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Psychoanalysis - what is it?

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About Psychoanalysis

 » Psychoanalysis - what is it?

What is psychoanalysis?
There are many different kinds of psychotherapy, which means, literally, taking care
of the psyche and psychoanalysis has particular characteristics that distinguish it
from other therapies. It is an intensive form of talking therapy, first devised by
Sigmund Freud over a hundred years ago and continuously developed since then.
Freud noticed that the people who came to him to try to solve their psychological
problems would often quite quickly experience a reduction in their symptoms, or
even a disappearance. But before much time had elapsed, they would either
reappear, or a different symptom would develop. He came to believe that the
symptoms were only the surface manifestation of a deeper conflict and that
removing the symptom provided only a temporary fix. He gradually developed the
technique of psychoanalysis, which tried to go beyond what the client or patient
(meaning the one who suffers) was already aware of, to the unconscious causes of that
We all have theories about why we are the way we are, but Freud thought
that if we could all know ourselves fully by simply looking inside ourselves, there
would be no need for therapy at all, since we would all be able to cure ourselves and
there would be no such thing as psychological distress. Since that is obviously not
the case, the question was how to access these unconscious conflicts, painful
memories and unsatisfied wishes that cause such unbearable symptoms. He found
that a special type of listening was required, to be done by a practitioner who had
undergone a lengthy and thorough therapy her-or himself, and who would then
know how to recognise when the unconscious was trying to make itself heard.
In addition to discovering that we are not as transparent to ourselves as we
thought we were, Freud also noticed that something common to all his patients was
that although they might ask for advice, they never seemed to want to or be able to
follow it. This is because problem solving and advice operate on the conscious level,
and mental anguish cannot be permanently banished on that level. A depressed
person, for example, will remain unaffected by being told that their mood is
irrational or unwarranted by the circumstances.
Analysis involves the troubled person attending sessions once, twice, three
times or more per week, depending on circumstances. At these sessions, the patient
is invited to lie on the analytic couch, and begin to speak. The fundamental rule in
psychoanalysis is that the patient say whatever comes into mind, without trying to
organise the material, or sanitise it or censor it for the analyst's ears. Often people
want to speak about their dreams, but there is no insistence from the analyst on the
sort of thing to be spoken about. That is left up to the individual. There has to be a
commitment to trying to speak the truth. Responses to such freedom vary relief,
exhilaration, anxiety, fear. It is no easy task to speak so much more freely that we do
in everyday life, where we are all so very mindful of what we say, and to whom
(with good reason). The analytic space is a free space, and the relation to the analyst
is not like any other of our relationships in life. We do, however, bring to the therapy
a set of attitudes and ingrained ways of relating to others. Because the analyst
remains rather opaque to the patient, since she/he does not disclose personal
information, the patient will inevitably imagine the therapist to have all sorts of
attitudes and beliefs. In this way, the patient transfers habitual responses to the
analytic relation, and the therapist can facilitate the patient discovering how much
her/his imagination is framing the world she/he inhabits. A successful analysis
allows the patient to create new and less painful ways of thinking about her or his
existence. See also

Undertaking a Psychoanalysis

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