What Is Psychoanalysis?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on May 12, 2023
3 min read

Psychoanalysis is a set of psychological theories and methods of therapy founded by Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis revolves around the belief that everyone has unconscious thoughts, feelings, desires, and memories. 

Psychoanalysis therapy is used to release repressed emotions and experiences. The goal is to make unconscious thoughts conscious. This kind of therapy is meant to find the root cause of the problem and cure it.

Psychoanalysis was a theory first and is a therapy as well. It’s a type of therapy that is used to treat depression and anxiety disorders. This type of therapy promotes awareness of unconscious, unproductive, recurring patterns of emotion and behavior. This allows previously unconscious parts of yourself to come together to promote healing, healthy emotions and behavior, and creative expression. 

Psychoanalysis was developed by Sigmund Freud, who faced a lot of criticisms over his work and theories. However, psychoanalysis was incredibly influential for modern-day therapy. Freud’s approach to therapy and the idea that mental illness was treatable was an important concept. The idea that talking about your problems could help you feel relief heavily impacted the current approach to treating mental illness. 

Psychoanalysis is a specialty in psychology. It’s different from other specialties in the knowledge and intensive treatment approaches that back it up. The goal of psychoanalysis is to change and modify structural parts of your emotional reasoning and personality. 

A psychoanalyst uses many different techniques to encourage you to think about why you’re acting and behaving in certain ways. Psychoanalysts also get you to think about the meaning behind your symptoms. In Freud’s psychoanalysis, patients would look at and interpret inkblots, free association, dream analysis, and resistance and transference analysis. 

A psychoanalyst may perform the following procedures: 

  • Assess cognitive and emotional functioning
  • Conduct regular appointments as determined by the analyst and patient
  • Focus on boundary issues 
  • Investigate significant present and past relationships
  • See the symbolic meaning behind emotional and physical symptoms

Traditionally, psychoanalysis could require many years of treatment. This is so the psychoanalyst could understand and help resolve challenging behavior and coping mechanisms. The reason for the long-term sessions was also to help their patients recover lost emotional connections, leave unhealthy relationships, and adapt effectively to their current situation. 

Psychoanalytic therapists determine the length of treatment based on the patient's needs. This could be once or twice weekly and could last several weeks. There are still some cases where therapy lasts several years. The goal is to make sure their patients understand themselves better so they can stop repeating old patterns and heal. 

Psychoanalysis is rooted in theory but doesn’t revolve around science. There is a push to ensure that the evidence of success in psychoanalysis is strengthened by data-gathering methods and a systematic outlook. 

The idea of the unconscious mind was hard to grasp by philosophers during Freud’s day. Many didn’t believe in an unconscious state. The new challenge is that Freud’s theory for psychoanalysis is conceptual and doesn’t fit new neurological advances. 

Today, more medications are being used to treat emotional disorders and psychiatric conditions. However, that doesn’t mean the end of psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis focuses on the influence of repressed impulses, internal conflicts, and childhood traumas and how they affect mental health. Psychoanalysis as a therapy aims to modify your personality by focusing on redirecting your habits. Therapists look at how your unconscious conflicts in your mind have led to neurosis. 

To improve these conflicts and resolve your problems, psychoanalysts use free association and dream analysis, analyze your resistance and deference mechanisms, and work with you through your feelings. 

Freud believed that the unconscious conflicts in your mind caused anxiety, moodiness, depressive thoughts, troubling personality traits, and difficulties maintaining relationships. He believed these problems were rooted in past experiences and relationships. That’s why psychoanalysis focuses on long-term treatment. 

This approach to therapy is different from other techniques because it helps you uncover and understand why you feel and behave the way you do, which is initially not understood by the patient. Other therapeutic techniques focus on helping you adjust unhelpful thoughts at the moment without solving the root cause. 

To find a psychoanalyst, you can go to the American Psychoanalytic Association. They have a list of analysts who can start helping you with your mental health. Depending on your needs, you could be referred to a graduate analyst, an analyst in training, or a qualified psychoanalytic psychotherapist.