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What is Psychoanalysis?

For an overview of the theory, practice, and research aspects of psychoanalysis, take a look at this YouTube video: http://is.gd/dBw3i. It explores the nature of the unconscious, the work of Sigmund Freud, the process of gaining self-awareness and the opportunities for growth using the psychoanalytic approach.  Produced by Anne Frances Johnson with support from our sister organization, the North Carolina Psychoanalytic Foundation.


When people ask what psychoanalysis is, they usually want to know about treatment to alleviate suffering. As a therapy, psychoanalysis is based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of many of the factors that determine their emotions and behavior. These unconscious factors may create great pain. Sometimes this pain takes the form of recognizable physical symptoms, sometimes as problems in work or love relationships, disturbances in mood and self-esteem, or troubling personality traits. Because these forces are unconscious, the advice of friends and family, the reading of self-help books, or even the most determined efforts will often fail to provide the necessary relief.

Analysis is an intimate partnership which leads the patient to a new freedom based on an awareness of the underlying source of his or her difficulties, not simply intellectually but emotionally by re-experiencing them with the analyst. Typically, the patient comes four or five times a week, lies on a couch, and attempts to say everything that comes to mind, "free associate". This is the setting that permits the emergence of aspects of the personality and character not accessible to other methods of observation.

As the patient speaks, hints of unconscious sources of current difficulties gradually begin to appear - in certain repeated patterns of behavior, in the subjects which the patient finds hard to talk about, in the ways the patient relates to the analyst. The analyst helps elucidate these for the patient, who refines, corrects, rejects, and adds further thoughts and feelings. During the years that an analysis takes place, the patient deepens the search, step by step, through examination of on-going experience, memories, imaginings, and dreams. As a result the patient heals and grows substantially and lastingly.

Who Can Benefit from Psychoanalysis?

The persons best able to undertake psychoanalysis are sturdy individuals who are troubled, searching, able to talk about their experiences, and willing to live with the pains as well as the pleasures involved in finding, freeing, and strengthening themselves further.

Such individuals have developed successfully in many ways, but are nonetheless hampered by long-standing symptoms, such as feelings of depression and anxiety, sexual conflicts, maladaptive patterns of behavior, and physical symptoms without any demonstrable underlying physical cause.

Whatever the problem - and each is different - it can be adequately understood only within the context of that person's life situation. Hence, the need for a thorough evaluation to determine who will benefit - and who will not - from psychoanalysis. Because analysis is a highly individualized treatment, people who wish to know if they would benefit from it should seek consultation with an experienced psychoanalyst.

What Is Child & Adolescent Psychoanalysis?

Child and adolescent psychoanalysis, both offshoots of adult psychoanalysis, share with it a common theoretical framework for understanding psychological life, while also using additional techniques and measures to deal with the special capacities and vulnerabilities of children.

For instance, the young patient is helped to reveal his or her inner feelings and worries not only through words, but also through drawings and fantasy play. In the treatment of all but late adolescents, parents are usually consulted to round out the picture of the child's life. The goal of child and adolescent analysis is the removal of the psychological roadblocks that interfere with normal development.

Is Psychoanalysis Only a Therapy?

Although psychoanalysis began as a tool for therapy, it is, in addition, a method of investigation and a general theory of mental functioning, behavior, and human development.

Psychoanalytic knowledge is the basis of most in-depth approaches to therapy. Whatever the modifications, the insights of psychoanalysis form the underpinnings of much of the psychotherapy employed in general psychiatric practice, child psychiatry, and in other individual, family, and group therapies.

Through its examination of the complex relationship between body and mind, psychoanalysis tries to further our understanding of human emotions in health and in medical illnesses.

Since psychoanalysis seeks to explain how the human mind works, it contributes insight into what the human mind produces. In so doing, it has had a profound influence on many aspects of contemporary culture.

The Psychoanalytic Perspective

Psychoanalysts today appreciate the persistent power of the irrational in shaping or limiting human lives, and remain skeptical of the quick cure, the deceptively easy answer, the trendy or sensational solution. They know that psychoanalysis is a strong and sophisticated tool for obtaining self-awareness, helping patients free themselves from unnecessary suffering while improving and deepening human relationships.

Who Is a Psychoanalyst?

The designation "psychoanalyst" is not protected by federal or state law. Anyone, even an untrained person, may use the title. It is therefore important to know the practitioner's credentials before beginning treatment.

Psychoanalysts trained in institutes accredited by the American Psychoanalytic Association are already specialists in their own fields (such as psychiatry, psychology or social work) before they begin their advanced training. Whatever their background, all accepted candidates have five to ten more years of training consisting of three parts: a personal psychoanalysis, training in theory and technique, and psychoanalyses of patients under the supervision of senior analysts. In addition they must meet high ethical, psychological, and professional standards.

Psychoanalysts, however, do not limit their practice to psychoanalysis alone but also provide psychotherapy and include treatment with medication where appropriate. Their training also enhances their extensive activities as teachers, supervisors, consultants, and researchers in the many different settings in which they work.

How Do You Find a Psychoanalyst?

The St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute is the only accredited source of psychoanalytic training in the St. Louis region. We will be pleased to supply you with a list of analysts in practice in the St. Louis area. In addition, as a member of the American Psychoanalytic Association we can also provide names of analysts in other communities.

For those who cannot afford private fees, evaluation and referral may be available through the Herbert S. Schiele Treatment Center.

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