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Is Psychoanalytic Therapy Still a Valid Form of Therapy?

Definition, techniques and goals of psychoanalytic therapy. Plus find out if this well-known talking therapy is still valid today.

Psychoanalytic therapy is a form of analytical talking therapy based on the theories of Sigmund Freud. It aims to encourage deep change in personality and emotional development by helping people become more aware of their inner worlds and the relationship between past and present. Psychoanalytic therapy is perhaps one of the most well-known treatment models there is, but it is also the most misunderstood. So how exactly does psychoanalytic therapy work, and is it still a valid form of therapy?

What Is Psychoanalytic Therapy?

Psychoanalytic therapy is a form of talking therapy used to treat various mental health disorders such as depression, phobias, anxiety and trauma. It evolved from Sigmund Freud’s work on psychoanalysis in the 1800s and was first used to treat what was once known as hysteria, a condition defined by hallucinations, nervousness and partial paralysis that was mostly attributed to women.  

In 1885, Freud and his colleagues found that simply allowing patients to talk about their trauma could ease their symptoms and relieve mental distress. This is when “the talking cure” (a term attributed to the first verbal therapy) was born.

Today, psychoanalytic therapy is used to help people change unconscious emotional and relationship patterns in order to reduce symptoms and alleviate psychological distress. Sessions focus on past experiences and the identification of recurring patterns in order to elicit real change in a person’s inner and outer life.

Who Benefits from Psychoanalytic Therapy?

Psychoanalytic therapy mainly benefits people who have experienced long-term psychological distress. It helps one get to the root of their problems, explore interpersonal relationships and identify self-destructive patterns and behavior.

You may benefit from psychoanalytic therapy if you have experienced:

Psychoanalytic Therapy Techniques and Goals

The main goal of psychoanalytic therapy varies among individuals. You may wish to work through trauma, ease anxiety or reduce symptoms of depression. Psychoanalysis is not a quick fix, however. The aim of most psychoanalytic therapy techniques is to achieve deep-seated change in personality and emotional development, so therapy can take place over months or even years. This is one of the downsides of psychoanalytic therapy, as treatment can end up being very expensive.

The approach uses many different techniques to achieve the goal of “deep-seated change.”
Psychoanalytic therapy techniques include:

  • Free association
  • Transference
  • Dream interpretation

Work you do in the sessions may include:

  • Observing thoughts and feelings
  • Understanding unconscious forces
  • Overcoming defense mechanisms
  • Exploring avoidant behaviors
  • Identification of recurring patterns and themes
  • Talking about past experiences
  • Understanding and working on interpersonal relationships
  • Exploring your fantasy life

Is Psychoanalytic Therapy Still Valid?

Although psychoanalytic therapy has often been the subject of criticism, it is still a valid form of treatment – and one that is very effective for people experiencing long-term distress. Large-scale studies have shown that even short-term psychoanalytic treatment can improve general symptom improvement in those with somatic symptoms, anxiety and depression. Despite this, critics such as Noam Chomsky and Karl Popper believe that the therapy lacks a scientific basis and is too time-consuming to be properly effective.

Much of the general criticism surrounding psychoanalytic therapy stems from misconception, as many people confuse psychoanalytic therapy with traditional psychoanalysis. However, modern psychoanalytic therapy is far less "intense" than this, and literature from 2010 and beyond argues that psychoanalytic therapy is still a valid and effective form of treatment.

According to the American Psychoanalytic Association:

“Psychoanalytic psychotherapy utilizes psychoanalytic theories as the frame for formulation and understanding of the therapy process. (There is a) focus on increasing self-understanding and deepening insight into emotional issues and conflicts which underlie the presenting difficulties.”

Like most other forms of therapy, the effectiveness of psychoanalytic therapy is largely dependent on the relationship between client and therapist. You can find a qualified psychoanalytic therapist through the American Psychoanalytic Association, or through a referral from your health practitioner.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, October 9). Is Psychoanalytic Therapy Still a Valid Form of Therapy?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-illness-overview/is-psychoanalytic-therapy-still-a-valid-form-of-therapy

Last Updated: October 15, 2019
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Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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