What makes psychoanalysis different from other therapies (and so valuable)?

Photo by DragonImages/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by DragonImages/iStock / Getty Images

 What is psychoanalysis and psychotherapy?

Psychotherapy (a word which means “healing of the soul”) and psychoanalysis (a word which means “an examining of the soul”) are methods of talk therapy designed to help people identify feelings and thoughts and needs that they have hidden from themselves explicitly (often during session people remark that they now have words for what they have known only by feeling or gut). This is helpful because it allows people more freedom of choice in life. They are less prone to repeating patterns of relating that keep them feeling stuck, dissatisfied, depressed, anxious, etc.  

What makes psychoanalytic work different from other therapies (and so valuable)?

In a word, the relationship. Certified psychoanalysts and psychotherapists are trained to be able to work with the therapist/patient relationship. This is what allows psychoanalysis to not only offer insight but the actual working out of new ways of being - a key piece to actual change.

In the technical language of analytic theory this is called, "working with the transference". Transference is the unmet/unspoken but felt needs a person brings into a relationship and reveals through behavior more than words. No other therapy is trained to work with this. Every therapist and every patient brings their own story into therapy, this creates a unique experience that, if given enough time and attention, will have echos of other relationships in the patient's life. Though it takes patience and effort, in analysis and psychotherapy these echoes can be talked about and mutually explored, not just acted out or felt. Psychoanalysis is a therapy that can not only collaboratively help people understand their lives outside of the therapy office but in important ways inside the therapy office too. A key experience to people feeling understood and free'd to be more themselves.

A Story (all clinical examples are fictional composites)

For example, Sherry (a 45 year old professional woman who long felt unwanted and helpless to get people to relate to her in the loving ways she desired and struggled with being intimately connected to people) became upset one day six months into her therapy when the therapist was late in starting their regularly scheduled appointment. Without saying she felt upset about the therapist being late she instead said she didn't know what to talk about that day and was starting to think that maybe she would scale back her appointments. The therapist feeling confused by this (especially since they had been both feeling that sessions lately had been very productive and helpful for the patient) began to focus on the body language of the patient and implicit communication. In response to what they perceived they said, "I wonder if there is a part of you that is feeling tension about our session today? I noticed that when I apologized for being late today that you seemed uneasy. Do you notice any tense or uneasy feelings about our session today? Or even perhaps about how you might think I feel about you today?" This allowed Sherry the space to consider her own feelings and thoughts and gave a gentle nudge to the idea that the therapist could own their participation in Sherry's feeling upset, that it wasn't her just being "dramatic". This allowed for her to begin to consider outloud her own self state and what might be going on behind her sudden and repetive move to abort things in her life quickly.