The Theory Of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis originated with Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist who began his work in the 1890s. It consists of theories and therapeutic methods grounded in the belief that people have thoughts, feelings, memories, and desires that are unconscious, or not directly accessible. The purpose of psychoanalytic therapy is to bring unconscious content to consciousness through a cathartic, or transformational, healing experience.

Traditionally during psychoanalysis, the analyst (or psychoanalytic therapist) asks the patient to lie on a couch; the analyst sits outside the patient’s field of vision. The client talks about their dreams, fantasies, and childhood experiences while the analyst takes notes. Analysts use techniques such as free association and dream analysis to access traumas, some of which are believed to go back to childhood memories that have been repressed and are hidden to the patient’s conscious mind.

Psychoanalysis is a longer process than behavior therapy, often lasting years and involving two or more sessions a week. Unlike behavior therapy, which focuses on actions that can be seen, psychoanalysis focuses on unseen desires and motivations.

Psychoanalysis has been used to treat psychological issues including phobias, anxiety, depression, sexual dysfunction, personality disorders, panic attacks, workaholism, and hypersensitivity.

History Of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is considered to be the first form of psychotherapy. In addition to Sigmund Freud, theorists including Anna Freud (Sigmund Freud’s daughter), Carl Jung, and Erik Erikson made lasting contributions to the field. Erikson expanded upon Freud’s theories by examining human development and stressing the need for growth throughout the life cycle.

6 Tenets Of Psychoanalysis

  • The unconscious mind largely determines human behavior.
  • Personality is influenced by early childhood events (between the ages of one to five).
  • The unconscious is made conscious through catharsis, which leads to the ability to deal with underlying issues.
  • Unconscious experiences can be made conscious by exploring dreams.
  • People use defense mechanismsto protect themselves from the awareness of unconscious memories and desires.
  • Mental breakdown occurs when there is a conflict between the conscious and unconscious mind.

Psychoanalytic Therapy Strategies

Free Association

In psychoanalytic therapy, free association is used to access memories stored in the unconscious. The analyst reads a list of words, and the patient responds to each with whatever comes immediately to mind. Freud believed that the responses to these words revealed repressed traumatic memories, which could then be used to help patients heal.

Dream Interpretation

Freud believed that dreams were a gateway to the unconscious. He, therefore, developed a method of dream interpretation to understand his patients’ inner experiences. Freud was convinced that many dreams had sexual meanings that were hidden by their literal, or manifest, content.

Inkblot Tests

Another way analysts access the unconscious mind is by using a Rorschach Test (1921), which is a patient’s interpretation of inkblots. Inkblot tests are known as projective tests because the patient projects, or casts, the contents of their mind onto a neutral image. This projection is thought to reveal hidden parts of the patient’s personality. In the Rorschach Test, patients are shown 10 inkblots and asked about each, “What might this be?” The analyst then interprets results using guidelines developed by comparing the results of many tests to the personality traits and psychiatric diagnoses of the test takers. There has been controversy about the value of inkblot testing, with some arguing in favor of its clinical utility and others arguing that it has little validity.

Transference Analysis

Transference is defined as the “transfer” of a patient’s feelings toward key figures from their past onto their therapist or analyst. In psychoanalysis, transference analysis means that the analyst interprets the patient’s transference, bringing those earlier feelings to consciousness. Transference analysis is believed to bring insight to relationship patterns by helping patients better understand their earliest connections.


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