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Psychoanalytic Therapy: Definition, Examples, Benefits and Techniques

Unlocking the Mind: A Comprehensive Guide to Psychoanalytic Therapy

Psychoanalytic Therapy

Psychoanalytic Therapy is a type of conversational treatment deeply rooted in the insightful theories of psychoanalysis that the renowned Sigmund Freudv originally introduced. This approach delves into how the unconscious mind influences your thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.

It examines how your experiences, often from childhood, contribute to your current experiences and actions. Freud described the unconscious as a reservoir of desires, thoughts, and memories below the surface of conscious awareness. These same unconscious thoughts and influences can often lead to psychological distress and disturbances.

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What Issues Can Psychoanalytic Therapy Help With?

Conditions that Psychoanalytic Therapy Can Help With

Psychoanalytic Therapy can treat several psychological conditions, including anxiety, depression, emotional struggles or trauma, identity problems, self-esteem issues, self-assertion, psychosomatic disorders, relationship issues, self-destructive behaviour, and sexual problems.

Effectiveness of Psychoanalytic Therapy

Research suggests that long- and short-term psychoanalytic Therapy can effectively treat various conditions. Long-term psychoanalytic Therapy is usually defined as lasting one year or 50 sessions. Short-term psychoanalytic Therapy, on the other hand, is defined as fewer than 40 sessions or less than one year of treatment.

Notably, psychoanalytic treatment offers lasting improvements, with most individuals continuing to improve even after Therapy ends.

What are the Examples of Psychoanalytic Therapy?

Example 1: Dealing with Anxiety Stemming from Childhood

Consider a woman named Jane who constantly experiences high anxiety levels at work. Despite no apparent causes in her current situation, she feels intense stress and fear. Through psychoanalytic Therapy, Jane realizes that her anxiety relates to her childhood experiences, where she constantly felt under scrutiny and criticism from her demanding parents.

She was always anxious about disappointing them or not meeting their expectations. By acknowledging these unconscious memories and feelings, Jane can start to work through her deep-seated anxiety, understanding that her current workplace is not her childhood home and that she is now in a supportive environment.

Example 2: Understanding Self-Destructive Behavior

John, a man in his late twenties, is known to end relationships when they become serious abruptly. He also tends to sabotage his success at work. Through psychoanalytic Therapy, John can trace these self-destructive tendencies to his early adolescent years when his parents divorced.

He had developed an unconscious fear of abandonment and commitment, which led him to push people away before they could leave him. With this understanding, John can break these patterns, learn healthier coping mechanisms, and build more fulfilling relationships.

Example 3: Overcoming Depression and Low Self-Esteem

Lisa, a middle-aged woman, struggles with chronic depression and low self-esteem. She always feels unworthy and inadequate but doesn’t understand why. In psychoanalytic Therapy, Lisa uncovers old memories of being bullied in school and being constantly compared unfavourably to her older sibling.

These experiences had instilled in her a deep-seated feeling of worthlessness. By bringing these experiences to her conscious awareness, Lisa can challenge these old beliefs about herself, work through her past trauma, and build a healthier self-image.

In these examples, psychoanalytic Therapy helps individuals understand how their past and unconscious experiences influence their current behaviours and feelings. Through this understanding, they can work towards healing and making positive changes in their lives.

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Psychoanalytic Therapy Benefits

Psychoanalytic Therapy distinguishes itself from other treatments through its unique features:

  1. Focus on Emotions: Unlike therapies centred on cognition and behaviours, psychoanalytic Therapy explores the full range of emotions that a patient is experiencing.
  2. Exploration of Avoidance: Understanding what a client is avoiding can help the psychoanalyst and the client understand why such avoidance comes into play.
  3. Identification of Recurring Themes: This Therapy can help individuals understand their self-destructive behaviours and how they influence their actions.
  4. Examination of Past Experiences: The psychoanalytic approach helps people explore their pasts and understand how it affects their present psychological difficulties.
  5. Exploration of Interpersonal Relationships: This approach allows people to explore their relationships with others, both current and past.
  6. Emphasis on the Therapeutic Relationship: Because psychoanalytic Therapy is so personal, the relationship between the psychoanalyst and the patient provides a unique opportunity to explore and reword relational patterns that emerge in the treatment relationship.
  7. Free-flowing: Unlike other highly structured and goal-oriented therapies, psychoanalytic Therapy allows the patient to explore freely.

Different Psychoanalytic Therapy Techniques

Psychoanalysts employ techniques like dream interpretation, free association, and transference to gain insight into your behaviour and understand how you interact with others.

  1. Dream Interpretation: Psychoanalysts may interpret dreams to gain insight into the workings of their unconscious mind.
  2. Free Association:  In this engaging exercise, the psychoanalyst invites you to share your thoughts without restrictions, paving the way for surprising associations and recollections.
  3. Transference occurs when you project your feelings about another person onto the psychoanalyst, helping them understand how you interact with others.


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Frequently Asked Questions

Comparing psychoanalytic and cognitive-behavioural Therapy (CBT) isn't necessarily about determining which is better. Instead, we must understand that each treatment has its strengths and is better suited to different situations, conditions, and individual preferences.

Psychoanalytic Therapy is a long-term approach that seeks to delve deep into a person's unconscious to uncover the root causes of their behaviours and symptoms. This method can benefit individuals dealing with deep-seated issues, such as recurring relationship patterns or enduring personality problems. It's also beneficial for individuals interested in gaining a deeper understanding of themselves.

However, psychoanalytic Therapy can be time-consuming, and its less structured nature might not appeal to everyone. Some people may also be uncomfortable with the level of self-exploration and examination of past experiences required by this mental health treatment approach.

Contrarily, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, is a therapy approach that's more systematically laid out and driven by clear objectives. It zeroes in on spotting and shifting patterns of thinking and acting that aren't serving you well.

CBT is generally a shorter-term treatment and is particularly effective for addressing serious mental health symptoms and conditions such as anxiety and depression.

CBT is typically more directive than psychoanalytic Therapy, providing specific tools and strategies to manage symptoms. However, it might not delve as deeply into traditional psychoanalysis into the underlying causes of distress, particularly if those roots are deeply embedded in past experiences or the unconscious mind.

Yes, Psychoanalytic Therapy can effectively treat depression, particularly in individuals with long-term or recurrent depression or those who have not fully responded to other forms of therapy.
The duration of Psychoanalytic Therapy can vary significantly depending on the individual and their specific needs. While the therapy often involves at least weekly meetings with a psychoanalyst and can last for months or even years, short-term therapy targeting a specific issue might consist of only 20 to 30 sessions.

No matter what you are struggling with, we are here for you.

No matter what you are struggling with, we are here for you.

Picture of Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen Sehat MC, RCC

Pareen’s career began in Behaviour Therapy, this is where she developed a passion for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy approaches. Following a Bachelor of Arts with a major in Psychology she pursued a Master of Counselling. Pareen is a Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC) with the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors. She specializes in CBT and Lifespan Integrations approaches to anxiety and trauma. She has been published on major online publications such as - Yahoo, MSN, AskMen, PsychCentral, Best Life Online, and more.


  1. Psychoanalytic Therapy: This article from the American Psychological Association provides a comprehensive overview of psychoanalytic therapy, its benefits, and its applications.
  2. The Effectiveness of Long-Term Psychoanalytic Therapy: This research article from the National Institutes of Health discusses the effectiveness of long-term psychoanalytic therapy.
  3. Psychoanalytic Therapy and Anxiety: This article from Verywell Mind discusses how psychoanalytic therapy can treat anxiety.
  4. Psychoanalytic Therapy and Depression: This research article from the National Institutes of Health discusses the use of psychoanalytic therapy in treating depression.