How does individual psychoanalytic psychotherapy differ from other kinds of therapy?

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy is a talking treatment. It does not promise immediate solutions, or make problems go away. It helps you think about and make sense of your emotions, thoughts, and actions. It enables you to arrive at your own understanding and work out your own solutions. It is a deeply individual process. Developing a capacity to think about yourself and your difficulties in this way means you become better equipped to deal with problems or setbacks that you will encounter in the future. You develop more emotional robustness and resilience.

Some therapies focus on managing symptoms and work consciously at changing your thinking. However, psychoanalytic psychotherapy focusses not just on your immediate problems, but is also concerned with addressing the feelings, conflicts and dynamics which underlie your symptoms, and understanding how and why they have come about. Unlike counselling and most therapies, a psychoanalytic approach takes account of, and works with the unconscious processes that can undermine our best efforts at helping ourselves.

In individual therapy, I do not usually direct or structure the sessions. I prefer to invite you to talk about whatever is on your mind. This may feel uncomfortable at first as it’s not something we are used to doing in our daily lives. However, it allows the underlying issues and emotions to come to the surface for us to think about together. Some people find it helpful to lie on the analytic couch, feeling it enables them to focus better on their internal world. Others prefer to sit face to face with me.
We can work with dreams if they are puzzle or disturb you, and if you find this helpful.

There is more focus on the therapeutic relationship than in other kinds of therapy. Historical problems you have had with the important people in your life tend to get re-enacted in your subsequent relationships. This is likely to happen to a greater or lesser extent with your therapist too. By noticing what happens in the therapeutic relationship, we can better understand, and therefore work on, the difficulties you have in other relationships and other areas of your life.

The psychoanalytic therapist does not usually give advice, or make specific recommendations about how you ought to manage your life or solve your problems. I prefer to help you think about and understand what is preventing you from tackling your difficulties and managing your life in a way that feels satisfying to you.

I am not a silent therapist – I ask questions to clarify matters, and offer you my observations about what you tell me. I will help you if you get stuck. I will also point out if I think something important is being avoided, although it is up to you what you choose to discuss and explore.

Sessions are held at the same time, on the same day each week. I start and end sessions on time. I do not talk about myself or make physical contact with those who come to see me. This might seem rather formal at times, especially in the early stages of therapy. However, providing very clear boundaries in this way helps to create a safe containing therapeutic environment in which the most difficult, upsetting and frightening things can be safely addressed. I do not use hypnosis.

I don’t take notes during sessions, because I like to listen to you carefully without distraction. No homework is set between sessions, although I may encourage you to think about what we discuss.

Where difficulties have built up over many years, psychoanalytic psychotherapy can offer you a longer term relationship that works at depth to bring about lasting change. It is a process of development and change from the inside, promoting emotional growth and maturation, which becomes part and parcel of you, and which you will always have within you.