What Is Psychoanalytic Therapy?

By: Gabrielle Seunagal

Updated February 18, 2021

Psychology Today defines psychoanalytic therapy as "a form of in-depth talk therapy that aims to bring unconscious or deeply buried thoughts and feelings to the conscious mind so that repressed experiences and emotions (often from childhood) can be brought to the surface and examined."

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As one might imagine, the process of psychoanalytic therapy can be extensive, challenging, and intense. However, bringing the aforementioned repressed experiences and feelings to the surface is important for individuals who need this type of therapy. Put simply; these repressed areas need to be addressed. This is something which can be uncomfortable, especially in the beginning. However, the long-lasting aftereffects of failing to address certain emotions or experiences will outweigh initial discomfort for most people.

When Is Psychoanalytic Therapy Appropriate?

There are a variety of appropriate instances in which psychoanalytic therapy could be used. First and foremost, it's important to note that this type of treatment should only be conducted by a therapist who is licensed and has the training and experience to practice such treatment.

In most cases, a specialist will recommend psychoanalytic therapy in cases where the patient is exhibiting various behaviors which are concerning. The behaviors in question largely include emotional trauma/struggles, depression, relationship trouble, self-destructive conduct, and other deep-rooted issues. Many individuals who have undergone this treatment have experienced notable benefits afterward. This is not to say that psychoanalytic therapy is infallible or perfect, but it is a promising option for those who meet the criteria for it.

A Thorough Overview of The Treatment Process

The psychoanalytic therapy treatment process is fairly intricate. Having a good understanding of what all it entails is always advisable. The process begins with the patient talking to his or her therapist about their life; professionally, this first step is often referred to as "the talking cure." Throughout the talking cure, the therapist is responsible for noticing impactful events or patterns which could still be affecting the patient even if they don't realize it.

Once the therapist notices certain patterns, undertones and recurring themes; they will then ask the additional patient questions. Ultimately, the purpose of this exercise is to help the patient deal with things which have been repressed and buried underneath the surface. In many cases, buried and repressed memories and feelings can have adverse impacts and prompt various distressing behaviors in the present day. Once the repressed things have been addressed and dealt with, the patient can then truly begin to heal, get better, and improve the quality of their life.

Defense Mechanisms

Getting patients to addressed repressed and deep-rooted issues is not nearly as cut and dry as it may seem. In fact, some patients may even have different barriers or defense mechanisms in place. Subconsciously, these barriers have been created because the patient is afraid of addressing what is truly holding them back and hindering them in the present day. Sometimes, people intentionally bury or suppress certain traumas so that they don't have to think about them. This may work temporarily, but over the long run, the negative impacts will begin to manifest.

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When faced with various defense mechanisms, the therapist has the responsibility of remaining composed and professional. It takes a lot for a patient to confront various experiences and emotions which they have bottled up for months, years, or even decades. However, when defense mechanisms, such as deflection, changing the subject, or even displays of anger, are presented, this means that psychoanalytic therapy is beginning to work. Ensuring the patient that they are in a safe place where it's OK to deal with these things is one of the most crucial things a therapist can do in this situation.

How Long Does Psychoanalytic Therapy Take?

There is no one exact answer to the duration of time which psychoanalytic therapy will consume. So many factors, such as the patient, the nature of repressed memories and how long it takes to overcome existing defense mechanisms, can impact the longevity of the psychoanalytic therapy process. However, these treatment sessions generally take place at least one time per week. Sessions can remain ongoing for weeks, months or years. It's all dependent upon the patient and the nature of the issues which they are facing.

Pros and Cons of Psychoanalytic Therapy

As with all treatments, there are various benefits and drawbacks. Determining which one outweighs the other depends upon whom one is speaking to and what their goals are from seeking therapy. However, for someone who is truly confronting deep-rooted issues which are impacting their quality of life each day, the benefits of psychoanalytic therapy are likely to overshadow what some people may perceive as drawbacks.

Dealing with Underlying Feelings

The ability to deal with underlying feelings and experiences which have been buried beneath the surface is one of the greatest upsides of psychoanalytic therapy. After all, the ultimate goal of this treatment is to help and empower patients to overcome their issues. Overcoming issues allows the patient to enjoy a higher quality of life and truly be more at peace than they were before psychoanalytic therapy.

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A Sounding Board

Many people underestimate the importance of having a sounding board or someone to confide in. The truth of the matter is that human beings were not meant to feel isolated and alone. For someone who is already struggling in life or having a tough time with various repressed issues, feeling as though they have nobody who they can turn to can make a bad situation even worse. This is where the value of having a great sounding board comes into play. The fact that the sounding board just so happens to be professionally qualified to take the patient through the process of psychoanalytic therapy makes things even better.


Depending on how long the psychoanalytic therapy lasts, the costs associated with this treatment can mount pretty quickly. Of course, it's important to note that the fees can vary and depend upon a variety of factors. Depending upon a patient's healthcare, mental health services, such as psychoanalytic therapy, may be covered. However, it goes without saying that the longer one goes to psychoanalytic therapy, the more expensive it is likely to be.

While the potential fees associated with psychoanalytic may be seen as a drawback, this should not necessarily discourage one from pursuing this type of treatment if they can. An individual who is truly having a tough time in life deserves to get help and be able to address the issues which lay at the root of the problem.

The Science Factor

Since psychoanalytic therapy has existed, there have been questions about the science behind the treatment. Some people have even stated that this manner of therapy is not scientifically backed, although that is very much up for debate. It is not for everyone and everyone who can benefit from some type of therapy does not need this level of intensity. While there may be a debate on the efficacy of psychoanalytical therapy, this therapy has helped many people confront issues which were hindering their progress in life and otherwise holding them back from their full potential.


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The extensive periods which can pass before the process of psychoanalytic therapy is complete may be viewed as a drawback. However, it's all in comparison to what can be gained. Deep-seated, repressed issues were not developed instantly and are, therefore, highly unlikely to be addressed instantly.

Treatment takes time to run its course. It also takes time for the therapist and patient to build enough rapport to where the latter feels comfortable with opening up and confronting certain memories and past experiences which may be difficult or painful. There is no exact time frame for psychoanalytic therapy; as previously stated, there is a multitude of factors which determine how long the treatment process takes.

A Final Word

At the end of the day, each is tasked with the responsibility of determining whether or not psychoanalytic therapy is the best next step for them. If you are going through a difficult time in life or constantly seem to be running into problems or issues, then it's a very real possibility that some repressed issues could be the underlying cause. This is nothing to be ashamed of; however, getting the right help from a great therapist can truly change your life.

No matter who you are, what you may be dealing with, or what your story is, you should never feel alone. Challenges, obstacles, and setbacks are a part of life; however, it is our ability to face these things and deal with them that determines how well we do.

If you are interested in seeing a therapist of any kind, then you have come to the right place. BetterHelp has thousands of licensed and qualified mental health professionals ready to work with you. You can get started with BetterHelp at anytime from anywhere simply by clicking here.

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