Psychoanalysis is a treatment for problems that happen in life. One of the goals of this treatment is to help patients know themselves well so they can make conscious decisions about how to live their lives to the fullest. But, Psychoanalysis is also a way of viewing the world. Some call it a sensibility, an attitude, or a philosophy about how the human mind works. People use Psychoanalysis to understand art, politics, literature, film, culture, group behavior, organizations and many other aspects of life.
Sigmund Freud, the father of Psychoanalysis, viewed the human mind as very complex. He set out to develop a comprehensive theory that would describe and attempt to help people understand the complexities of the human mind. Among his greatest contributions to Psychoanalysis was the idea that sometimes people do things without understanding why. Freud thought that people have a way to store thoughts and feelings outside of their awareness. In particular, he thought that distressing feelings and thoughts would sometimes be kept hidden to help make them less distressing or threatening. Freud reasoned that investigating a person's dreams, slips of the tongue, fantasies or daydreams, and anything that might come to mind could help him understand the hidden logic of the mind. And, he thought that if he could help his patients recognize their deepest and often hidden motivations, then they could make better decisions about their lives.
Freud was a prolific and robust thinker. In addition to his ideas about the unconscious he also wrote about how the mind is structured, how people pass through developmental phases, what motivates people, and what causes psychological symptoms, among many other things.
Freud's influence on western culture is profound. Many of his ideas have become a part of common language. For instance, it is not that uncommon to hear someone refer to a person who is particularly compulsive or neat as being "anal." Or, you might hear someone say that their friend has a big "ego." Defense, unconscious, subconscious, oedipal complex, and many other ideas stem from Freud. While these popularized versions of Freud's ideas are different than how he may have intended them, the fact that they are adopted into our common language is a testament to Freud's influence.
Since Freud's time (1856-1939), there have been many people who have contributed to Psychoanalytic thought. As a result, there are many schools of thought within Psychoanalysis, each with ideas about how the mind works and how to do therapy. In fact, some schools of thought are so different from the others, it can be difficult to find their commonalities. However, researchers (Blagys and Hilsenroth, 2000) hoped to understand what therapists do with clients and discovered 7 processes at work in psychoanalytic therapy. They summarized these commonalities as follows:
- Therapists focused on the client's feelings and the expression of those emotions.
- Therapists explored the attempts that the client made to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings.
- Therapists tried to identify recurring themes and patterns in the client's life.
- Therapists discussed the client's history to understand how they developed.
- Therapists focused on how the client related to others.
- Therapists focused on the relationship between the therapist and the client.
- Therapists explored the wishes, dreams, and fantasies of the client.
While the various schools of thought in Psychoanalysis may differ in many ways, most would claim to implement the above processes when doing therapy.
Freud's first book on Psychoanalysis was published in 1895. For more than 100 years his ideas have been developed, expanded upon, and criticized. Contemporary authors in psychoanalysis have benefitted from a rich diversity of material written by Psychoanalytic thinkers over the years. They have also incorporated modern research techniques to understand Psychoanalysis and how it helps people. The benefit of this long history is that Psychoanalytic theory has taken the criticisms and depth of ideas to create a contemporary method of helping people. Many people new to Psychoanalytic ideas are surprised to learn there is a large body of research supporting Psychoanalysis and that the therapeutic techniques are not the stereotyped methods seen so frequently in film or TV.
OSPS hopes to introduce Psychoanalysis to people with little or no exposure to it. And, we also hope to encourage continued learning for those who have been practicing with this theory for years. If you would like to learn more, please explore our website to see how we can help enrich your work.