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CBT vs. Psychoanalysis

Read on to learn the pros and cons of CBT vs. psychoanalysis to help make your decision about what’s right for you.

What is CBT?

Choosing the proper mental health treatment can be a daunting task. There are a variety of therapies available, each with its own set of pros and cons. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and psychoanalysis are two of the most popular treatments.1

CBT is a form of therapy that helps people understand and change the negative thought patterns that contribute to their challenges or disorders. CBT treats various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse.

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How is CBT Distinguished From Psychoanalysis?

CBT is often shorter in duration than psychoanalysis, which may last for years. CBT is also less expensive than psychoanalysis sessions overall.

What is Psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis is a form of therapy that emphasizes the role of the unconscious mind in influencing behavior.2

It was developed by Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud and focused on exploring patterns of behavior, thoughts, and emotions to uncover the underlying causes of mental illness.

How is Behavior Therapy Different From Psychoanalysis?

The key difference between CBT and psychoanalysis is that CBT focuses on the here and now, while psychoanalysis delves into the past.

CBT focuses on helping people understand and change the negative thought patterns that contribute to their challenges or disorders. The therapist works with the patient to identify these thoughts and challenge them, then replace them with more positive and productive ones.

Psychoanalysis, however, focuses on exploring patterns of behavior, thoughts, and emotions to uncover the underlying causes of mental illness. The therapist works with the patient to examine their unconscious mind and identify the root cause of their challenges.

The Uses, Pros, and Cons of CBT and Psychoanalysis

Let’s jump into the benefits, advantages and disadvantages of CBT and psychoanalysis.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT treats various mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and substance abuse. CBT has many pros as well, including:

  • CBT can treat many mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, phobias, and OCD.
  • CBT has also been effective in treating chronic pain and insomnia.
  • It can be provided in individual or group settings and delivered in person or online. This flexibility makes CBT accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to receive treatment
  • It can be completed in a relatively short amount of time, usually ten to twenty sessions. This makes it an accessible and affordable treatment option for many people.
  • Finally, CBT is an effective treatment for both children and adults.

CBT Potential Cons

While CBT has its many pros, there are also some cons involved, including:

  • CBT may not be the right treatment for people who are dealing with more complex issues, such as trauma or psychosis.
  • CBT can be challenging for people resistant to change or struggling to identify and change negative thought patterns.
  • People who undergo CBT may experience discomfort as they confront their challenges and work to change their thinking and behavior.


Psychoanalysis is an effective treatment for various mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, phobias, OCD, eating disorders, and substance abuse.4

There are many pros of psychoanalysis, including: 

  • Psychoanalysis can help us better understand ourselves. For example, uncovering the hidden motivations behind our actions allows us to learn to control them instead of being handled by them.
  • Psychoanalysis can also provide relief from anxiety and depression, as well as help us to overcome phobias and other types of mental disorders.
  • Psychoanalysis is a very flexible form of therapy. It can be adapted to fit the needs of each patient, and it can be used in conjunction with other types of therapy.
  • It is one of the few therapy types backed by empirical evidence. Numerous studies have shown that psychoanalysis effectively treats various mental disorders, including depression, anxiety, phobias, and addiction. 

CBT vs. Psychoanalysis

Truly comparing CBT vs. psychoanalysis is different for everyone, as both types of therapy may prove beneficial for some and a hindrance for others. Relevant considerations will be detailed below.

Time Frame

Typically, therapy sessions for CBT occur once a week or every two weeks. The duration of treatment is between five and twenty sessions, with each session lasting between thirty and sixty minutes.

On the other hand, psychotherapy sessions generally last 50 minutes and usually happen once a week, although they can occur more frequently. This can change depending on the provider and what type of therapy the patient needs, but this is a rough estimate for most sessions.

Belief System

CBT is based on the principle that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected. This means that our ideas can influence our emotions and behaviors and vice versa. CBT also emphasizes changing negative thought patterns and behaviors to improve mental health.

However, psychoanalysis focuses on exploring the unconscious mind to uncover the root cause of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Psychoanalysis also emphasizes the importance of the therapist-patient relationship in helping patients overcome their challenges.


CBT is a more active and directive approach. The therapist will help you identify and challenge your negative thought patterns and behaviors. The therapist will also guide you through changing these thoughts and behaviors.

In contrast, psychoanalysis is a more passive approach. First, the therapist will help you explore your unconscious mind to uncover the root cause of your challenges. Then, the therapist will provide interpretation and insight to help you understand these challenges.

Commitment Level

CBT requires a higher level of commitment from both the therapist and the patient. CBT also typically requires more sessions than psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, is a long-term treatment that may last for years. This means that it can be more costly and time-consuming than CBT. However, psychoanalysis can be more effective for some people, particularly those resistant to change or struggling to identify and change negative thought patterns.


The average cost per session of CBT and psychoanalysis psychotherapy is $100-$200, meaning it’s pretty comparable no matter which route you choose to go. However, keep in mind that CBT is often shorter in duration, meaning you’ll have to pay less over time.

CBT Techniques

CBT therapists use a variety of techniques to help their patients. These techniques include exposure therapy and relaxation techniques.

  • Exposure Technique: This is a type of CBT that helps people confront their fears. The therapist will help the person identify negative thought patterns and develop coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety.
  • Relaxation Techniques: This is another type of CBT that can help people manage their anxiety and stress. These techniques include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and meditation.

Common Strategies of Psychoanalysis

The following are the common approaches to psychoanalysis psychotherapy:5

  • Free association
  • Dream interpretation
  • Inkblot test
  • Transference analysis

Which One is Better for Me?

CBT and psychoanalysis are two different approaches to mental health treatment. Both have pros and cons, and it is essential to consult a mental health professional to determine which method suits you.

Psychoanalysis may be better if you struggle to identify and change negative thought patterns. However, CBT may be a better option if you are looking for a more active, quick, and directive approach.

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CBT vs psychoanalysis

The Bottom Line

When it comes to CBT vs. psychoanalysis, it depends on the individual and what will work best for them. For example, CBT may be a better option if someone is struggling with anxiety or depression because it is more focused on the here and now.

However, if someone has experienced trauma or has deep-seated issues, psychoanalysis may be a better choice because it digs deeper into the past. Ultimately, the treatment choice should be made in consultation with a mental health professional.

They will be able to assess your needs and provide guidance on which approach is likely to be most effective.
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