Psychoanalytic treatment is based on the idea that people are motivated by unconscious wishes, conflicts, and desires that are often either completely unrecognized or artfully denied. While we generally like to see ourselves as in charge of our lives, experience often confronts us with the fact that creating what we want for ourselves is not always a straight forward experience. In fact, sometimes it can feel like a tremendous struggle or even a seeming impossibility. People often come to see me with a sense that they are getting in their own way and putting elaborate obstacles in the way of the very things they most want.
It was this type of repetitive, chronic self-sabotage that Freud pointed to as a clear example of deep-seated conflicts located in the unconscious. While more common forms of psychotherapy work hard to help people alleviate the symptoms of depression, anxiety and chronic despair, what psychoanalysis has discovered is that it is only when the deeper sources of these underlying conflicts are made conscious and emotionally available that true, permanent change can take hold.
One aspect unique to psychoanalytic treatment is the importance placed on listening deeply. This listening can focus on many things; stories, fantasies, dreams, complaints, and upsets. But also, and perhaps most importantly, this listening and responding is brought directly into the ebb and flow of the experience of the relationship between analyst and the patient. One reason this has been found to be helpful is that unconscious conflicts and traumas most often express themselves through interpersonal experience. By paying close attention to the interpersonal interactions in the patient’s life, these stuck areas of the psyche begin to make themselves known in ways which allow them to be slowly understood by the analyst and the patient. By creating an opportunity for our unconscious motivations to become known, psychoanalytic work can strengthen our sense of resolve and purpose in life by freeing up obstacles to self-expression and creativity. This positive change can happen in part because the energy which had been used to protect a person from what was unconsciously dangerous can now be put toward furthering creative expression, rather than fighting against its expression.
Along with unconscious conflict, traumatic experience often holds people back from greater satisfaction in life. These traumatic experiences are held in quiet, closed off corners of the mind and often don’t respond well to treatments which use more cognitive or rational therapeutic interventions. A traumatic experience can stay hidden for years, unaffected by the normal course of daily life. The emotional challenge, intimacy, and safety created by the relationship with the analyst can often open up these closed off areas so that these previously unavailable experiences can become conscious and available for thoughtful reflection and ultimately integration into one’s identity. While other forms of therapy can sometimes gain access to these walled off traumatized areas, they largely lack the ability to help integrate traumatic experiences into symbolic forms that the mind can make use of for further growth. Analytic work is unique in its capacity to help more fully integrate traumatic experience, and while this work is often delicate, time-consuming and emotionally challenging, the results can be profoundly healing and permanent.
Working with an analyst in psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy can give you a new experience of yourself as you find new avenues for expression and emotional growth in the open communication that takes place in the analytic relationship. This experience can open connections to parts of your previously unknown inner world, a connection that promotes the development and maturing of those parts of you that need it most.
Greater self-awareness is also often an outcome of this work and it is this type of growth which leads to a greater self-confidence to pursue one’s own goals. It has been shown in many studies that the positive effects of this type of therapeutic work lasts and lead to an ongoing cycle of growth, long after the work with the analyst is finished.