Psychoanalytic Therapy: Definition, Techniques & Goals

Psychoanalytic therapy has many advantages, but does it always work? Find out the pros and cons of this traditional approach, here at HealthyPlace.

Psychoanalytic therapy is a form of talking therapy that's rooted in psychoanalysis. This approach was pioneered by Sigmund Freud and is still used in many modern therapy environments to this day. It is one of the better-known treatments for psychiatric conditions, but it is also one of the most misunderstood. Through psychoanalysis, you and your therapist will attempt to analyze and understand the unconscious forces that drive your thoughts, behaviors and emotions.

Like any other treatment method, there are both advantages and disadvantages to psychoanalytic therapy. While this traditional approach to treatment has proven extremely effective over the years, it may not be right for everyone. Here's what you need to know.

What is Psychoanalytic Therapy?

Psychoanalytic therapy was founded on the belief that the unconscious is effectively a reservoir of memories, desires and thoughts that influence our behavior. Sigmund Freud believed that these unconscious influences could lead to psychological illness and distress, which psychoanalysis helps to unpick.

If you engage in psychoanalytic therapy, you will need to spend time talking about your life, relationships and childhood attachments. This is known as "the talking cure." Your therapist or counselor will look for patterns or significant life events that could play a role in your current challenges or maladaptive behaviors.

Treatment can be intensive, and you may need to meet with your therapist once or twice a week to gain the appropriate insight and awareness into your mental state. Over time, psychoanalytic therapy can help you overcome defense mechanisms, increase self-awareness, gain insight into your emotions and behaviors and confront triggering or traumatic memories.

Benefits of Psychoanalytic Therapy Approach

The psychoanalytic approach to therapy has many reported benefits. It is believed to be most effective for people who have experienced the long-term symptoms of anxiety, depression and other related disorders.

Benefits include:

  • Support: therapists are usually empathetic and understanding
  • Safe environment to revisit trauma: the therapeutic environment is inviting and non-judgmental
  • Leads to better self-awareness: the intense self-examination can lead to better personal growth over time
  • Deals with present and past issues: can help you deal with the stresses of everyday life, as well as confronting painful memories and past trauma
  • High success rates: studies have shown that the success rates of the psychoanalytic approach are moderate to high. It has proved to be effective at symptom reduction in conditions such as anxiety, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Downfalls of Psychoanalytic Therapy Approach

Like all therapy models, psychoanalytic therapy has pitfalls as well as benefits.

  • Time: psychoanalytic therapy is not a quick fix. It can take months or even years to reap the benefits of this approach
  • Emotionally exhausting: many people find the experience emotionally taxing and difficult, especially if they have trauma in their past they have repressed or avoided
  • Cost factors: the price of weekly sessions can be expensive, especially if a person is in therapy for months or years. Not everyone can afford a long course of treatment
  • Lacks scientific basis: some critics (such as Noam Chomsky and Karl Popper) have suggested that psychoanalysis has no scientific basis

Where to Find a Psychoanalytic Therapist

There are many advantages to psychoanalytic therapy, but only you and your doctor can decide whether this is the right treatment for you. You can explore the approach with an initial session to gauge whether you can benefit from the psychoanalytic model.

If you think this approach might be right for you, you can visit the American Psychoanalytic Association website for further information and resources.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, September 19). Psychoanalytic Therapy: Definition, Techniques & Goals, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 16 from

Last Updated: October 15, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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