In the most basic sense, Psychoanalysis is the theory of the mind. It seeks to understand how human consciousness works and alleviate suffering by bringing motivations and thoughts from the unconscious mind to the conscious. Psychoanalysis, therefore, provides relief through insight and understanding. This allows a person to deal with the underlying issues that are causing the symptoms, as opposed to tackling the symptoms themselves. Depression, Anxiety, and other symptoms can be caused by hidden disturbances, these disturbances could be related to a traumatic event that a person has repressed, or even by unresolved issues.
Human defense mechanisms protect the conscious mind from disturbing memories, thoughts, and feelings. One such defense mechanism is “Repression” where disturbing memories are banished to the unconscious mind. Although banished, these memories are not resolved and can continue to create feelings of anxiety. Another defense mechanism is “Displacement”, this mechanism is usually employed to redirect aggressive impulses from a person who holds a form of authority over you (such as your employer or supervisor) to a target who is powerless to stand up to your aggression. For example, a person who feels they are being treated unfairly at work may take it out on their partner when they get home.
Psychoanalysis works by allowing a person to understand why they are feeling a particular way, or behaving in a certain manner towards another person. It is not hard to imagine the problems that redirected aggression could cause within a family, but consider that defense mechanisms are a non-voluntary response and that they are not controlled by our conscious mind, symptoms, therefore, occur without our conscious mind becoming aware of the underlying causation.
The Psychoanalytical Process
Rather than seeking to relieve symptoms, psychoanalysis seeks to address causation, and identify the underlying conflict. Psychoanalysts will generally avoid disclosing any information about themselves since doing so could create barriers which hinder the psychoanalytical process. Psychoanalysis is by no means a “quick fix”, and can often involve hundreds of sessions over a number of years. Because the unconscious mind is largely inaccessible, psychoanalysts utilize a number of techniques to encourage insight regarding underlying causation.
Psychoanalysts utilize a number of techniques in order to gain insight into the unconscious mind, including “Free Association”. This technique involves the psychoanalyst saying a word, and the patient responding with whatever the phrase brought to mind. Often the process provides an indication of repressed memories, and reluctance to respond often signals that the analyst is probing close to a repressed idea. The success of this technique is, however, wholly dependent on the client providing open responses.
Another technique used by psychoanalysts is Rorschach inkblots, the client is shown a series of ambiguous shapes or patterns and asked to respond as to what they see. This technique is often referred to as a projective test, because since the pattern being shown is ambiguous, and the imagination facilitates communication between the conscious and unconscious mind; any interpretation of its shape must, therefore, by definition, be projected from the unconscious mind.