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What is Psychoanalysis?

“Psychoanalysis is the therapeutic study of fantasy and the reformulation of symptoms and distorted relationships in light of the past and the forgotten, through the use of free associations, dream recall, and frequent sessions. This therapy employs Sigmund Freud’s childhood developmental theories as a basis for understanding adult symptomatology. Although other contemporary schools of psychoanalysis have elaborated a number of theories of the mind and suggested additional therapeutic techniques, most have a foundation built on the Freudian principles of the unconscious, childhood libidinal life, and the role of repression in formation of neuroses and character disturbances.”
Dr. Douglas Frayn, from Understanding your Dreams: A Guide to Self Awareness

Psychoanalytic treatment is based on the clinical observation that the meanings of personal experiences often remain unacknowledged. These meanings contribute greatly to the factors that determine emotions and behavior. These unconscious meanings may give form to unhappiness as revealed in symptoms, troubling personality traits, recurrent difficulties in work or in love relationships, or disturbances in mood and self-esteem. Because these forces are unconscious, the advice of friends and family, the reading of self-help books, or even the most determined efforts of will, often fail to provide relief.

Psychoanalysis brings the unconscious meaning of residues of personal experience to the fore, and demonstrates how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of behavior. In order to help master these influences, psychoanalysis traces them back to their historical origins. This permits people to see how these residues have changed and developed over time, thereby offering the potential to deal more constructively with their appearance in current life.

Analysis is an intimate partnership. The bonds created in the course of treatment create a safe environment for self-revelation. Through exploring the bonds of the partnership formed in treatment, not only do people become aware of unconscious meanings, but the bonds themselves can reveal important ways in which difficulties can repeat themselves. The experience with the analyst is not simply intellectual, but is emotional and spans the range of human expressivity.

Continuity in treatment is essential to developing the closeness and intimacy required for this form of self-exploration. Typically, meetings with the analyst take place four or five times a week. Patients lie on a couch so that they can better attend to their internal processes. They set their own pace and their own agenda for the treatment by saying everything that comes to mind, to the best of their ability.

The conditions of psychoanalytic treatment create a unique setting that allows aspects of the mind to emerge that are inaccessible to other methods of observation. As the patient speaks, hints of the unconscious sources of current difficulties gradually begin to make themselves clear through repetitive patterns of behavior, in the subjects that the patient finds hard to talk about, and in the ways the person relates to the analyst.

The analyst helps by tending to the evolution of the therapeutic bond. This allows the analyst to make meaningful reflections on the person’s difficulties. With these reflections, the person can refine, correct, reject, and further modify thoughts and feelings. During the years that an analysis takes place, the patient wrestles with these insights, going over them again and again with the analyst, and noting their influence on present experience in daily life, in fantasies, and in dreams. Through a joint effort with the analyst, the person gradually gains mastery over crippling life patterns, or over incapacitating symptoms. This new-found mastery also helps to expand the freedom to work and to love. Over the course of time, the person’s life—his or her behavior, relationships, and sense of self—changes in deep and abiding ways.

Who Can Benefit from Psychoanalysis?

The best way to discover if psychoanalysis would benefit is to consult with a psychoanalyst. Psychoanalysis is a highly individualized treatment that optimistically relies on the person’s innate potential for self-healing and growth. To undergo psychoanalysis, a person must have achieved some important satisfaction in life, and have a sufficiently stable lifestyle to meet the requirements of the treatment. This person may have already achieved important satisfactions—with friends, in marriage, in work, or through special interests and hobbies.

Despite such achievements, someone seeking psychoanalysis can have significant symptoms, which may include depression or anxiety, sexual incapacities, or physical symptoms without any demonstrable underlying physical cause. One person might be plagued by private rituals or compulsions or repetitive thoughts of which no one else is aware. Another might live a constricted life of isolation and loneliness, incapable of feeling close to anyone. A victim of childhood sexual abuse might suffer from an inability to trust others. Some people come to analysis because of repeated failures in work or in love, brought about not by chance but by self-destructive patterns of behaviour. Others seek analysis because their way of being restricts choices and the opportunity for pleasures. Some people seek psychoanalytic treatment because other approaches have not resolved psychological problems, or only temporarily so.

Whatever the problem, a thorough evaluation is required to determine if psychoanalysis is properly indicated. Sometimes, the evaluation takes place over a short series of interviews that permit the person and the analyst some experience of each other within the therapeutic setting.

Who is a Psychoanalyst?

A psychoanalyst is a clinician who practices the highly specialized form of psychological treatment called psychoanalysis created by Sigmund Freud and further developed, theoretically and clinically, by subsequent generations of psychoanalysts. In addition to training in another field (such as medicine, psychiatry, psychology, social work, or an academic discipline involving some aspect of psychoanalysis), a psychoanalyst has completed a minimum of four years of theoretical and clinical training in psychoanalysis. Graduate psychoanalysts trained under the auspices of the Toronto Institute of Psychoanalysis have had the most rigorous education and clinical training available for the practice of psychoanalysis. Candidates accepted for training must meet the highest ethical, psychological, and professional standards in the field. The Toronto Psychoanalytic Society and Institute are branches of the Canadian Psychoanalytic Society and Institute respectively, which are components of the International Psychoanalytical Association, the worldwide umbrella organization for the training of psychoanalysts for over a century. Since the designation “psychoanalyst” may be used by people without training in psychoanalysis, before beginning an analysis one should know what the practitioner’s credentials are and be sure that the analyst’s training in psychoanalysis meets the highest standards.

For further information about psychoanalytic treatment, to inquire about referral for psychoanalysis, or to apply for training contact us.

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