Psychoanalysis is a form of psychotherapy used by qualified psychotherapists to treat patients who have a range of mild to moderate chronic life problems. It is related to a specific body of theories about the relationships between conscious and unconscious mental processes, and should not be used as a synonym for psychotherapy in general. Psychoanalysis is done one-onone with the patient and the analyst; it is not appropriate for group work.
Psychoanalysis is the most intensive form of an approach to treatment called psychodynamic therapy. Psychodynamic refers to a view of human personality that results from interactions between conscious and unconscious factors. The purpose of all forms of psychodynamic treatment is to bring unconscious mental material and processes into full consciousness so that the patient can gain more control over his or her life.
Classical psychoanalysis has become the least commonly practiced form of psychodynamic therapy because of its demands on the patient's time, as well as on his or her emotional and financial resources. It is, however, the oldest form of psychodynamic treatment. The theories that underlie psychoanalysis were worked out by Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), a Viennese physician, during the early years of the twentieth century. Freud's discoveries were made in the context of his research into hypnosis. The goal of psychoanalysis is the uncovering and resolution of the patient's internal conflicts. The treatment focuses on the formation of an intense relationship between the therapist and patient, which is analyzed and discussed in order to deepen the patient's insight into his or her problems.
Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a modified form of psychoanalysis that is much more widely practiced. It is based on the same theoretical principles as psychoanalysis, but is less intense and less concerned with major changes in the patient's character structure. The focus in treatment is usually the patient's current life situation and the way problems relate to early conflicts and feelings, rather than an exploration of the unconscious aspects of the relationship that has been formed with the therapist.
Not all patients benefit from psychoanalytic treatment. Potential patients should meet the following prerequisites:
The capacity to relate well enough to form an effective working relationship with the analyst. This relationship is called a therapeutic alliance.
At least average intelligence and a basic understanding of psychological theory.
The ability to tolerate frustration, sadness, and other painful emotions.
The capacity to distinguish between reality and fantasy.
People considered best suited to psychoanalytic treatment include those with depression, character disorders, neurotic conflicts, and chronic relationship problems. When the patient's conflicts are long-standing and deeply entrenched in his or her personality, psychoanalysis may be preferable to psychoanalytic psychotherapy, because of its greater depth.
Rebecca J. Frey, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,