What Is Psychoanalysis, And Would It Help Me?

When a person comes to see a psychoanalyst, they are in some form of pain. They feel sad, grief, worry, anger, unable to find sense or meaning in life, creativity, success. They feel unable to organize themselves, to find love, sex, friendships, and more.

More often, it is difficult to even put these thoughts together. They are in a rut and just can’t seem to find a way out.

Psychoanalysis is about helping a person find a way out of that rut. Sometimes a path quickly becomes clear. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes there isn’t one, and the hope is to build a path to a better, more meaningful, world.

Many forces and emotions can impact and overwhelm us. Ideas and preconceptions formed over the years affect how we see the world. To say they are complex is an understatement. But when we begin to see them, we also begin to realize their impact and how often we allow them to keep us prisoner.

Psychoanalysis helps a person find the choices they didn’t realize they had.

You might wonder, …

“Can I do this work on my own? Why would I need to do this with someone else?”

You can do a lot on your own. Journaling, meditating and exercising mindfulness, finding benefit in hobbies and exercise, and more can all be beneficial. However, meeting with someone else in a space that you feel is trustworthy, to hold your thoughts, concerns, and worries is quite a different experience. The problems that plague you in the outside world of relationships will more than likely find their way into your relationship with your analyst. And when they do, the nature of the relationship is that you can now examine it.

“Isn’t psychoanalysis proven false?”

Contrary to popular belief, not at all. The concepts of a world of thought and emotion influencing our motivations, resistance to change, templates of relationships, and more are quite alive and well. Though more modern therapies may seem somehow “new and improved” or even try to say psychoanalysis is not useful, at their core, they all utilize psychoanalytic principles that have grown and evolved since the late 1800’s.

“Wasn’t Freud a quack?”

Freud did a lot to consider the mind in his time and era. He had his own foibles and anxieties, some of which found their way into his work. All creations suffer the same fate; an artist indelibly leaves a personal stamp despite best efforts otherwise. Meanwhile, what Freud started has since grown, evolved, and developed into the modern day with the help of many bright minds. Comparing psychoanalysis now and then is like comparing a high-performance car to a buggy.

“Yeah, but isn’t psychoanalysis anti-women? And what about that killing your father and having sex with your mother thing? And why does everything relate to sex?”

Many of the principles and ideas have shifted and evolved over the years. Metaphorical concepts, such as the Oedipal relationship, are about navigating triangular relationships. Feelings of competition, jealousy, admiration, and more are readily seen. These may pertain to your situation, or they may not.

Alos, not everything is about sex. Much more central is the concept of meaning. What is meaningful to you, how that came to be, how that motivates you and shapes your world view, how that impacts your approach to others, and more are the central focus. Of course, sex can be important, too, as that might just happen to be meaningful to you.

Further, many powerful feminist voices have come from psychoanalysts, including S. Freud’s own daughter, Anna Freud.

“Why does psychoanalysis take so long? Cognitive Behavioral Therapy takes weeks.”

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT) is a very useful therapeutic style. It tends to focus on diagnoses or particular thought patterns. From there, one uses a manualized or standardized approach to address those concerns. A solid CBT therapist can be flexible where needed, empathic, and very helpful in teaching someone to manage many symptoms using this approach.

Psychoanalysis, however, involves meeting someone with a higher frequency and over a longer course of time, sometimes 3-5 times per week over the course of years. As a result, the changes tend to be deeper, longer lasting, and more influential in one’s world.

As an example, someone complaining of depression may come of out a CBT therapist’s office with concrete actionable tasks to do, which can certainly help depressive feelings. The same person walking out of a psychoanalyst’s office, however, may begin making larger changes in work and relationships that in turn will help with depressive feelings.

Some in the mental health community will even argue that CBT is a gold standard for certain diagnoses, such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). While I do believe CBT can be tremendously helpful in such cases, I have personally seen some who found yet further benefit in psychoanalysis.

“Can’t I just meditate or be mindful?”

Meditation is absolutely powerful and useful. But it is more orthogonal to therapy than it is competitive. Meditation is an ancient practice that can improve psychological health much like solid exercise. I believe it has been helpful to me and can be quite beneficial to many, many others.

But it won’t necessarily address the problematic interactions and learned behaviors of the years. Meditation is wonderful for learning how to be with your emotions, not react to them, listen to them, and use them in your decisions. Psychoanalysis helps you to understand the impact of your decisions and how you form them. The practices overlap but are not at all exclusive of each other. In fact, a primary practice of psychoanalysis known as “free association” can readily be recognized as a type of meditation itself.

“Psychoanalysis is expensive.”

The cost of psychoanalysis is not inconsequential. The finances of meeting with a fully trained analyst regularly can compete with a college education. However, there are ways to reduce costs.

Many years of training go into creating a psychoanalyst. To be a therapist, at all, can take about 2 years post college. To be a psychoanalyst, though, can take at least 7 years post college and more often takes quite a few more. As a personal example, if you count medical school, I did 18 years of post-college study and work until I graduated as a psychoanalyst.

Having said that, some health insurances will cover at least some of the costs involved. It may be worth speaking with your insurance provider to discuss the possibilities.

Further, there are training institutions that offer low fee work. Sometimes those fees can be quite significantly lowered. It’s worth calling a psychoanalytic institute in your area to find out if they have students in training. They should have a seasoned supervisor involved with the case.

To put things in perspective, the cost of an average brain surgery is between $50k-150k. Of course, that can mean the difference between life and death. In psychoanalysis, sometimes the stakes are the same. Often, though the difference is between living a miserable life, and finding one that is rich and meaningful. Interestingly enough, some people find that because of the better decisions they are making, they wind up earning a significantly larger income than before the analytic work and then make up the cost. In that way, it can be a financial as well as emotional investment.

“What about medication?”

Medication can be very useful depending on the person.

At times, I’ve compared medication to a brace. If you injure your ankle, you might put on a brace. Therapy helps move the objects that contributed to the injury in the first place as well as strengthens the body. The brace helps to minimize further injury and supports you in the work. The analogy is not without its limits, but it is helpful.

However, medications can also be turned to as a fix for something that is better addressed in therapy. For example, someone may feel that they have ADHD as they have difficulty focusing and are falling behind at work and with home tasks. However, sometimes, the work environment may indeed be overwhelming and, more importantly, there are difficulties in learning how to advocate for one’s self that are more at play. Learning those skills would then help create an environment that can make work not only tolerable but sometimes even enjoyable and more meaningful. At other times, the symptoms of difficulty with focus are more related to anxiety, and once again, may be addressed with therapy.

A good therapist will help you learn to acknowledge emotion and find when medication may or may not be a good option.

“Why meet so often? What’s the difference with regular weekly therapy?”

Similar to an exercise or learning a skill, you get what you put in. Further, some things don’t happen without a certain intensity. To compare using an analogy, one’s physical health is much different when working out once per week versus four times per week. One’s ability to learn a language is vastly different at one class per week versus multiple classes per week.

Learning your own emotional landscape is no different.

With that said, there are many who benefit quite well from 1-2 sessions per week. Some do fine with even less. It really depends on how you use the therapy, your relationship with your therapist, and what you’re looking for.

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