Psychoanalytic therapy or psychoanalysis is the first model of modern therapy, and was originally employed by Sigmund Freud. There have since been numerous adaptations of Freud’s original design, and it would be difficult to name them all. Often this form of therapy is called the “talking therapy” or the “talking cure,” and its goal is to reveal the unconscious thoughts and feelings that may affect conscious behavior and may result in neuroses.
Unlike a number of forms of therapy today, early psychoanalytic therapy typically took a very extensive time commitment on the part of the patient or analysand. Instead of once weekly meetings, which are fairly common in modern therapy, patients often met with their therapist three times a week. They did so in a therapist’s office, and would usually lie on a couch using free association and dream analysis to guide their thoughts in any direction. The therapist generally did not converse much with the client, except to ask them a question here and there.
A few things may have changed about the modern forms of psychoanalytic therapy. It can still mean meeting two to three times a week, and using things like free association. The traditional lounging couch may not be employed, and clients may simply face their therapist or sit in a chair. The degree to which the therapist comments on the client’s statements is variable, and psychoanalytic therapy does not always have to be based primarily on Freud’s work. Most Jungian therapists would class themselves as psychoanalysts too, for instance, as would most therapists considering themselves psychodynamic therapists, who take their cues from people like Jung, but also from Ernst Wilhelm von Brucke and Alfred Adler.
The progenitors of psychoanalytic therapy like Freud were doctors, and today some analysts may still be psychiatrists. They can also be licensed therapists, psychologists, or social workers. However, the term psychoanalyst isn’t a protected or licensed term, and any one can use it regardless of whether they have been trained. If searching for a psychoanalyst, it makes good sense to actually check credentials. Anyone claiming to be one should be a licensed counselor and affiliated with either the American or International Psychoanalytic Association.
There has been a huge shift in the types of therapy offered to people. Sometimes therapy is problem based and only occurs for short periods of time. In other circumstances, therapy is time-limited and bent on training the client to consider things in different ways, such as in cognitive behavioral therapy. There have been excellent studies on the usefulness of these forms of therapies, and this has greatly suited many insurance companies who will only pay for 20 sessions a year, unless a true mental illness can be proved.
However, it’s very clear that there still exists an important place for psychoanalytic therapy. Studies released in 2008 suggest that this form of therapy may be as, if not more, effective for certain conditions like anxiety disorder and borderline personality disorder, than are the now preferred treatments of cognitive behavioral therapy. The initial findings on cognitive behavioral therapy have sounded a death knell for psychoanalytic therapy, leading many schools to abandon their training programs. These studies suggest that might be unwise, and it is perhaps better to offer a full range of therapeutic options to clients to see which ones best fit.