A About Psychoanalysis
What is Psychoanalysis?
All too often, when someone hears the word “psychoanalysis” they immediately envision a New Yorker cartoon of the Woody Allen-like character on the couch and the ancient (usually snoozing) analyst sitting impassively behind. Unfortunately, such cliches keep too many people from availing themselves of a treatment experience that has proven to be of enormous benefit to many individuals. As a form of treatment, psychoanalysis is based on the well documented observation that much of an individuals emotions and behavior are determined or influenced by factors outside of immediate awareness.
Psychoanalysis is not the treatment of choice for everyone and only a consultation with an experienced analyst can help you decide if it is right for you. In general, a person undertaking an analysis would be someone who, no matter what his or her current difficulties or constrictions, has some important character strengths: the ability to be self reflective, the ability to persevere, the ability to tolerate difficult feelings long enough to learn about oneself and the capacity to risk being known by another in the context of an intimate therapeutic relationship. Not infrequently, a person will come for an analysis after other treatments have either failed to alleviate difficulties or have done so only temporarily. Such a person may find him or herself repeating the same relationship patterns with the same predictable results, or find their self unable to form meaningful relationships. A person may be plagued by sexual anxieties or incapacities, troubled by disturbing thoughts or compulsions, or unable to shake chronic feelings of depression of anxiety. Difficulty trusting others, patterns of self-destructive behavior, difficulty taking pleasure in life or chronic patterns of failure in work or creative endeavors might also be indications that a person could benefit from analytic treatment. Understanding and eventually altering any of these behavioral or emotional patterns requires placing them within the context of a person’s overall personality and life experience as they come to be understood within the context of the analytic relationship.
In an analysis the past is explored in order to discover how it lives on unbidden in the present, perpetuating suffering or preventing an individual from engaging more fully in his or her current life. But psychoanalysis is much more than an intellectual search for understanding. It is a deeply emotional, interpersonal experience which offers an individual the opportunity to put words and meanings to experiences previously endured, but not yet fully known. Current experience, past memories, fantasies and dreams are all explored in the context of the analytic relationship. It is a collaborative journey undertaken by analyst and analysand over the course of several years at a frequency of meeting 4 times a week, often, but not always, using the analytic couch. In the process, an analysand learns to recognize ways in which her/his mind works to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings, often giving rise to the very symptoms that have now become so troubling. In the process, a person’s characteristic and often unconscious patterns of attachment, avoidance and intimacy can be explored with the purpose of freeing the analysand up to experience and respond in new ways to life’s opportunities and challenges.
Who is an Analyst?
At this time there is no state or federal licensing requirement for psychoanalysts. Therefore anyone can call him/herself an analyst. Consequently, it is very important to know something about the training of anyone presenting as an analyst. The Institute at which I was trained, the Houston-Galveston Psychoanalytic Institute (now renamed the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies), is under the auspices of the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA). In order to continue to be accredited by APsaA, the Institute must meet rigorous and extensive training standards which are periodically subject to site visit review. Training consists of three simultaneous parts. Candidates (as trainees are called) attend four years of weekly classes covering psychoanalytic theory and technique. During the course of their training they are expected to undertake the analysis of at least three patients under the close supervision of experienced senior analysts. At the same time, Candidates are required to undergo their own personal analysis. To learn more about the American Psychoanalytic Association and the Center for Psychoanalytic Studies, please visit their websites.