Psychoanalysis is increasingly present in everyday language and pop culture. However, it is still shrouded in preconceptions that make it seem unattainable for the ordinary mortal or reduce it to the idea that Freud only talked about sex and mothers (topics he talked a lot about, but he didn’t limit himself to just these!).
As giving a clear explanation requires a bit of information, I structured this text in the following topics:
- Psychoanalysis VS Psychotherapy
- Psychoanalysis Today
- Is psychoanalysis right for me?
To understand what psychoanalysis is today, we have to go back to its origin to have the context of its evolution since it was established as a clinical method.
At the beginning of the XX century, mental health disorders were poorly studied and predominantly treated with methods based on prejudice, many of which persist.
In his journey as a neurologist, Freud crossed paths with the french physician Josef Breuer, who was already trying to study patients diagnosed with mental health problems and used hypnosis as his primary method. However, Breuer noticed the symptoms of patients diagnosed with hysteria when they explained their experience to him, which was an atypical procedure in the usual context of doctors putting patients in the position of “recipients of information and instructions.” Actually, It was a patient, the famous Anna O., who coined the term “talking cures.” Interestingly enough, Freud once described her as the true founder of the psychoanalytic approach.
This historical vignette serves to introduce two aspects that are crucial in this new approach that was established:
1) Symptoms began to be looked at as manifestations of emotional suffering resulting from individual experiences rather than reduced to a physiological dysfunction;
2) Treatment took place through “talk therapy” and not through medical procedures.
At this point, the approach that has been embedded in psychotherapies over the last decades is founded. Throughout the previous decades, the theoretical approaches have multiplied (cognitive-behavioral, phenomenological, familial, etc…).
Psychoanalysis then opened the doors for developing psychotherapies, but today it can be classified as a distinct theoretical body.
We can consider 1900 the year when psychoanalysis was instituted by Sigismund Freud, with the text “The Interpretation of Dreams.”
Referring to Freud’s own words, the concepts of unconscious, interpretation, resistance, and transference define psychoanalysis. A casual way to explain these concepts is that psychoanalysis analyzes the mental processes underlying symptoms and behaviors by interpreting what the patient freely speaks during the consultation and how the patient relates to the therapist.
Psychoanalysis VS Psychotherapy
Some of the founding concepts of psychoanalysis are partially used by other theoretical fields. Still, only psychoanalysis uses them fully and together, and here is where the fundamental difference between psychoanalysis and psychotherapies lies. Psychoanalysis works on the investigation and understanding of symptoms; psychotherapies work on the elimination of the symptoms. So they are different approaches with different purposes, although they share some theoretical concepts and work on mental health.
Paraphrasing Freud, psychoanalysis combines itself into a method of research and treatment. It is not the fruit of theoretical speculation, but of experience, so it is not finished but in transformation.
This transformation happened through various psychoanalytic schools of thought headed by authors who took off from Freud’s work and expanded his first psychoanalytic theories. This proliferation is crucial as it enriches the theories and practices.
These theoretical frameworks differ in the way they think about the significant problems that psychoanalysis has set out to understand the human psyche, such as nature versus culture, the place of aggression, and early relationships.
Although some psychoanalysts may relate mainly to a specific psychoanalytic school, contemporary psychoanalysis should consider the contributions of the various authors, since only this way will it be possible to maintain a critical spirit and a flexible mind that is useful for patients.
So, with all of this, psychoanalysis is a psychotherapeutic process for all who are willing to gain a deep understanding of themselves through a journey of deep reflection on the interaction between their personalities and the different dimensions of their lives. This process will bring inner resources more structured, adaptable, spontaneous, and independent.
As a theory, psychoanalysis is helpful to gain an understanding of the whole range of mental health issues, cultural and social dilemmas. However, each psychoanalyst naturally may have more experience or investment in particular matters, which may be considered when searching for therapy.
Is psychoanalysis right for me?
As psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott once said: “By and large, analysis is for those who want it, need it, and can take it.”
My interpretation of this idea is that psychoanalysis makes sense for those willing to gain a deep understanding of themselves through a journey of deep reflection on the interaction between their personalities and the different dimensions of their lives. Furthermore, this process will bring inner resources more structured, adaptable, spontaneous, and independent.
Psychoanalysis is not a process for those who expect an approach that will provide you with predefined techniques that will help you become more functional. In that case, psychoanalysis may be a very frustrating process as that is not the purpose of this approach. Instead, it takes its time to explore perspectives, grow ideas, and explore how we conceive ourselves as a subject.
It is not necessarily which is better, Psychotherapy or Psychoanalysis. It is just they are very are different methods for different purposes, and eventually for different contexts.
As a theory, psychoanalysis is helpful to gain an understanding of the whole range of mental health issues, cultural and social dilemmas. This means that no matter what may be your symptoms or your previous diagnosis, psychoanalysis may be helpful for you.