Published on 03 October 2021

Psychoanalysis: Types, Techniques, & Efficacy

General Psychology psychoanalysis-types-techniques-&-efficacy
Table of Contents

Psychoanalysis is a speciality in psychology developed by Sigmund Freud †that is distinguished from other approaches by its body of deep knowledge and intensive treatment applications.

Psychoanalysis is a group of theories and therapeutic techniques that deal with the unconscious mind and together form a treatment module for several mental disorders. (Ferenczi, S., & Rank, O. 1986)

It aims at structural development and modifications of an individualís personality. Psychoanalysis promotes awareness of unconscious, dysfunctional, and habitual patterns like following healthy lifestyle as well as recurring emotion and behavior, allowing previously suppressed aspects of the self to become coherent and promoting optimal functioning and healing.

What issues can Psychoanalysis treat?

Psychoanalysis is widely used to treat a variety of conditions and emotional issues in individuals. A variety of mental health issues typically respond well to this treatment, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Obsessive behavior
  • Trauma
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • Self-esteem problems
  • Sexual difficulties
  • Relationship problems (Blatt, S.J., 1998)

The theory behind Psychoanalysis:

The primary notion of psychoanalysis is that every person possesses unconscious (suppressed) thoughts, feelings, desires, and memories.

Psychoanalysis aims to recognize and release these emotions and experiences, i.e., make the unconscious conscious. It is believed that a cathartic experience (release of emotions) can enable the person to be helped and healed.

Psychoanalysis suggests that people, after a cathartic experience, can gain insight into their current state of mind by bringing the unconscious into awareness. Through this, a person can find relief from unprocessed psychological distress. Psychoanalysis also suggests that:

  • People use defense mechanisms to shield themselves from any unpleasant information contained in the unconscious.
  • Emotional and psychological issues such as anxiety and depression are often rooted in conflicts between the unconscious and conscious mind.
  • Their unconscious drives heavily influence an individualís behavior.
  • Personality development is strongly affected by early childhood events (Freud suggested that personality was primarily developed by the age of five).

The main objective of psychoanalysis is to help patients identify the hidden thoughts, behaviors, and desires and understand deeply rooted issues causing a maladaptive perspective on life and creating problems in their day-to-day existence.

Psychoanalysis helps the patient in adopting a fresh attitude and viewpoint. This newly developed attitude can result in significant change and growth in the patientís life.

How Does Psychoanalytic Treatment Work?

Numerous assumptions underlie the theories behind psychoanalysis. Firstly, three components exist within everyoneís personality; the id, ego, and superego.

The id is the unconscious energy comprising instinctive and basic fundamental drives, such as aggressive and sexual tendencies.

The ego, or the conscious mind, serves based on the reality principle keeping the id in check by exerting a realistic and moderating influence.

Lastly, the superego represents the moral standards and ideals, including conscious thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, which reflect parental or societal morals and values.

The interaction between the three aspects of the mind results in a struggle for dominance within every individual. Psychoanalytic treatment can help alleviate the underlying tensions that arise due to the internal war between the id, ego, and superego. To balance these three mental aspects, patients must transparently unveil their unconscious thoughts and feelings.

In most traditional psychoanalysis treatment therapies, the patient lies on a couch while the therapist usually sits behind the patient to prevent eye contact. This placement helps the patient feel comfortable without feeling conscious or vulnerable, so he/she can reach a deeper and more intimate level of discussion with the psychotherapist.

Psychoanalytic therapy is generally a long-term course of treatment. Clients are often required to meet with their therapist at least once a week, and the treatment can go on for several years.

Psychoanalytic Techniques

A variety of psychotherapeutic techniques are used during the course of treatment, all of which are employed in an attempt to gain awareness and maximize insight into the patientís behavior. Some of the most popular techniques include:

Dream analysis

In psychoanalysis, dream interpretation is often used to reveal unconscious thoughts. Freud suggested that suppressed thoughts and feelings rise to the surface of the mind through dreams. However, the true meaning of dreams is often altered. Therefore, the psychoanalyst helps the patient understand and interpret the dream to discover its hidden meanings.

Free association

During the sessions of free association, the patient is encouraged to freely talk about anything that comes to mind. The therapist may read a list of random words, and the patient is directed to respond with the first associations that come to their mind. During the process of free association, repressed memories often emerge.


The psychoanalyst helps the patient explore their memories and personal narratives in detail, and while doing so, thoroughly analyzes them. The therapist may look for some common themes and perspectives in the patientís narrative. One of the so-called ďFreudian slip,Ē often occurs when patients accidentally reveal something important while talking. The therapist depicts an interpretation of the patientís unintended choice of word or phrase.


Patients engage in the process of transference when they transfer feelings they had for someone or something in their past to the present. Transference can sometimes take place between the therapist and the patient. Patients may apply certain feelings they possess toward the therapist that actually relate to a specific individual or an event from their past.

Psychoanalysis: Effectiveness and Limitations

As with any therapy, psychoanalysis too has both pros and cons.

Some of the benefits of this treatment method include:

  1. People who donít respond to conventional therapy approaches or medications sometimes respond well to psychoanalysis.
  2. Psychoanalysis gets to the fundamental cause of the problem rather than simply addressing its symptoms.
  3. Provides an in-depth insight and fresh perspective into the origins of certain thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
  4. An extensive examination of oneself, offered by psychoanalysis, can eventually lead to positive growth.
  5. At least a portion of Freudís claims are supported by biological research.

Some of the potential drawbacks of psychoanalysis include:

  1. Patients may find it unpleasant and painful to discover memories that they have suppressed.
  2. It can be both lengthy and expensive and therefore requires a deep level of commitment from both patients as well as the therapist.
  3. It is not a suitable treatment for all mental health problems, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
  4. Certain concepts, such as Ďpenis envy,í are outdated.

Misconceptions regarding Psychoanalysis

Numerous false myths and stereotypes are associated with psychoanalytic therapy. Most people typically hold an outdated view of psychoanalysis, possibly gathered from cultural/societal ideology or television or movie portrayals of psychoanalysis therapy, which is far from accurate. Some of the most common and inaccurate stereotypes include:

Psychoanalysis treatment lasts forever.

While itís true that psychoanalytic treatment takes longer than other therapy approaches, the patient does not undergo treatment forever. The main goal of this treatment is to help patients develop a deeper understanding of their unconscious thoughts, emotions, and memories for permanent growth and adjustments in their personalities. The intensive application and deep level of comprehension required in psychoanalysis cannot be developed overnight, which is why a patient may be subjected to therapy for several years.

Psychoanalysis Is Not a Real Science

This statement is completely inaccurate. The theory and practice of psychoanalysis have been the subject of numerous researches over the years that prove its accuracy and efficacy. In fact, psychoanalysis therapy has often succeeded when other types of treatment have failed. Moreover, psychoanalytic therapy is an internationally established treatment recognized by major insurers, which reimburse patients for their treatment.

Psychoanalysis Is Only About Sex

Although Freud popularized the term Ďlibido,í he did not intend for the term to be exclusively applied to sexual desire. In psychoanalysis, libido refers to the psychic energy or life force that drives all human behavior, not solely sexual desires. Although lust often influences behavior, it is not the motivator for every action. Psychoanalysis focuses on various other aspects that drive behavior.