Psychoanalysis is a theory of the human mind, a method of observing mental phenomena, a treatment for psychological difficulties, and a way of understanding society, politics and the arts. Based for many years on concepts formed from clinical experience, psychoanalytic principles and treatments have increasingly been subject to research methods such as clinical trials, parent-infant observation, and neuro imaging studies.
Psychoanalysis is founded on the premise that much of our mental activity occurs outside of our conscious awareness, influencing our decisions, relationships and sense of ourselves. Early life experiences are encoded not only as conscious memories, but also as hidden expectations and habitual ways of relating to others. Psychoanalysis recognizes that internal conflict is fundamental to the human experience. Our many motivations (to form attachments, gratify sexual desires, adhere to moral codes, maintain self-esteem, survive in reality) are in a constant state of flux and negotiation. Unconsciously, we use internal and interpersonal defense mechanisms to maximize gratification while preventing feelings of loss, shame, guilt, anxiety and frustration that result from psychic conflict. Psychoanalysts understand that the child has learned age and context-dependent defense mechanisms that are the best solutions available at the time. When archaic defense mechanisms persist into adulthood in ways that are no longer adaptive, the adult will experience symptoms, inhibitions and impaired relationships.
As a treatment, psychoanalysis aims to make less conscious aspects of our minds available to us. With this knowledge comes freedom, power, self acceptance and authenticity. Psychoanalysts use several specific techniques to facilitate expanded self-awareness and alter deeply ingrained patterns:
- Free association
- Reclining position
- High frequency of sessions – 3 to 5 days a week and several year treatment length
- Examining the relationship with the analyst
- Use of dreams, daydreams and memories
- See more about these techniques
In additional to insight, psychoanalysis provides a new opportunity to feel deeply recognized and understood by an attuned, non-judgemental therapist in an emotionally intense setting.
Those seeking comprehensive self-knowledge to overcome obstacles to fulfillment in work, love relationships, and self esteem should consider the unique opportunity provided by psychoanalysis.