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What is Psychoanalysis?

What is psychoanalysis? Learn all about psychoanalysis fundamentals and techniques in this comprehensive article. 

What is Psychoanalysis vs. Psychotherapy?

Psychoanalysis is both a theory of how the mind works and a treatment modality. There are several key differences between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. For one, psychoanalysis tends to be more open-ended, with no set number of sessions or time frame for treatment. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is often more focused and goal-oriented, with a specific plan in place for how long treatment will last.

 
Another key difference has to do with the focus of each respective treatment. Psychoanalysis tends to delve deeply into a person's past, exploring early childhood experiences and relationships to understand how they've shaped into the person they are today. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, tends to be more focused on the present, helping people to identify and change negative patterns of thought and behavior that are causing them distress in their everyday lives.

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What Treatment Is Right for You?

Ultimately, this decision depends on several factors, including your specific needs and goals for treatment. If you're struggling with deep-seated emotional issues that are impacting your ability to function in daily life, psychoanalysis may be a better fit.

 
If you're dealing with more manageable problems that you'd like to address in a shorter period, psychotherapy may be a better option. Ultimately, the best way to determine which treatment is right for you is to consult with a mental health professional who can help you assess your needs and make an informed decision.
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Psychoanalysis vs. Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy both focus on understanding the underlying causes of mental disorders, but they differ in their assumptions about how the mind works. Psychoanalysis assumes that the mind is like an iceberg, with most of its workings hidden below the surface. This means that much of what affects our mental health is outside of our conscious awareness. To understand and treat mental disorders, psychoanalysis seeks to bring these hidden elements into conscious awareness.

 
Psychodynamic therapy, on the other hand, assumes that the mind is more like a river, with all its workings happening in the conscious realm. This means that much of what affects our mental health is within our conscious awareness. To understand and treat mental disorders, psychodynamic therapy seeks to uncover the hidden meanings and motivations behind our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. 

Which Therapy is Better?

Both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, and which one you choose will depend on your individual needs and preferences. If you're interested in exploring your hidden thoughts and feelings, psychoanalysis may be a good fit for you, but if you'd rather understand the conscious motivations behind your thoughts and behaviors, psychodynamic therapy would be a better option.

History of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis was developed in the late 19th century by Austrian physician Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis was originally designed to treat patients with mental disorders but has since been adapted to help people deal with a variety of issues. Freud was a physician who specialized in neurological disorders when he became associated with patients who had no biological or organic cause for the disorders. He originally used hypnosis as a technique to get to the psychological causes of his patient’s issues but found that it wasn’t as effective as he hoped.

 
He then turned to simply having a patient talk about his or her problems. Through this talk therapy, Freud created the idea of free association, which led the patient to simply talk in a non-directed manner with the hope that this would expose the issue. Freud continued to conduct research and published many books relating to his ideas about the construction of the mind and specifically the unconscious mind.2

Psychoanalysis Fundamentals

There are three main parts of the brain that Freud focused on when coming up with psychoanalytic theory: the id, the ego, and the superego. The fundamentals are characterized by:

  • Id: According to Freud’s theory, the id is the primitive and instinctual part of the mind that seeks immediate gratification of its needs.
  • Ego: The ego is the realistic and rational part of the mind that mediates between the id and the superego.
  • Superego: The superego is the moral and idealistic part of the mind that internalizes society's values and norms.

Conscious vs. Unconscious Mind

The conscious mind is the part of the mind that is aware of thoughts, feelings, and sensations. The unconscious mind is the part of the mind that houses repressed memories, emotions, and desires.

Criticisms of Psychoanalysis

Sigmund Freud proposed several controversial theories about the human mind and sexuality that were often at odds with contemporary scientific understanding. As a result, psychoanalysis has been both praised and critiqued by psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health professionals.

 
Despite its controversial nature, psychoanalysis remains one of the most influential theories in psychology and psychiatry. Freud's ideas have been widely influential in both clinical practice and pop culture, and his work has been cited by many famous thinkers, including Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva. However, some argue that Freud's theories are outdated and have been superseded by more modern approaches to mental health. Others contend that Freud's ideas are sexist, racist, and homophobic. Others argue that psychoanalysis is a pseudoscience that relies on unproven or unscientific methods.

Is Psychoanalysis Still Prevalent?

Despite its detractors, psychoanalysis remains a vital and influential theory in the field of psychology. It has helped shape our understanding of the human mind, and its insights continue to be relevant today.3

Psychoanalysis Techniques

There are various psychoanalytic techniques used in therapy sessions. Some of these include will be detailed below.4

Free Association

Free association is a technique used in psychoanalysis in which the patient is encouraged to say whatever comes to mind without censoring their thoughts. The aim of free association is to promote the expression of unconscious material.

Dream Analysis

Dream analysis is another technique used in psychoanalysis. Dreams are believed to be a way that the unconscious mind communicates with the conscious mind.

Transference Psychoanalysis

Transference is another technique used in psychoanalysis. This is when the patient projects their feelings onto the therapist. The therapist will then help the patient to understand these feelings and how they are impacting their current relationships.

Freudian Slip

Freudian slip is another technique used in psychoanalysis. A Freudian slip, also called parapraxis, is an error in speech, physical action, or memory that occurs due to an unconscious subdued wish or internal train of thought.

Lacanian Psychoanalysis

Lacanian psychoanalysis focuses on the role of language in the formation of the unconscious mind. Jacques Lacan, a French psychoanalyst, reconceptualized Freud’s theory using post-structuralism. Lacan brought the emphasis of language in the creation of the self and psychic and sexual life to the theory and practice of psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms are a way for the ego to protect itself from anxiety and conflict. Some common defense mechanisms include repression, denial, and projection.

Psychoanalysis and Other Therapies at Boardwalk Recovery

What is Psychoanalysis

Behavioral therapy is another option that can help patients. How is behavior therapy different from psychoanalysis? Behavior therapy focuses on changing problematic behaviors through techniques like exposure therapy and positive reinforcement. This approach is often used to treat anxiety disorders, phobias, and OCD. Psychoanalysis, on the other hand, emphasizes understanding the unconscious mind and resolving early childhood trauma. This approach is often used to treat depression and other mood disorders.


Patients in psychoanalysis typically meet with their therapist four or five times a week for fifty-minute sessions. The length of treatment varies depending on the individual, but it typically lasts for several years.

Get Help Today

Psychoanalysis can be a helpful tool for exploring your inner thoughts and feelings. If you're interested in learning more about this type of therapy, contact Boardwalk Recovery today and we’ll be here to help you or your loved ones experience long-lasting wellness.

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