What is Psychoanalysis?

Many things. And yet I’ve heard some complain that therapy, particularly psychoanalysis, is like constantly picking at one’s wounds, that it continues to drudge up the past, providing a lattice on which to hang blame toward everyone else instead of taking responsibility for one’s own life.

This is an unfortunate misconception about what’s going as one works session after session with an analyst. Matthew Paymar’s description is much closer to my experience: “Over time, old patterns of thinking and behavior become more easily recognizable, the consequences of those patterns well known, the meanings of the repetitions understood, the anxieties about change managed, and new possibilities of being in the world are played with, practiced, and lived. Ultimately, the primary goal of therapy is to develop the courage to function more independently and confidently in all aspects of life. In reality, effective therapy does just the opposite. Therapy liberates one from the past. It releases one from a history of reflexively responding to echoes from one’s past as though they were still present. It allows one to develop what the psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein, calls, ‘a mind of one’s own.'”

Bion (1993) conceives the work of analysis from a different angle and calls our attention to those aspects that are beyond knowledge, particularly scientific knowledge. He writes that, “However thorough an analysis is, the person undergoing it will be only partially revealed; at any point in the analysis the proportion of what is known to what is unknown is small. Therefore the dominant feature of a session is the unknown personality and not what the analysand or analyst thinks he knows” (p. 87).

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