Psychodynamic psychotherapy focuses on unconscious thoughts and feelings that determine behavior and various mood states. Relational therapy explores the impact of early and current relationships on a persons sense of self and wellbeing and uses the interection between client and therapist to help the client understand patterns in all of her relationships.
Psychotherapy is recommended when problems include depression, issues in relationships, confusion of identity, the experience of loss, addictions, and difficulties in one’s family of origin. Long-standing issues that never reach a comfortable resolve are often best addressed in psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. A psychoanalytic approach is preferable when the problems one is experiencing are long-standing, repetitive, and significantly interfere with life. Examples of this would include getting into one unsatisfying relationship after another, chronic failure to achieve goals and reach one's potential, a long history of vague anxiety and depression, or a feeling that one cannot "be oneself" or act spontaneously. While there are many types of therapy that address specific behavior problems, crises, or trauma, psychoanalysis is often better able to alter more pervasive general dissatisfaction, or a better fit for people who wish for a more expansive experience of their psychic life.
Both psychodynamic therapy and psychoanalyis are conducted by professionals with extensive education and training.
Psychoanalysis is alive and well and has undergone many changes over the past century. It remains one of the most effective treatments for certain types of psychological or emotional problems. Psychoanalysis is more of a commitment than psychotherapy because it requires a commitment to meet several times per week. Taking the time and using the intensity of more frequent sessions allow for a more comprehensive understanding of the self. This intensive treatment may make it more likely that a person will undergo lasting change and resolve problems in self esteem, relationships, sexuality and mood.
The American Psychoanalytic Association has a good description of what psychoanalysis is:
Psychoanalysis is a comprehensive theory about human nature, motivation, behavior, development and experience. And it is a method of treatment for psychological problems and difficulties in living a successful life.
The psychoanalytic framework stresses the importance of understanding:
- that each individual is unique,
- that there are factors outside of a person's awareness (unconscious thoughts, feelings and experiences) which influence his or her thoughts and actions,
- that the past shapes the present
- that human beings are always engaged in the process of development throughout their lives.
Psychoanalysis is based on the observation that individuals are often unaware of the factors that determine their emotions and behavior. Because these factors are unconscious, the advice of friends and family, the reading of self-help books, or even the most determined efforts will often fail to provide enough relief. Psychoanalytic treatment explores how these unconscious factors affect current relationships and patterns of thought, emotion and behavior. Treatment traces theses patterns back to their historical origins, considers how they have changed and developed over time, and helps the individual to cope better with the realities of their current life situation. Analysis can be viewed as an intimate partnership, in the course of which the patient becomes aware of the underlying sources of his or her difficulties, not simply intellectually but emotionally as well – in part by re-experiencing them with the analyst. From the beginning of therapy, patient and analyst work together to build up a safe and trusting relationship that enables the patient to experience aspects of his or her inner life that have been hidden because they are painful, embarrassing, or guilt-provoking.
Relational Psychoanalysis is the term that has evolved in recent years to describe an approach to clinical work. Although not a hard and fast set of concepts and practices, one core feature is the notion that psychic structure derive from the individual’s relations with other people. This is intended as an alternative to the classical view that innately organized drives and their developmental vicissitudes are, at root, the basis of psychic structure. (For an extensive discussion of relational psychoanalysis, click on Relations: Introduction to the First IARPP Conference in the IARPP Newsletter, Volume 1, Number 1.)
Transference refers to feelings you have toward important people in your life that come up in the relationship with your therapist. These include both positive and negative feelings. Transference gives you the opportunity to understand feelings you had growing up and how these still influence you today. One type of transference you may have heard about is called erotic transference, which is often described as "falling in love" with your therapist. This is one of the many feelings that some people experience and is a route to understanding yourself and your loving and sexual feelings better.
Regression refers to feelings from early childhood that are re-experienced in the therapy. This does not mean that you literally turn into an infant or a two year-old, only that you get in touch with how you may have felt at that age. If these feeling become too overwhelming, your therapist will help you find ways to manage them.
Equally important to the old feelings that are re-awakened in therapy is the chance to have new feelings with your therapist and to discover new ways of being in a close relationship. Over time, you and your therapist will get to know each other well and to share intimate experiences. Your therapist, at different times, may feel like a parent, a lover, a sibling, or a close friend to you. Your therapist, by becoming an important part of your life, can help you to let go of patterns based in the past and to learn that there are new and better ways to be yourself.