Psychoanalysis: Myths and Realities

Myth: Psychoanalytic therapy takes too much time. Psychoanalysis gives time to solve complex problems that have no simple or obvious remedies. Consumer Reports surveys of 4000 therapy patients in 1995 and 2005 showed that the longer the therapy, the better the results.

Myth: Psychoanalytic therapy dwells on the past, which can’t be changed anyway. Psychoanalysis explores how a person experiences his or her present situation. Understanding the present allows the person to understand the problematic influence of the person’s history, as well as the possibility of new experience in the future.

Myth: Psychoanalytic therapists only blame others, especially mothers and fathers. As adults, we can explore and change meanings which have been painful, in the context of positive experiences, not by blaming our parents or ourselves, but by creating understanding, perspective, and acceptance.

Myth: Psychoanalytic therapy makes people dependent on the analyst. Dependence has been demonized as part of mental health treatment. Patients who do not feel comfortable with their dependent feelings will have trouble building solid relationships with others. Psychoanalytic therapists help people develop emotional autonomy, including acceptance of dependent wishes.

Myth: Psychoanalytic therapists only want to talk about sex. Psychoanalytic therapy integrates acceptance of sexual wishes and experience with the needs for safety, emotional understanding, and meaningful relatedness in intimate partnerships.

Myth: Psychoanalysis cannot influence or treat behavioral problems in children or adolescents. Psychoanalytic therapy helps children and adolescents make emotional sense of themselves, express emotions in words, and control behavior that causes distress, turmoil, or harm to themselves and/or others.

Myth: Psychoanalytic therapy costs too much. Compared to what? Hospitalization, incarceration, suicide, homicide, and chronic suffering far exceed the cost of psychoanalytic treatment, which helps prevent these harmful costly consequences.

Myth: Psychoanalytic therapy is suitable only for the “worried well.” Many severe mental illnesses that have been seen as untreatable using other mental health treatment methods, have been successfully treated using psychoanalytic principles. Psychoanalytic therapy as a mental health treatment can powerfully augment peer counseling, medication, and social services.

Myth: Psychoanalysis is not “strengths-based” and only focuses on problems. Psychoanalytic therapy helps people develop emotional strength by helping them develop the ability to tolerate, manage, and understand all their feelings. True resiliency comes from being able to appreciate positive feelings and personal strengths, but also by accepting and managing intense negative emotions.

Myth: Psychoanalysis is not “evidence-based practice.” There is a great deal of evidence in research literature that psychoanalytic treatment works by creating emotional space and the opportunity to discover new meaning, without directing or manipulating the thoughts and feelings of the patient.

Myth: Psychoanalytic treatment lasts forever and is only for rich people. Psychoanalytic treatment can be as short as a few sessions or much longer for complex problems; low-fee treatment is available through institutes and clinics.

Myth: Psychoanalytic treatment requires the client to lie on a couch and not see the therapist. Modern psychoanalytic treatment allows clients to sit in a chair or lie on a couch, according to what is most effective.

Psychoanalytic treatment principles

  • Psychoanalytic therapists help clients in the following ways:
  • Focusing on both the inner experiences and the outer world of the client.
  • Helping clients to identify what concerns them in the present and from past experience.
  • Increasing awareness of both conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings.
  • Psychoanalytic treatment today is based on working in the present on problems which are identified by the client.

Psychoanalytic treatment outcomes Psychoanalytic treatment is highly successful in working with a variety of difficult mental health problems:

  • Psychoanalytic treatments can be successful with suicidality, PTSD, eating disorders, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, and depression.
  • Psychoanalytic treatments can often help prevent hospitalization, incarceration, and failures in important personal relationships, such as marriage or parenting.
  • Psychoanalytic treatments rely on information from clients about treatment progress.
  • Psychoanalytic treatments are grounded in evidence-based practice.

Background For many years, psychoanalytic treatment has been increasingly disparaged and misunderstood. The Washington Psychoanalytic Legislative Work Group offers answers here to the most prevalent myths about psychoanalytic treatment. Psychoanalytic therapy provides emotional relief for many complex mental health problems and should be considered when these problems arise. Psychoanalysis and analytic psychotherapy have evolved for over 100 years. During that time the basic principles of psychoanalysis and the way it is used as a mental health treatment have changed in many ways. Psychoanalytic training includes:

  • Graduate degree in a mental health field such as psychiatry, psychology, or social work.
  • Three to six years of coursework.
  • Three to six years of supervision.
  • Personal psychoanalytic treatment.

(Source: Washington Psychoanalytic Legislative Work Group, 2007)