In this series of posts I will discuss various counseling theories, starting with Psychoanalytic.

Classic Psychoanalysis

Freud, the father of Psychoanalytic theory, believed:

  • It is the unconscious mind, rather than the conscious mind, that motivates people.
  • Human suffering and dysfunction originate from conflicts and dark desires hidden in the individual’s unconscious.
  • People are motivated by two basic instincts: sex and death.
  • Defense mechanisms, originated by Freud and expanded upon by his daughter Anna, protect the person from attacks from the outside world.
  • Individuals pass through stages of development, known as psychosexual stages. If they do not successfully complete the stage they will become “stuck” in it.
  • Transference feelings must be worked through with the therapist as they are an essential part of the therapy.

Classic psychoanalysis was done with the patient (they were called “patients” back then) lying on the couch, with the analyst (they were called “analysts” back then) behind the patient. It was important that the patient not see the analyst, because the analyst needed to be a blank slate; physically human but with no regular human reactions. To be otherwise would interfere with the transference process, which was one of the essential counseling methods of a psychoanalyst. It was thought that at times the analyst would remind the patient of someone they knew and had a conflict with. The negative feelings that were triggered by this memory are one of the most important topics of therapy.

Classic psychoanalysis is a long and expensive process. Patients generally visit a psychoanalyst several times a week, sometimes for years.

Modern Psychoanalysis

Today, analysts have discarded some of the theory and techniques. Today’s psychoanalyst thinks that the relationship with the patient is very important, and healing comes from within that relationship. It is essential that the patient accept the dark parts of themselves, the parts that are hidden in the unconscious, or the non-conscious as it is referred to today. Therefore, it is essential that the analyst accept all of the dark parts of the person (Personal Communication, Lycia Alexander-Guerra, January 15, 2013).

In order to do this, the analyst does not maintain a blank slate, as a classic psychoanalyst would. Instead, today’s analyst would share their own reactions with the patient, while balancing the need to accept the patient. For example, they may say something like this, “Wow, you must be really angry, and I find myself reacting to that anger, but yet I will work to maintain a relationship with you in spite of my current feeling.” It is thought that to ignore or disregard a patient’s outburst will cause them to increase the behavior (Personal Communication, Lycia Alexander-Guerra, January 15, 2013).

Today’s psychoanalyst may also do “brief psychoanalysis”, which sounds like an oxymoron, given my previous statement regarding the duration of psychoanalysis. However, even psychoanalysis has to keep up with the demands of the insurance panels. Brief psychoanalysis still uses the same techniques as classic psychoanalysis, just in a shorter period of time.

Evidence Base

Other than case studies, there is no empirical evidence for this theory of counseling.

A Brief Word on Jung

Jung studied with Freud for several years, and then parted ways with him. Jung, like Freud, believed in the unconscious. However, one of the main differences is that in addition to a personal unconscious, Jung believed in a “collective unconscious.” From this collective unconscious arise various archetypes, which are common to all humanity. Although Jung was also deterministic in his theory, he added an element of spirituality.

This is but a brief writing on a very rich topic. It is not meant to be a complete presentation of the theory, but rather a discussion of elements that may be of particular interest. I encourage you to do further reading on the topic!

Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,

Barbara LoFrisco