Psychoanalytic-based Psychotherapy

Treatment that may help a person to overcome psychological problems by uncovering suppressed feelings

Psychoanalytic-based therapy tries to help people to identify, confront, and eventually work through their psychological problems. The therapy, which is also called psychoanalysis, is based on the theory that some painful feelings and memories are suppressed and confined to an unconscious part of the mind, and that these feelings may resurface as psychological problems.

In psychoanalytic-based psychotherapy, you are encouraged to talk freely about your past experiences and express openly the emotions that these recollections cause. Your therapist interprets the information you give to help you to gain insight into your psychological history and problems.

Classical psychoanalysis, as developed by Sigmund Freud, is the most intensive form and involves seeing a therapist several times a week for years. Today, other forms of psychoanalytic therapy that are less time-consuming than classical psychoanalysis are available.


In psychoanalytic-based psychotherapy, your therapist encourages you to talk freely about your past experiences. You work together to resolve your problems.

When is it used?

The various forms of psychoanalytic-based psychotherapy may be helpful for people in whom the cause of their psychological problems is not immediately apparent. The aim of the therapy is to increase a person’s awareness of the way in which past experiences may have shaped his or her present moods and behaviour. For this reason, psychoanalytic-based therapy may be used to help people with long-term problems, such as chronic anxiety, panic attacks, depression, and relationship difficulties.

What does it involve?

During classical psychoanalysis, you will probably lie on a couch while your therapist, who sits just out of your view, waits for you to reveal information. The therapist will encourage you to talk freely about whatever comes to mind. This technique, known as free association, helps your therapist to uncover painful feelings or memories that you may have repressed. You may have 3–5 sessions per week, each session lasting for up to 1 hour, for 3–5 years.

In the newer forms of treatment, you usually sit facing your therapist. These sessions typically take place once or twice a week. Therapy usually continues for 6 months to 2 years. All forms of psychoanalytic-based psychotherapy use similar basic techniques and methods. The therapist interprets your memories and dreams, and the feelings you express, and uses the interpretation as a basis for discussion. The difference between the classical and the newer forms lies in the role of the therapist. In the newer forms, the therapist is more active in helping you to reveal information about your past.

A good relationship between you and your therapist is vital to successful treatment because you work together to resolve your problems over a relatively long period of time.

What can I expect?

Classical psychoanalysis is a time-consuming process, which you may find emotionally distressing at times. During the course of treatment, you may experience periods of vulnerability and despair when unwelcome feelings resurface before you feel able to deal with them. Supporters of psychoanalysis feel that the self-understanding that results from such distress leads to a resolution of psychological problems that outweighs the level of distress itself.

You might find the newer, briefer forms of therapy more acceptable than classical psychoanalysis because therapy with a time limit may motivate you to tackle specific issues by identifying and working through the underlying cause. You may find that your psychological problems are more likely to recur with shorter-term therapy, but you may be able to avoid this problem by obtaining support from group therapy when your psychoanalytic-based therapy has come to an end.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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