What is psychoanalytic psychotherapy?

What is psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy?

Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy draws on theories and practices of analytical psychology and psychoanalysis. It is a therapeutic process which helps patients understand and resolve their problems by increasing awareness of their inner world and its influence over relationships both past and present. It differs from most other therapies in aiming for deep seated change in personality and emotional development.

Psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy aim to help people with serious psychological disorders to understand and change complex, deep-seated and often unconsciously based emotional and relationship problems thereby reducing symptoms and alleviating distress. However, their role is not limited only to those with mental health problems. Many people who experience a loss of meaning in their lives or who are seeking a greater sense of fulfilment may be helped by psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Sometimes people seek help for specific reasons such as eating disorders, psycho-somatic conditions, obsessional behaviour, or phobic anxieties. At other times help is sought because of more general underlying feelings of depression or anxiety, difficulties in concentrating, dissatisfaction in work or inability to form satisfactory relationships. It may benefit adults, children, and adolescents. It can help children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties which are evident at home or school. These can include personality problems, depression, learning difficulties, school phobias, eating or sleeping disorders.

Psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy provides an effective treatment for a range of psychological disorders, both as a treatment in its own right and as an adjunct to other forms of treatment. It can contribute significantly to patient's mental and physical health, to their sense of well-being and to their ability to manage their lives more effectively.

Whether psychoanalytic or psychodynamic psychotherapy is the treatment of choice for a particular individual depends on a variety of factors. It is often helpful to have one or more preliminary consultations with an experienced psychotherapist before deciding whether psychoanalytic psychotherapy is an appropriate treatment for the person concerned. Occasionally, the treatment might be of short duration but generally speaking psychoanalytic psychotherapy is best considered as a long-term treatment involving considerable commitment for both patient and therapist.

The relationship with the therapist is a crucial element in the therapy. The therapist offers a confidential and private setting which facilitates a process where unconscious patterns of the patient's inner world become reflected in the patient's relationship with the therapist (transference). This process helps patients gradually to identify these patterns and, in becoming conscious of them, to develop the capacity to understand and change them.

'Making Sense of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis' is a comprehensive guide for those considering psychotherapy, describing the different types available and how a therapy usually proceeds. This booklet was originally written for Mind by BPC registrant Jane Milton.
> Download PDF

> Download 'What skills can service users expect their therapists to have?' (UCL CORE)

> Where can you be treated by a psychoanalytic psychotherapist?

> What's the difference between psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy?

> What's the evidence that it works?

> American Psychoanalytic Association's guide to psychoanalysis