Every single one of us could use a little extra help tackling our mental health — even experts agree. But have you ever, um, looked for a therapist? After (if) you get through the lengthy waiting lists, you're met with all these different words and acronyms. Mindfulness-based, CBT, group, EMDR...With so many different types of therapies available, how can you figure out what's right for you and your issues?
A good place to start is psychoanalytic therapy, arguably the OG of therapy. When you think of a stereotypical therapist session — you lying on a couch and talking while your therapist sits nearby taking notes and offering input here and there — that's psychoanalytic therapy.
What is psychoanalytic therapy?
Psychoanalytic therapy, also called psychodynamic therapy, is based on Sigmund Freud’s theories, according to Psychology Today. Its goal is to use analytic techniques to release the repressed thoughts, experiences, and emotions that arise during talk therapy. Ultimately, the treatment is meant to help the individual better understand any unconscious forces that have an impact on their current thoughts, behaviours, and emotions.
"Psychodynamic therapy encourages exploration and discussion of the full range of a patient’s emotions," wrote Jonathan Shedler, PhD, of the technique, in the journal American Psychologist. "The therapist helps the patient describe and put words to feelings, including contradictory feelings, feelings that are troubling or threatening, and feelings that the patient may not initially be able to recognise or acknowledge."
Therapists who use psychoanalysis will be on the lookout for what kinds of topics patients avoid, recurring themes and patterns in what they talk about or how they talk about certain topics, a patient's interpersonal relationships, and a patient's past experiences.
Unlike other forms of therapy like Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing and art therapy, in psychoanalytic practice therapists will allow the patient to speak freely about whatever is on their mind. That means the relationship between the therapist and patient is very important. Most patients only open up after trust is established, and it's at that point that the therapist can do the analytical work.
What are the approaches to psychoanalytic therapy?
There are several different tools and approaches a therapist might use when practicing the psychoanalytic method in order to gain insight into a patient. One is called interpretation. That's when a therapist tries to understand what their patient is going through; they may repeat something the patient said, ask questions to clarify the thoughts or insights, and offer their own perceptions, according to the US National Library of Medicine.
Another is known as transference, which Harvard Health Publishing says is when the patient projects the original feelings and reactions they've had to certain situations in their past to someone in the present — which is usually their therapist. This can then facilitate a discussion about the patient's unresolved feelings for the person in their past. Of course, transference can occur anywhere — but psychoanalysis therapy places it under a microscope and breaks it down to the root of why it's happening.
Dream analysis is also used in psychoanalytic therapy. This is basically what it sounds like: The patient tells the therapist about their dreams, and the therapist uses that information to try and uncover the patient's unconscious thoughts. Sounds a little woo-woo, but it can help with the treatment of certain mental health issues, a research article from the University of Adelaide found.
"Dream analysis could help in the treatment of depression," says one of the article authors Lance Storm, PhD. "This is a rapidly growing area of mental health concern, because depressive people are known to experience prolonged periods of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which is directly linked with emotional processing and dreaming."
What are the benefits of psychoanalytic therapy?
"The kind of outcome you might expect would be increased awareness and understanding of the root causes of your problems, improved self-esteem, and a greater sense of self-acceptance," Watson says.