Mihaela Bernard, MA, LCPC
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As we enter into the new year and make our resolutions, I wanted to go back to the beginning and answer the question, “Are you a good candidate for psychoanalytic treatment?”

Whether you’ve never been in any form of psychotherapy before or you can call yourself a therapy veteran, by the end of this post I hope that you’ll be able to answer the question, “Is psychoanalysis right for me?”

Not everyone is a good candidate for psychoanalytic treatment. Some people are looking for symptom relief – they just want to be rid of what’s happening in their body, i.e. the symptom of anxiety, insomnia, difficulties focusing, depression, whatever the case may be. This is typically done through medication that is prescribed by the treating psychiatrist. Many forms of psychotherapy also fall under this category.

In psychoanalysis, however, we look at these reoccurring psychiatric symptoms as manifestations of the unconscious in the body. Simply, what cannot be expressed through language finds its way into the organism in the form of a physical, behavioral or psychosomatic complaint – “I can’t sleep at night,” “I can’t focus,” “I have difficulties with relationships,” etc.

To enter into the psychoanalytic journey of self-exploration, individuals need to be prepared to take responsibility for what is happening in their body, thus accepting the existence of the unconscious mind.

Rather than trying to find an outside solution to an internal problem, people who are good candidates for psychoanalytic treatment want to find the answers within themselves.

When you think about it, this isn’t such a bad thing after all – to take responsibility for your psychological state of mind means that you have control over it, which in turn means that you can change it if you choose to do so.

Why do I say, “if you choose to do so?” Because, in psychoanalysis we don’t necessarily assume that the person undergoing psychoanalysis is going to change. In fact, change is not our primary goal in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, which is why we don’t typically give homework assignments, teach techniques, or pursue goals. It’s understanding that we are after in psychoanalysis.

It usually happens that people do change as a result of the psychoanalytic treatment, however, sometimes, they choose not to. They gain a certain awareness and understanding of their symptoms, take responsibility for them. and may even continue the same patterns. The difference is that it becomes a conscious process as opposed to an unconscious one.

Yet, the symptoms that originally brought the person to treatment usually disappear as the individual no longer “needs” them. I say “need” because in psychoanalysis, we believe that the symptom is a form of coping mechanism, a defensive strategy, or a survival tactic created by the unconscious as a solution to a problem that is otherwise too overwhelming, painful or threatening to handle.

Which is another reason why we don’t always want to get rid of the symptom; we welcome it as a form of communication from the unconscious. We listen to what people say in psychoanalytic psychotherapy with a different set of ears, trained by our own experience of listening to our own unconscious in psychoanalysis.

So, the question that we ask prospective clients during the initial sessions is what is it that they are hoping to get out of the treatment. And the answer that we are looking for in the majority of cases is the desire to know what within themselves is causing them to be the way they are. And then the journey begins…