Psychoanalytic Therapy

Psychoanalytic therapy is a form of talk therapy based on Sigmund Freud’s theories of psychoanalysis. The approach explores how the unconscious mind influences your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Specifically, it examines how your experiences (often from childhood) may be contributing to your current experience and actions. Psychoanalytic approaches to emotional disorders have advanced a great deal since Freud’s time.

Freud described the unconscious as the reservoir of desires, thoughts, and memories that are below the surface of conscious awareness. He believed that these unconscious influences could often lead to psychological distress and disturbances.

People undergoing psychoanalytic therapy often meet with their psychoanalyst at least once a week. They can remain in therapy for months or even years.

Psychoanalysts use a variety of techniques to gain insight into your behavior. Some of the more popular techniques include:

  • Dream interpretation : According to Freud, dream analysis is by far the most important psychoanalytic technique. He often referred to dreams as “the royal road to the unconscious.” 1 Psychoanalysts may interpret dreams to get insight into the workings of your unconscious mind.
  • Free association : Free association is an exercise during which the psychoanalyst encourages you to freely share your thoughts. This can lead to the emergence of unexpected connections and memories.
  • Transference : Transference occurs when you project your feelings about another person onto the psychoanalyst. You’ll then interact with them as if they were that other person. This technique can help your psychoanalyst understand how you interact with others.

Psychoanalysts spend a lot of time listening to people talk about their lives, which is why this method is often referred to as “the talking cure.”

Psychoanalytic therapy may be used to treat several different psychological conditions, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Emotion struggles or trauma
  • Identity problems
  • Self-esteem issues
  • Self-assertion
  • Psychosomatic disorders
  • Relationship issues
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Sexual problems

What makes psychoanalytic therapy different from other forms of treatment? A review of the research comparing psychoanalytic approaches to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) identified seven features that set the psychoanalytic approach apart.

  • Focuses on emotions . Where CBT is centered on cognition and behaviors, psychoanalytic therapy explores the full range of emotions that a patient is experiencing.
  • Explores avoidance . People often avoid certain feelings, thoughts, and situations they find distressing. Understanding what a client is avoiding can help both the psychoanalyst and the client understand why such avoidance comes into play.
  • Identifies recurring themes . Some people may be aware of their self-destructive behaviors but unable to stop them. Others may not be aware of these patterns and how they influence their behaviors.
  • Exploration of past experienced . Other therapies often focus more on the here-and-now, or how current thoughts and behaviors influence how a person function. The psychoanalytic approach helps people explore their pasts and understand how it affects their present psychological difficulties. It can help patients shed the bonds of experience to live more fully in the present.
  • Explores interpersonal relationships . Through the therapy process, people can explore their relationships with others, both current and past.
  • Emphasizes the therapeutic relationship . Because psychoanalytic therapy is so personal, the relationship between the psychoanalyst and the patient provides a unique opportunity to explore and reword relational patterns that emerge in the treatment relationship.
  • Free flowing . Where other therapies are often highly structured and goal-oriented, psychoanalytic therapy allows the patient to explore freely. Patients are free to talk about fears, fantasies, desires, and dreams.

As with any approach to mental health treatment, psychoanalytic therapy can have its pluses and minuses. Before deciding on this approach, it’s important to take these factors into account.

Success often hinges on the ability to confront potentially stressful or triggering experiences. While some critics have derided the success rates of psychoanalytic therapy, research suggests that both long- and short-term psychoanalytic therapy can effectively treat a range of conditions.3

Long-term psychoanalytic therapy is usually defined as lasting one year or 50 sessions. Short-term psychoanalytic therapy, on the other hand, is defined as fewer than 40 sessions or less than one year of treatment.

Symptom Reduction

One review of the effectiveness of long-term psychoanalytic therapies found moderate to large success rates for reducing symptoms of a variety of psychopathologies.

A 2021 review of studies found that short-term psychoanalytic therapy led to lasting improvements in somatic symptoms, depressive symptoms, and anxiety symptoms.

Lasting Improvements

People who receive psychoanalytic treatment tend to retain these gains. Most continue to improve even after therapy ends. On the other hand, the benefits of other evidence-based therapies tend to diminish over time.2

A 2010 review published in the American Psychologist suggested that psychoanalytic therapy was as effective as other evidence-based therapies.

As with all treatment methods, there are also potential downsides that should be considered. This form of therapy tends to require ongoing sessions. Traditional psychoanalysis could involve three to five sessions a week for several years, however psychoanalysis psychotherapy is less frequent and may be undertaken once to twice a week. Depending on how long your therapy lasts, the costs can mount up.

Psychoanalytic therapy can also be an intense process. It involves evoking emotional responses and often challenges established defense mechanisms. While the process can sometimes result in uneasiness, it can also help you understand the unconscious forces that exert an influence over your current behavior.

If you think you or someone you love would benefit from psychoanalytic therapy, the first step is to seek out a trained professional. To find a qualified psychoanalyst, start by asking your primary care physician for recommendations. You can also search the directory available on the American Psychoanalytic Association’s website .

Friends who have had a good experience with psychoanalytic treatment can also be another good source of recommendations. If you do not have a good referral from someone you know, there are several online psychoanalyst networks and directories that can point you in the right direction.

Once you have identified a potential psychoanalyst, make a call to set up an initial consultation. During this consultation, you can further explore if psychoanalytic therapy is the right approach for you.

Psychoanalytic therapy is just one mental health treatment approach that you may want to consider. Always talk to your doctor or therapist to determine which psychotherapy method might be the most effective for your individual needs.

Jungian analysis is a form of depth psychotherapy pioneered by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Many are attracted to Jung’s approach because of his emphasis on deep psychological growth rather than just symptom relief, and because of his respect for spirituality and the creative process. Jung himself referred to the approach he initiated as Analytical Psychology and believed that it should continue to develop beyond his own discoveries and insights. And it has. Current Jungian practice is enriched by a broad range of perspectives and research.

Each Jungian analyst cultivates his or her own style of treatment and tailors it to the needs of their individual clients. However, there are important and defining characteristics of Jungian analysis that set it apart from other forms of therapy:

  1. Jungian analysis engages our deep inclination for psychological growth to promote healing and well-being.
  2. While Jungian analysis considers the impact of our childhood and past, it also looks forward and asks: What psychological development is now called for?
  3. It respects, but does not prescribe, spiritual perspectives. In fact, a search for meaning on an individual basis is central to the process.
  4. It views the unconscious as a source of wisdom, creativity, and direction.
  5. It enlists the power of symbols to connect conscious and unconscious. These symbols may arise from a variety of sources, including dreams, fantasies, art, and the everyday events of our lives. Engagement with symbols on an experiential level through expressive arts is often a part of Jungian analysis.
  6. Because Jungian analysis requires a breadth of knowledge from the science of individual psychology to cultural patterns found in art, literature, and mythology, only analysts who have completed an extensive program of training at an institute approved by the International Association for Analytical Psychology may call themselves Jungian analysts.

Jungian analysis is used to treat a variety of psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety, and to aid in the search for a more meaningful and fulfilling life. For more information about the practical process of Jungian analysis and finding an analyst click here.

Carl Jung: Archetypes and Analytical Psychology

Sigmund Freud (front left) and Carl Jung (front right) at Clark University in 1909. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) was interested in the way in which symbols and common myths permeate our thinking on both conscious and subconscious levels.

Distinct from our inner self, Jung noted that we each have a persona – an identity which we wish to project to others. He used the Latin term, which can refer either to a person’s personality the mask of an actor, intentionally, as the persona can be constructed from archetypes in the collective unconscious or be influenced by ideas of social roles in society. For example, a father may adopt traits which he
considers to be typical of a father – serious or disciplining, for example – rather than those which reflect his actual personality.

Philip Zimbardo’s study of social roles in a prison situation (1971) further demonstrated the effect that our role has on our persona. Assigned a role, such as that of a prison guard, people often behave as they would expect someone in their role to act.

As the persona is not a true reflection of our consciousness, but rather an idealised image which people aspire to, identifying too much with a persona can lead to inner conflicts and a repression of our own individuality, which Jung claimed could be resolved through individuation.

Shadow archetype

“Taken in its deepest sense, the shadow is the invisible saurian tail that man still drags behind him. Carefully amputated, it becomes the healing serpent of the mysteries.”

Carl Jung in The Integration of the Personality (English translation)

The shadow archetype is composed primarily of the elements of ourselves that we consider to be negative. We do not show this side of the self to the outside world as it can be a source of anxiety or shame. The shadow may contain repressed ideas or thoughts which we do not wish to integrate into our outward persona, but these must be resolved in order to achieve individuation. However, it may also include positive traits, such as perceived weaknesses (for example, empathy) which may not fit into the ‘toughness’ that a person wants to present as a part
of their persona.

In literature, the shadow is often presented as a villainous character – for instance, as the snake in the Garden of Eden or The Jungle Book. Jung also observed Hyde, whom Dr. Jekyll
transforms into, as representing the character’s shadow in Robert Louis
Stevenson’s 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Anima/Animus archetypes

The anima (in males) or animus (in females) represents the opposite gender to a person’s self. As a person develops a gender identity, such as that of being male, they repress the aspects of their personality which might be feminine, such as empathy in social situations. Whilst these traits form part of the true, united self, they are held back from our persona and are represented in the form of the feminine archetype anima in males or the masculine archetype animus in females.

The anima and animus are idealised impressions of the male or female, which emerge from the collective unconscious in dreams and inform our ideas of the opposite gender. As we age, they bring us into touch with the aspects of our personality repressed during the formation of a gender identity. For example, a man may allow their empathy to show more after the development of their masculine persona.

The anima and animus can be found throughout our culture – Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, for example, presents the anima archetype as the idealized Mr. Darcey.

Wise Old Man archetype

Through his age and frailty, the Wise Old Man represents the power of peaceful contemplation in the absence of physical prowess. The wise old man, through quiet thought, foresees the future and offers guidance in turbulent times.

The wise old man is a prophetic archetype and can often be seen in stories as a wizard, such as Gandalf in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

Great Mother

The Great Mother archetype embodies the idealized qualities of the mother figure. She is caring, compassionate, dependable, and loving and, like the Wise Old Man, she may offer guidance when asked.

The stock character of the ‘fairy godmother’ often embodies the Great Mother in literature.

Other archetypes

The archetypes that we have looked at in this article are just a few of those which Jung believed to populate our collective unconscious.

Many more archetypes may be recognized, possessing non-exclusive qualities which may be held by multiple archetypes to different extents. Other archetypes include the magician, the child, the creator, and the caregiver, among others.


Jung believed that by acquiring the qualities of an archetype from the collective unconscious, we repress those attributes of our true self which do not conform to the archetype. To achieve individuation and realize our true self, he claimed that, rather than repressing these traits, we must ‘integrate’ them by allowing them to surface from the shadow and to coexist with those in the ego, or true self. Analytical psychologists may encourage this integration, or individuation, through therapy including:

Introvert and Extrovert Personalities

Aside from the theories of the workings of the psyche described above, Jung also believed the people could be divided by their personality type. He identified the introvert and extrovert personality types. Introverts, though quiet and sometimes unsociable, take the time to think over problems, whilst extroverts may be popular among their peers and unhesitant in expressing themselves.

Jungian psychology today

Although his theories are discussed to a lesser extend than Freud’s psychodynamic approach, Carl Jung’s ideas carry an influence whose effects can still be felt today.

The idea that we project in our personas not our true personality but an aspirational, idealized version of who we would like to be, and Jung’s distinction between inward-looking introvert and outgoing extrovert personality types, have led to the development of numerous personality tests which are still used today, including that of Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers.

Jung’s theories have also impacted on the field of analytical psychology, which is commonly referred to as Jungian psychology.