Psychoanalysis can be described as a curative method based on complete verbalization of thoughts and free associations method in a context that will allow patients to overcome their repressed memories or thoughts.
We can say that psychoanalysis is a specific technique to investigate the mind. The novelty of Freud’s discoveries came with the acknowledgement of how important the unconscious processes were. He stated that they behave differently than conscious processes as the influence of this part of our mind can make us reach conflicting mental states.
Some of the characteristics of psychoanalysis are:
- it is a long term therapy method, even today despite the vast amount of short term therapies. Psychoanalysts believe that there is a need for a long term therapy as their method will modify the patient’s personality to be able to eliminate the symptoms completely;
- Psychoanalysis searches for the cause and it is not based on eliminating just the symptom;
- it is a non-directive type of psychotherapy;
- it uses specific methods;
- it explores transfer and counter-transfer;
Transference and Countertransference in Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is not just a strictly intellectual process where the patient talks and the therapist analyses, it is a relationship where affectivity plays an important role. This is why transfer is so important. At first Freud considered that transference can be an impediment during therapy but he later discovered that it is actually essential.
The patient transfers feelings towards the therapist, feelings that they may have for their brothers, sisters, mothers, etc.; it is considered to be a reenactment of a childhood relationship. Defined shortly, transference is unconscious redirection of feelings from one person to another. For example, a person could despise somebody who resembles in some way their ex-lover. During psychoanalytical therapy transference is explored, a method that is not used in other therapies. As transference often appears when there is an emotional connection, it can be an important concept in finding the cause for mental distress, so transfer is also stimulated during psychoanalysis.
This relationship is important for two reasons: it helps the therapist search for childhood models and identify particularities that define the patient’s relationships with the ones around them. This bond between the patient and therapist will help the patient overcome their resistances as the patient will feel the need to please the therapist, as they feel protected and supported.
Countertransference is also important, although it is quite a controversial term. It wasn’t discovered at the beginning of psychoanalysis. It can be defined as an unconscious affective reaction of the therapist in relation to their patient. During the 60’s countertransference started playing a big role during therapy.
Resistance is another concept used in this therapeutic approach and can be defined as a phenomenon when the patient completely disagrees with their therapist and fights back any type of interpretation. However, this is just a type of resistance that can be easily seen during therapy but it can manifest itself in other ways such as: being late or not coming at all to the therapy sessions, developing new symptoms, falling asleep during the psychotherapy session, or eventually, leaving the therapy process completely. Psychoanalysts believe that patients develop resistances because they cannot face what lies in their unconscious.
Also, there’s another approach on transference and countertransference that is offered in Adlerian psychotherapy. The patient’s transference is pointed out and explained as an obstacle to cooperation and improvement. On the other hand, experimenting countertransference would suggest that the therapist needs to continue their personal therapy and training to overcome such tendencies in the future.
The Psychoanalytical Space
The place and atmosphere where the therapy is conducted also plays an important role during psychoanalysis; those who still practice classic psychoanalysis choose to have a simple space with a couch, no paintings or decorative items, an armchair and a small table. Obviously, this is not the exact description as everybody chooses to decorate and design their office the way they want but it should give you some perspective on how a psychoanalyst’s office should look like.
The therapy is usually done with the patient lying on the couch and the therapist behind him; this helps the patient with their projections and verbalize things easier.