What are the features of psychoanalytic psychotherapy?
Shelder (2010) describes what is in common with all the theories that fall under the umbrella of psychodynamic or psychoanalytic:
1. Focus on affect and expression of emotion
Unlike other theories that explore thoughts, behaviors, or systems, psychoanalytic psychotherapy focuses on feelings. Not just negative feelings, but positive ones, conflicted feelings, and ones that may be difficult to recognize or acknowledge.
2. Exploration of attempt to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings
Some thoughts and emotions can be difficult to feel into. They may judge ourselves for having these experiences in their inner world. The thoughts or feelings may be painful to experience. People can utilize a wide range of strategies to avoid distress. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy explores the ways that people avoid their inner worlds, as well as the meaning of the avoidance.
3. Identification of recurring themes and patterns
People can find themselves in painful or self-defeating patterns over and over again. It can feel frustrating as to why someone would continue to behave or think in ways that they don’t want to continue to engage in. Or perhaps some doesn’t even have awareness of how some things are interconnected in their lives. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy helps people understand these patterns and what unconscious benefits may be achieved through continuing these patterns. Through understanding, people can sometimes break free of oldstanding patterns.
4. Discussion of past experiences (developmental focus)
Our past experiences influence who we are today; they influence how we engage with the world, with others, and with ourselves. By exploring how early experiences are impacting the present day, people can heal old wounds and grow. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy doesn’t just focus on the past as it occurred many years ago, but how it impacts the here-and-now.
5. Focus on interpersonal relations
Our relationships with ourselves and with others has the potential to make life meaningful and full. But sometimes there are barriers to connections with others. Through exploring interpersonal relationships, people can find new ways to meet their emotional needs. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy explores aspects of personality that impact relationships with oneself, others, and the world around us.
6. Focus on the therapy relationship
Often relationship patterns that occur with others will also occur in the treatment. For example, someone who is distrustful of others due to early childhood experiences with caregivers who were abusive or unavailable, may be distrustful and suspicious of the therapist. By exploring the therapy relationship in real time as these feelings come up, sometimes new insight can be gained which can create greater flexibility, more authenticity, and enhanced connection with others.
7. Exploration of fantasy life
Psychoanalytic therapy focuses on people’s inner worlds, which can include thoughts, feelings, early experiences, but also fantasy life. Fantasies may show up through free association, dreams, daydreams, and through sexuality. These can provide a window into the person’s view of self and others.