Mental Health
What Is Psychoanalysis?

What Is Psychoanalysis?

4 min read


Charles Rosen

What is Psychoanalysis?

If you have thought about how many times you found yourself doing something you had not planned to do, or thinking the opposite of what you thought not very long ago, or feeling suddenly stuck when you thought you knew exactly how to proceed, you might have an idea of how psychoanalysis can surprise you.

That’s because we only partly live in our conscious minds. We are very often swayed by the unconscious, which is truly vast.

Psychoanalysis is a way you and your analyst (therapist) can access that vast reservoir of thoughts, feelings, and energy.  It sounds scary, but it’s done together with your analyst at the pace that is right for you, in an atmosphere of true safety.

How long does Psychoanalysis Typically Take?

You may already know psychoanalysis is not a quick fix.  It’s a process. But the impressive thing about psychoanalysis is that once you have engaged in the process, it becomes something ongoing that you are able to do without the analyst at some point.  

Yes, it is a commitment, but in return you get the most possible freedom of mind available. That is unique to an outcome of a psychoanalytic process. Working with the analyst to know as much as possible about your deepest thoughts, feelings, and connected energy allows you to enrich the quality of all your relationships and increase the satisfaction you experience in both work and life.

How does Psychoanalysis work?

Try this: get into a comfortable position, relax your body and pay attention to your natural breathing.  

Allow any thoughts to come into your mind, but don’t hold on to any of them.  

Notice them, then let them go and accept the next one, or again notice your breathing.

Now, notice any moment where you felt an increase in tension, or had to scratch an itch, or moved even a little, or felt a strongly distracting emotion.  

What was the thought you noticed just before the moment where you had to move?  

Look for just a minute at that thought.  It was very likely something about which you felt something we call conflict.  (This is not necessarily about some argument with someone else – but conflicting feelings or confusion within you).  

It is this kind of noticing that should occur in psychoanalysis.  As you talk as freely as possible with the analyst (“free association”) your conversation leads to the places you feel stuck, conflicted or somehow that something is difficult.  

The clichéd couch (which is not required) is nothing but a tool to help this process of free talking and noticing along.  Sometimes, you notice thoughts or feelings about what is going on with the therapist and the treatment – the “transference.”  (Yes, the analyst does this too – the “countertransference.”, but only uses it to help you move forward with your process.)  

Transference is important, because it is the one way that you and the analyst really see, right there in the room, those patterns of thought and personal relations that you may have unproductively repeated, often for years, and that get in the way of a more satisfying life.  

The result is called “insight.”   It really makes you a different person.

Who developed Psychoanalysis?

Sigmund Freud discovered psychoanalysis.  

Yes, there were others who developed the field, some famous and some not so famous (you may have heard of Klein, Bion, Jung, or Lacan, for instance.) This is good because, while Freud was exceptionally smart and courageous (he was the only one who analyzed himself – because there was no one else to do it), he didn’t understand some things we now know much better.  

Freud mostly knew what he didn’t know, but we can now benefit by hugely increased knowledge of early childhood development, of the psychosexual development of women, newer ideas about gender identity, neuroscientific understanding of the brain/mind, and newer ways of thinking about what happens between the two people in the therapy room.


There are many forms of therapy that include these insights that were developed through the method of psychoanalysis.  

You can notice those conflicted thoughts or feelings in that exercise we tried in “how does psychoanalysis work?” without committing to several sessions per week with an analyst.  And that could be immensely valuable.  

Cognitive behavioral therapists use some of the principles developed in psychoanalysis, and psychoanalysts in this day and age use some of the cognitive tools developed in cognitive behavioral therapy.  

An insight that helps you change that you get from another type of therapy is no less valuable, and really no less psychoanalytic.  But the firmness of conviction, the depth of your ability to perceive so many of the levels in your mind is really transforming.  

Is psychoanalysis worth it?  For some people, nothing else provides that experience or that transformative ability for the rest of one’s life.  


About Psychoanalysis, American Psychoanalytic Association

About Psychoanalysis, International Psychoanalytical Association

Psychoanalytic Method, Contemporary Freudian Society

Effectiveness of Psychoanalytic Psychotherapies, Contemporary Freudian Society

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About the author

Charles Rosen practices psychoanalysis and psychotherapy on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  He is a Training and Supervising analyst and former NY Institute Director at the Contemporary Freudian Society, where he is also a member of the faculty.  He is a member of the International Psychoanalytic Association.  Charles brings a related and compassionate approach to his practice. He likes having people see and feel how going to deeper levels they didn’t know they had helps them in an immediate way, as well as in the long pull.

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