What Is Psychoanalysis And How Can It Benefit Me?

Updated April 15, 2024by MyTherapist Editorial Team
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You've probably heard of psychoanalysis, but you may not know precisely what it is. It's one of the oldest forms of modern psychology, first popularized by Sigmund Freud, and it's still used today. This article will explain what psychoanalysis is and how it can help you in the modern world.

What is psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis is therapy and theory based on the unconscious mind. Psychoanalysis aims to pull repressed fears and conflicts to the conscious mind so they can be treated. Some techniques used in psychoanalysis include dream interpretation and free association. Sigmund Freud first adopted psychoanalysis at the end of the 19th century, and it has evolved since then. Let's look at some of the components of psychoanalysis.

The unconscious mind

A comparison that's cliché yet perfectly describes the unconscious mind is to compare it to an iceberg. The tip of the iceberg coming out of the water is big and noticeable, and this is your conscious mind, including your feelings, desires, and other beliefs that are observable. However, under the water is an unseen—and even larger—part of the iceberg, the unconscious mind, containing feelings, beliefs, traits, memories, and other thoughts that are not in the conscious mind. Despite not being observable under most circumstances, the unconscious mind is the puppet master, greatly affecting how you act and think.

Freud believed that the unconscious exists because if it were conscious, it would threaten or damage you. For example, some trauma may be unconscious, and if you remembered it, it could hurt you.

How the unconscious becomes the conscious

There are many ways that the unconscious can slip into the conscious. Sometimes, it comes through dreams. Other times, it comes through slips of the tongue. For example, sexual desires are often expressed through slips of the tongue.

Other times, psychoanalysis is the key to getting the unconscious mind out in the open. One technique Freud developed is free association.


Free association involves the patient sitting down and telling the therapist anything that comes to their mind. The patient should not leave any thought censored and instead share all their thoughts with the therapist. This allows the therapist to see how the patient thinks. The point isn't to judge the thoughts, but instead, be curious and figure out the person's desires.

It's very free-form, and neither party knows how it will go. Often, the therapist will link together different themes based on the thoughts and make assumptions about the patient's unconscious desires. However, the main goal is for the patient to discover themselves and learn more about what makes them tick.

Terms related to psychoanalysis 

Psychoanalysis is made up of many different beliefs that guide the techniques. The following are all ideas related to psychoanalysis.

Forgotten childhood

Those who practice psychoanalysis believe that a person's traits and personality are inherited and that what happens in their early childhood affects them throughout their life. These events that occur in early childhood are often forgotten but can change someone's personality for better or worse. Every little incident you have as a child may shape you.

The unconscious

The unconscious mind brings out many of the behaviors that we have. Many of your personality traits may be due to unconscious desires that are hard to put a finger on. You may want to understand your personaity better by reading about .


When you try to bring the unconscious into the conscious, there is going to be resistance. These unconscious thoughts may come in the form of repressed memories. Learn more about this by reading about repression psychology.

A conscious and unconscious clash

Whenever you are experiencing conflicts between your conscious and unconscious mind, it may result in side effects such as depression or anxiety.

Subtle revelations

There are some ways you can see your unconscious. This may be through dreams, slips of the tongue, or fleeting memories, among other behaviors you cannot explain.


According to psychoanalysis, you can liberate yourself by bringing the unconscious to the front of your mind before using therapy to resolve your unconscious desires and memories.


Transference is referred to as the main centerpiece of psychoanalysis, and for a good reason. This happens when the client starts projecting their feelings about someone else onto the therapist. It's quite common in therapy, and it can come in the form of positive experiences, negative experiences, or even sexual feelings, such as falling in love with the therapist.

Transference may be a conflict in therapy, but it can also enhance the experience. Let's look at the three forms of transference.

  • Positive transference involves taking the good parts of your relationships with your therapist. For example, you may treat your therapist as a good friend and think of them as that one friend who always listened to you no matter what.
  • Negative transference involves taking negative emotions and putting them on the therapist. For example, you may think of your therapist as that one nagging teacher or some other authority figure who doesn't get you.
  • Sexualized transference is quite interesting. You start feeling attracted to your therapist, be it sexual or romantic. You may transfer your feelings about your therapist from someone else you love.

There is one other form of transference called countertransference. This is when the therapist projects their feelings to the client. The therapist has their struggles, too, and countertransference could be the result of that.

If you feel like you're experiencing transference, you should discuss it with the therapist. It can be embarrassing to admit, but it must be done to help you progress with your therapy.

How a session works

When you go to a psychoanalytic session, you may go a few times a week for about an hour. The psychoanalysis office visit often matches the stereotype of the patient lying on a couch and talking to the therapist, who is usually out of sight.

What it can treat

Psychoanalysis can treat many problems, and it's good for a variety of situations. These include:

  • Anxiety and depression. While severe depression may require more intense treatments, there may be an unconscious reason why you feel so anxious or depressed. By talking to a therapist, you can get to the bottom of it.
  • Phobias. Sometimes, your phobias may come from an incident as a child, and you may not remember. Psychoanalysis can figure out the reason for your phobia, and you can learn how to overcome it.
  • Self-esteem issues. There may be an unconscious memory in your childhood that caused low self-esteem. From your parents harshly criticizing you to someone insulting you, there are a few reasons why you may have low self-esteem.
  • Trauma. Trauma can come in many ways. It doesn't necessarily have to be something big. For example, falling and hurting yourself when you're very young could be an unconscious trauma. A therapist gets to the bottom of your traumas and teaches you how you can move past them.
  • Relationship troubles. Everyone can have a marriage problem or family issue, and there may be an unconscious reason for this. From an old argument to an issue you had as a child, the therapist will help you bring these reasons to the forefront of your mind and allow you to get closure.
  • Self-destructive behaviors. These include addictions, unneeded risks, and other behaviors that don't have many advantages. Figuring out what these self-destructive behaviors are caused by can help you to improve your life.
  • Sexual frustrations. Sex is more complicated than you would think, and sexual frustration may be rooted in unconscious feelings.
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Effectiveness of psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is one of the oldest forms of therapy, making it quite controversial when used today. Freud was an influential figure in psychology, but many of his theories have little use in modern psychology. Since the late 1800s, there have been significant advancements in how the mind is studied and how we treat mental disorders. This has brought into question how useful psychoanalysis is today. Some places treat it as a relic, while others still study and use it.

There's no doubt that many mental disorders require more treatment than a dive into the unconscious. Severe depression may require a variety of treatments to see results. Meanwhile, not everyone has had trauma as a child. This, along with how lengthy psychoanalysis can be, makes people think that psychoanalysis is no longer needed.

Psychoanalysis can still be effective today, but it may require an assist from modern science and a new understanding of the mind. If you're looking to be treated for a mental health concern, psychoanalysis is just one form of treatment you can consider. It may work for you, or you may find that you need something else.


Finding a therapist can change your life for the better. While you may believe that you can talk your problems out yourself, you may have underlying issues that can only be brought to the forefront by a professional. Give therapy a try, and you may be surprised by the results.

Many individuals have decided that online therapy is the best way to work on their mental health. Online therapy can be both convenient and affordable, when compared to more traditional in-person therapy. So many of us are too busy to find time to go to a physical location for help but can make time when the help can be received at home.

BetterHelp is an online therapy platform offering access to a wide range of licensed therapists. After being matched with a therapist qualified to help with your situation, you can talk via chat, telephone, or video call. You don't need to work through your problems alone—BetterHelp is here to support you.

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