Psychoanalysis, and psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy, are the most ambitious of all therapies in terms of scope and aims, and approaches from a different angle. Psychoanalysis started with the discoveries of Sigmund Freud a century ago, but its methods have changed and developed a great deal since then. It's the most complex of the talking treatments, and has had a significant influence on most others.
The psychoanalytic therapist will seem less socially responsive and immediately reassuring than other therapists, who take more of a trainer or friend role. He or she will ask you to try to say whatever is going through your mind. The analytical therapist will be closely tuned in and empathic, but will also be more neutral, keeping personal feelings and reactions private. As well as giving you a chance to unburden yourself, he or she will also be trying to pick up hidden patterns and meanings in what you are saying. The analytical therapist will also be interested in the way you are relating to him or her, and how this links with other, perhaps problematic relationships in your life.
Psychoanalytic psychotherapy typically lasts much longer than cognitive behaviour therapy, and you may need more than one session per week, because it aims to influence deeper layers of the personality, at the sources of the troubling thoughts and behaviour. The most thoroughgoing form of it is full psychoanalysis, where the patient sees a psychoanalyst, four or five times a week, for a number of years. Such intensive psychotherapy is a huge investment, not just of money, but also of time and emotional energy. However, this big investment in one's life can produce significant rewards in terms of the ability (as Freud put it) to love and to work. People find themselves freed to live life more to the full, to be more creative in all sorts of ways, and to relate to and care for others better.
Psychotherapy involves conversations with a listener who is trained to help you make sense of, and try to change, things that are troubling you. It is something you take an active working part in, rather than something you are just prescribed or given, such as medication.
Some people are able to get treatment under the NHS from a mental health professional, or through a local voluntary organisation. Others find a private psychotherapist or psychoanalyst. It’s possible to work individually, to have couples therapy, or to take part in group therapy or analysis.
(From the Mind/BPC booklet 'Making sense of psychotherapy and psychoanalysis' by Jane Milton.)
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