When people think of psychoanalysis, they often think of the theory of human motivation and the method of treatment first introduced by Freud over 100 years ago. Many people are unaware that psychoanalytic ideas have continued to change and evolve, based on clinical experience and research in many fields. Psychoanalysis has much to offer to both individuals seeking to address emotional concerns and to modern day culture and society.
Advancements in the fields of neuroscience, sociology, and linguistics along with Freud’s own research methodology for drawing inferences about unconscious processes have advanced both the understanding of human motivation and the effectiveness of treatment approaches. These theoretical and technical contributions have had a large impact on psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis today is not your grandmother’s psychoanalysis.
Welcome to the New Face of Psychoanalysis
Myths & Realities
Myth: Only those with an advanced degree in medicine, psychology or social work can study to be a psychoanalyst.
Reality: Some training institutes still require an advanced degree from one of these tri-disciplines. However, other institutes and/or schools consider it to be an independent field of study and do not require prior training in any other profession. Doors to psychoanalytic training are now open to any capable and motivated post-bachelor’s student who is interested in understanding unconscious forces.
Myth: Psychoanalysis is not evidence based. There is little if any research supporting its efficacy.
Reality: A wide range of empirical evidence supports the efficacy of psychodynamic psychotherapy/psychoanalysis. Click here for some of the recent research in this area. Therapeutic gains made by patients who have undergone psychodynamic psychotherapy are as large as those reported for other therapies, including cognitive behavior therapy. Also of important note is that patients who receive psychodynamic therapy maintain therapeutic gains and appear to continue to improve after treatment ends. Finally, non-psychodynamic therapies may be effective in part because the more skilled practitioners utilize techniques that have long been central to psychodynamic theory and practice.
Myth: Psychoanalytic patients must be seen 3-4 times a week.
Reality: Many psychoanalysts see patients on a schedule which best meets the needs of the individual patient. This means that some patients are seen more frequently than others. Often they are seen on a weekly basis.
Myth: Patient’s need to stay in psychoanalysis for many years or even the rest of their lives.
Reality: It does take time to form a meaningful therapeutic alliance between the patient and the analyst. However, the length of time required is very dependent on the particular needs and character of the individual person in treatment and varies accordingly.
Myth: Psychoanalysis is the study of transference, countertransference and resistance as understood through the lens of the oedipal stage of development and is therefore only useful for those with a neurotic character structure.
Reality: Although analysis has retained the classical psychoanalytic focus on transference, countertransference, and resistance, it is now understood that the transference can be a narcissistic one in which feelings and patterns of defense from the first years of life are revived. This means that most emotional, mental and personal achievement problems are amenable to change, which opens up a broad range of issues and patients to the benefits of psychoanalysis.
Myth: Psychoanalysts are emotionally removed from their clients and only provide intellectual interpretations in order to bring unconscious motivations into awareness.
Reality: It has been found that emotional communications can be very effective and are used instead of or in addition to intellectual ones. Many analysts are trained to study their countertransference reactions to a patient as a way to better understand the patient and to use these feeling states therapeutically with the patient.
Myth: The psychoanalytic session focuses on the recreation of the past.
Reality: The relationship between the patient and the analyst and what transpires between them in the here and now is an important element of the therapeutic process.
Myth: Psychoanalysis is only effective in a one-on-one clinical setting.
Reality: A corollary to the belief that most emotional, mental and personal achievement problems are treatable is the belief that psychoanalytic theories and methods prove beneficial in settings other than the clinical office. That is, psychoanalysis has a defined body of knowledge, theories and methods that inform fields of inquiry beyond its own, a concept known as “applied psychoanalysis.” “Applied psychoanalysis” represents the principle that understanding unconscious processes such as symbolic communication, resistance, repetition, transference and countertransference can be used effectively to inform other areas of study both academically and professionally. It is valuable not only when working with individuals, but also anywhere else, in groups or society where destructive or repetitive patterns of behavior interfere with progress. Thus, psychoanalysis can be applied to the understanding of emotional functioning and promoting clinical change, as well as in concert with other disciplines to understand social and cultural phenomena and/or promote social change.
Psychoanalysts today are practicing in a wide variety of settings with a wide variety of patients. The power of understanding and knowing unconscious forces that influence behavior is being applied practically and dramatically in a number of unexpected ways. Click here to be introduced to some of these new faces.
"In recent years there has been an explosion of research on psychoanalysis and psychoanalytically-informed therapies. The research we have supports the efficacy of psychoanalysis for many patients. Research is also helping us understand how therapy helps through elucidating the mechanisms by which patients change. As we learn more about how and when psychotherapy helps, we will be able to adapt our treatments to better help our patients."
Stephen Soldz, Ph.D., Cert.Psya.
Director, Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development