The purpose of psychoanalytic treatment is to help people change and progress in their lives. The development of self-awareness/insight is a step in achieving that progress.
People make the best choices they can, given the limitations of their assumptions about themselves and their circumstances.
Psychoanalytic treatment gives patients the opportunity to examine these assumptions, understand their origins in their lives, modify them if necessary, and make better choices for themselves.
When to seek psychoanalytic advice
People often wonder when it's time to seek advice from a psychoanalyst.
All of the usual reasons someone might consult with any mental health professional are good reasons for seeing a psychoanalyst, to get the most comprehensive assessment of one's problems. This includes symptoms and feelings of anxiety, depression, panic attacks, obsessions and compulsions. Personality traits that keep getting in your way, in your private or professional life, are also very amenable to being understood and helped by a trained psychoanalyst.
Perhaps you're having trouble in work situations—repetitive patterns of disappointment in personal relationships, not getting along with your boss or co-workers, seeming lethargic and not connected with friends or colleagues, physical complaints that might be manifestations of underlying emotional conflict, or coping with personal losses and transitions. These are examples of times when consultation with a psychoanalyst can be extremely helpful.
Problems don't necessarily have to be severe to justify making the first call. You probably have heard the term "worried well" and may even apply that to yourself at times when you are at a loss to describe a general malaise you are feeling. Many people, for example, may be highly functioning at work and home, but troubled inside. While the term "worried well" has sometimes been used pejoratively, being worried, having long-standing internal conflicts, or even just curious about yourself and how your mind works, are valid reasons for speaking with a psychoanalyst. People who have concerns that interfere with the way they want to live their lives benefit from psychoanalytic therapy. Psychoanalysis helps people address mental disorders and internal conflicts, and increase self-understanding and freedom.
Much as we like to fantasize that life is easy and that we can create a perfect world around us, the reality is that living is fraught with ups and downs. Just as there are times in life when we need the expertise of a certain kind of accountant or financial planner when we're tackling how to secure our economic future -- or we need a specialist for a certain type of home improvement project -- so at times, some professional advice about personal issues can be invaluable in confronting seeming road blocks that are deterring our ability to experience a sense of emotional freedom about our lives and feeling unencumbered by events of the past.
It is important to understand that it's alright to need some assistance in making our way along life's path. The insight, understanding, and perspectives that can be gained through therapy can be invaluable to our sense of personal autonomy and fulfillment.
Psychoanalysis is often indicated when other less intensive therapies have failed to achieve the desired results. It truly offers something different and more comprehensive, and is a good place to turn when symptoms remain or behavioral or relationship patterns continue after one or two attempts at less intensive, shorter term psychotherapy.
Psychoanalytic Treatment Approaches
The central common ground shared by all psychoanalysts is the concept of the unconscious determinants of behavior and the influence of the past on the present. The intensity and duration of psychoanalytically-based treatment varies, but many clinicians and patients find that more frequent visits to a psychoanalyst can best arrive at and address core problems. Frequent visits are important to keep the process going and deepening.
The psychoanalytic couch is a famous cultural icon, well known from inumeraable New Yorker cartoons. Yes, psychoanalysts still recommend the use of the couch in many situations. Patients recline on the couch and the analyst sits slightly behind them just out of view. Most patients find this arrangement very comfortable, after a little acclimation. This unsual set up is conducive to allowing "free association", an essential psychoanalytic technique in which the patient is encouraged to let her mind wander freely and speak whatever thoughts come into her mind. The removal of the social cues of a face to face conversation has a remarkable effect of freeing up the patient's mind ultimately leading to deeper insights.
Less intensive work, such as psychodynamic psychotherapy, may also effectively address patients' problems. Sometimes one or more courses of psychodynamic therapy are useful prior to a full psychoanalysis.