The ultimate goal of psychoanalytic treatment is to increase adaptive functioning, which involves the reduction of symptoms and the resolution of conflicts (Wolitzky, 2011a). Two goals of Freudian psychoanalytic therapy are to make the unconscious conscious and to strengthen the ego so that behavior is based more on reality and less on instinctual cravings or irrational guilt. Successful analysis is believed to result in significant modification of the individual’s personality and character structure. Therapeutic methods are used to bring out unconscious material. Then childhood experiences are reconstructed, discussed, interpreted, and analyzed. It is clear that the process is not limited to solving problems and learning new behaviors. Rather, there is a deeper probing into the past to develop the level of self-understanding that is assumed to be necessary for a change in character. Psychoanalytic therapy is oriented toward achieving insight, but not just an intellectual understanding; it is essential that the feelings and memories associated with this self-understanding be experienced.
Therapist’s Function and Role
In classical psychoanalysis, analysts typically assume an anonymous non- LO6 judgmental stance, which is sometimes called the “blank-screen” approach. They avoid self-disclosure and maintain a sense of neutrality to foster a transference relationship, in which their clients will make projections onto them. This transference relationship is a cornerstone of psychoanalysis and “refers to the transfer of feelings originally experienced in an early relationship to other important people in a person’s present environment” (Luborsky, O’Reilly-Landry, & Arlow, 2011, p. 18). If therapists say little about themselves and rarely share their personal reactions, the assumption is that whatever the client feels toward them will largely be the product of feelings associated with other significant figures from the past. These projections, which have their origins in unfinished and repressed situations, are considered “grist for the mill,” and their analysis is the very essence of therapeutic work.
One of the central functions of analysis is to help clients acquire the freedom to love, work, and play. Other functions include assisting clients in achieving selfawareness, honesty, and more effective personal relationships; in dealing with anxiety in a realistic way; and in gaining control over impulsive and irrational behavior. Establishing a therapeutic alliance is a primary treatment goal, and repairing any damaged alliance is essential if therapy is to progress (McWilliams, 2014). The empathic attunement to the client facilitates the analyst’s appreciation of the client’s intrapsychic world (Wolitzky, 2011b). Particular attention is given to the client’s resistances. The analyst listens in a respectful, open-minded way and decides when to make appropriate interpretations; tact and timing are essential for effective interpretations (McWilliams, 2014). A major function of interpretation is to accelerate the process of uncovering unconscious material. The psychoanalytic therapist pays attention to both what is spoken and what is unspoken, listens for gaps and inconsistencies in the client’s story, infers the meaning of reported dreams and free associations, and remains sensitive to clues concerning the client’s feelings toward the therapist.
Organizing these therapeutic processes within the context of understanding personality structure and psychodynamics enables the analyst to formulate the nature of the client’s problems. One of the central functions of the analyst is to teach clients the meaning of these processes (through interpretation) so that they are able to achieve insight into their problems, increase their awareness of ways to change, and thus gain more control over their lives. A primary aim of psychodynamic approaches is to foster the capacity of clients to solve their own problems.
The process of psychoanalytic therapy is somewhat like putting the pieces of a puzzle together. Whether clients change depends considerably more on their readiness to change than on the accuracy of the therapist’s interpretations. If the therapist pushes the client too rapidly or offers ill-timed interpretations, therapy will not be effective. Change occurs through the process of reworking old patterns so that clients might become freer to act in new ways (Luborsky et al., 2011).
Client’s Experience in Therapy
Clients interested in classical psychoanalysis must be willing to commit LO7 themselves to an intensive, long-term therapy process. After some face-to-face sessions with the analyst, clients lie on a couch and engage in free association; that is, they try to say whatever comes to mind without self-censorship. This process of free association is known as the “fundamental rule.” Clients report their feelings, experiences, associations, memories, and fantasies to the analyst. Lying on the couch encourages deep, uncensored reflections and reduces the stimuli that might interfere with getting in touch with internal conflicts and productions. It also reduces the ability of clients to “read” their analyst’s face for reactions, which fosters the projections characteristic of a transference.
The client in psychoanalysis experiences a unique relationship with the analyst. The client is free to express any idea or feeling, no matter how irresponsible, scandalous, politically incorrect, selfish, or infantile. The analyst remains nonjudgmental, listening carefully and asking questions and making interpretations as the analysis progresses. This structure encourages the client to loosen defense mechanisms and “regress,” experiencing a less rigid level of adjustment that allows for positive therapeutic growth but also involves some vulnerability. It is a responsibility of the analyst to keep the analytic situation safe for the client, so the analyst is not free to engage in spontaneous self-expression. Every intervention by the therapist is made to further the client’s progress. In classical analysis, therapeutic neutrality and anonymity are valued by the analyst, and holding a consistent setting or “frame” plays a large part in this analytic technique. Therapeutic change requires an extended period of “working through” old patterns in the safety of the therapeutic relationship.
Psychodynamic therapy emerged as a way of shortening and simplifying the lengthy process of classical psychoanalysis (Luborsky et al., 2011). Many psychoanalytically oriented practitioners, or psychodynamic therapists (as distinct from analysts), do not use all the techniques associated with classical analysis. However, psychodynamic therapists do remain alert to transference manifestations, explore the meaning of clients’ dreams, explore both the past and the present, offer interpretations for defenses and resistance, and are concerned with unconscious material. Traditional analytic therapists make more frequent interpretations of transferences and engage in fewer supportive interventions than do psychodynamic therapists (Wolitzky, 2011a).
Clients in psychoanalytic therapy make a commitment with the therapist to stick with the procedures of an intensive therapeutic process. They agree to talk because their verbal productions are the heart of psychoanalytic therapy. They are typically asked not to make any radical changes in their lifestyle during the period of analysis, such as getting a divorce or quitting their job. The reason for avoiding making such changes pertains to the therapeutic process that oftentimes is unsettling and also associated with loosening of defenses. These restrictions are less relevant to psychoanalytic psychotherapy than to classical psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy typically involves fewer sessions per week, the sessions are usually face to face, and the therapist is supportive; hence, there is less therapeutic “regression.”
Psychoanalytic clients are ready to terminate their sessions when they and their analyst mutually agree that they have resolved those symptoms and core conflicts that were amenable to resolution, have clarified and accepted their remaining emotional problems, have understood the historical roots of their difficulties, have mastery of core themes, have insight into how their environment affects them and how they affect the environment, have achieved reduced defensiveness, and can integrate their awareness of past problems with their present relationships. Wolitzky (2011a) lists other optimal criteria for termination, including the reduction of transference, accomplishing the main goals of therapy, an acceptance of the futility of certain strivings and childhood fantasies, an increased capacity for love and work, achieving more stable coping patterns, and a self-analytic capacity. Successful analysis answers a client’s “why” questions regarding his or her life. Curtis and Hirsch (2011) suggest that termination tends to bring up intense feelings of attachment, separation, and loss. Thus a termination date is set well enough in advance to talk about these feelings and about what the client learned in psychotherapy. Therapists assist clients in clarifying what they have done to bring about changes.