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What to expect from a psychoanalyst?

Updated: Jan 9, 2023

Psychoanalysis is centrally a response to human suffering. A person will often ask for analytic treatment of their suffering as one of the forms of a symptom that will not necessarily resolve as the work proceeds. On the other hand, what happens to suffering in psychoanalysis is that the person is eventually able to tolerate the associated anxiety more than they could in the beginning. There is a transformation of suffering as it takes on a different quality with the recognition that a kernel of suffering is part of the nature of the human condition. Psychoanalysis does not promise freedom from unhappiness, but it does lean towards the potential for less suffering and knowing something more about why we suffer.

Psychoanalysis derives from the tradition begun by Sigmund Freud, over a century ago, that has been taken in different directions by practitioners such as Jacques Lacan and others. The analyst’s position differs according to the particular school of psychoanalysts he or she belongs. The analytic relationship is a relationship between two people: the analyst, and the analysand or patient. Each has a different position within the structure of the analysis. In the Freudian tradition, the analyst is there to listen in a particular way. Two terms used to characterise the analytic work in the context of this listening are: transference and interpretation. Transference can be understood as a complex relation between absence and presence. An analyst’s interventions are aimed at the deciphering of the transference and unconscious formations, and at provoking the deconstruction and reconstruction of the analysands productions.

Each psychoanalyst may practice differently but there are a few basic elements in psychoanalysis that are likely to be similar. A psychoanalysts practice will depend on their orientation and training that influences the way they work with patients. However, there is no standard practice of psychoanalysis; it cannot be taught from a manual or by passing an exam. The regulation of training by quantification of its procedures and content is somewhat arbitrary, and bears only a pragmatic relation to the definition of psychoanalysis or the psychoanalyst. It is important to note that in many places, anyone who practices therapy can claim they practice psychoanalysis because the term is not legally protected. It is incumbent on the person to check out the analyst’s background and credentials to see if they have undergone extensive post-graduate work in the discipline. It’s also important to understand that psychoanalysts, therapists and counsellors are not the same things at all.

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