, observations, and writings have contributed immensely to our understanding of human behaviour, unconsciousness and psychology.

Psychoanalytical therapy, a form of therapy widely used to cure deep rooted emotional trauma and depression amongst many things is based on Freud’s work and theory of psychoanalysis.

What is Psychoanalytic Therapy?

Psychoanalytical therapy endeavours to understand unconscious or deeply buried thoughts, emotions, and memories.

Freud believed that we repress many embarrassing or socially unacceptable thoughts and feelings into our unconsciousness but they often can lead to psychological disturbances.

So Psychoanalytical therapy endeavours to understand unconscious or deeply buried thoughts, emotions, and memories and brings it into consciousness so as to heal childhood conflict or trauma, personality disorders, depression, neurotic behaviour patterns, relationship issues etc.

Since this therapy believes that mental illness, conflict or trauma is largely brought about childhood or early years events which we have repressed into our unconscious, it’s primary goal is usually to help clients identify hidden thoughts and desires which may be causing day to day conflict.

Also Read: Struggling With Social Anxiety? Give ‘Exposure Therapy’ a Shot

How Does it Work?

The therapist-client relationship is central to this therapy.

Psychoanalytic therapists use very specific techniques in order to help the client release repressed emotions. They encourage the client to talk freely and at length about their life and experiences – which is why it’s often known as talk therapy as well – and they use the information given to them to identify patterns of behaviour or thoughts which may play a role in the client’s current problem.

The therapist-client relationship is central to this therapy. The therapist aims to build trust in the client towards him/her so that they feel comfortable enough to discuss memories and emotions they perceive as threatening.

Although a variety of analytic techniques are used during this therapy, dream analysis and free association are two important and popular ones.

Freud strongly held the opinion that dreams are our path to our unconscious and they reveal many of our buried thoughts and desires.

So during the course of this therapy, dreams are interpreted and analyzed to understand hidden meanings and thoughts. In free association, the client is encouraged to talk about anything which comes to their mind.

The therapist may sometimes encourage the client to keep talking by prompting in some random words (school, mother etc) and the client has to respond with the first word which comes to mind. It is hoped that repressed memories emerge during free association.

Also Read: Explained: How Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Works

Pros and Cons of Psychoanalytic Therapy

As with any approach to mental health, this therapy also has its pro’s and its con’s.

  • Psychoanalytic therapy is time-consuming and can sometimes take months, if not years for any improvement or result to come out of it. This would require a deep commitment from the client of only time but also expenditure which may just not be practical.
  • Repressed memories may also bring about some unpleasant and painful thoughts and feelings to the forefront which might cause even more stress and problems to the client, and hence is not meant for all types of disorders nor all kinds of people.
  • On the other hand it definitely gives an in-depth insight of our emotions, thoughts and behaviours and can be a safe, and non-judgemental space to share embarrassing and painful thoughts. The therapist is accepting and empathetic and sometimes that environment in itself is very healing.
  • This kind of therapy would work very well for those who have unresolved childhood conflicts and for those actively looking to understand their motivators and stressors.

(Prachi Jain is a psychologist, trainer, optimist, reader and lover of Red Velvets.)

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