Psychoanalysis is a method that helps people to learn about themselves and to make substantive and lasting changes. Psychoanalysis is extremely pragmatic because it is the analysis of the unconscious: it is not just a reflection about life; it is the essence of life.
Thus, psychoanalysis is indicated not only to overcome a momentary symptom, or to solve a problem. It is an intellectual, cultural and artistic journey that can help people to transform their weaknesses into strengths, toward a higher quality of life.
How does it work?
Psychoanalysis was invented by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud You may have heard of terms such as:
- dream analysis
- defense mechanisms
However, psychoanalysis is a practice and not just a sum of concepts. At the very beginning, one of Freud’s first patients described psychoanalysis as a “talking cure”, as simple as that. This definition is striking in its simplicity. However, it also implies that talking is effective only when there is also listening.
Hearing and listening
Today, we have a vast array of “talking cures”, but what differentiates psychoanalysis from any other psychotherapeutic or counselling approach is a particular and distinctive listening. In everyday life we probably hear many things, but very seldom we listen. We want to comprehend quickly; we are not able to pose questions, though we want answers. We have no time to waste, so we want shortcuts. As a result, symptoms (psychic or physical) are messages that remained unheard and “un-listened”. A symptom in psychoanalysis is not a disease to be cured (as in medicine), a cognitive error, or a maladaptive schema to be corrected; instead, it is an important resource, it literally says something about us. Thus, it is worth listening to.
Listening in psychoanalysis
In psychoanalysis we consider that most of the relevant material of analysis is unconscious. Thus, the process of the analysis is to produce such knowledge that is initially unknown to the speaker. So, psychoanalysis is not listening to others (it is not pedagogy); quite on the contrary, psychoanalysis aims to listen to the big “Other” in us, to that which is unconscious.
Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy: like sculpture and painting
For Freud, psychoanalysis is like sculpture, whereas other therapeutic approaches are more similar to painting:
“Sculpture, however, proceeds per via di levare, since it takes away from the block of stone all that hides the surface of the statue contained in it. In a similar way, the technique of suggestion aims at proceeding per via di porre; it is not concerned with the origin, strength and meaning of the morbid symptoms, but instead, it superimposes something - a suggestion - in the expectation that it will be strong enough to restrain the pathogenic idea from coming to expression. Analytic therapy, on the other hand, does not seek to add or to introduce anything new, but to take away something, to bring out something” (Freud, 1905, pp. 260-261).
Just as the painter applies colour and the sculptor takes something away, the technique of suggestion superimposes something, whereas the psychoanalytic method attempts to lift or take something off - ideally without introducing anything new.
Psychoanalysis is non-judgmental
Unlike many other psychotherapies, psychoanalysis is not a worldview; it does not propose a better or a “more right” conception of the world or set of values. Psychoanalysis is a method of investigation, rather than a system of thought. And also for this reason psychoanalysis is non-judgmental, because goal of the analysis is not to give meaning to what is said, but instead to break up preconceived meanings and (like in dreams) to uncover that other possible scene that lies behind the intended, manifest meaning. Psychoanalysis is not an effort of normalization but rather a process of discovery and invention.