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Psychotherapy in the Washington, DC metro area


Psychoanalysis, Psychotherapy and Counseling

What's the Difference?

There are many, if not hundreds, of approaches to treating emotional distress. Psychotherapists may utilize one or more of them, or a combination of approaches, depending on the individual. For example, the psychodynamic approaches explore the unconscious and its influence on behavior and development of personality. Cognitive behavioral approaches posit that emotional disturbances are caused by how we interpret and think about situations and events. Family systems therapy holds that symptoms of emotional distress are really expressions of family dysfunctions.

Individuals experiencing relationship problems, job dissatisfaction, bereavement, depression, anxiety and many other forms of distress may benefit from one or more of these psychotherapeutic approaches.

However, there are also individuals for whom psychotherapy isn't enough: they seek an approach that gives them a deeper understanding of themselves.

Psychoanalysis is the deepest and most intensive form of psychotherapy.

The Goal of Analysis

Like psychotherapy, psychoanalysis is concerned with easing suffering and clarifying emotional confusion. However, the goal of psychoanalytic work is not simply solving problems or coping with psychological crisis. Analysis intends to help individuals develop a deeper understanding and acceptance of themselves and to help people become mature, well-functioning human beings with a renewed sense of their own individual path in life—in effect to become the best ”me“ possible. The process involves not only the healing of psychic wounds, but the uncovering of the unconscious blocks that prevent emotional growth and the realization of creative potential. The aim is not perfection but wholeness.

Although most people enter analysis because of a serious dissatisfaction with some aspect of their lives, many people who enter analysis are basically healthy individuals who desire to lead richer lives by ”going deeper“ into themselves to find life's greater meaning. Analysis is about becoming conscious of who you are by establishing a dialogue with your unconscious mind. This dialogue takes place through an interaction with your dreams, fantasies, bodily sensations, and feelings. When the soil of one's unconscious life is loosened, beneficial changes often begin to unfold. Therefore, analysis is a kind of ”inner work,“ sometimes more like a spiritual path than psychological treatment.

Psychoanalysis emphasizes the importance of unconscious influences on one's current emotional state which interfere with living a full and satisfying life. Analysis is a joint effort by two people to try to understand the impact of these unconscious influences on behavior, relationships, and feelings. Because these forces are unconscious, the advice of friends or family, the reading of self-help books, or even the most determined exertion of willpower, often fails to provide relief. The role of the psychoanalyst is to help the analysand (i.e., the client) understand himself or herself, especially the unrecognized or unacknowledged aspects of personality.

What happens in analysis?

Psychoanalysis is a highly individualized process that relies on the analysand's innate potential for growth, and the analytic setting is specifically designed to encourage exploration of the deeper areas of the mind. Unlike some other therapies, the analyst doesn't set the agenda for the sessions and doesn't decide which issues the analysand is supposed to discuss. Analysands are encouraged to speak freely about whatever is on their mind without censoring their thoughts or feelings. For example, analysands might speak about dreams, fantasies, important daily events, significant interactions, feeling about themselves, events from the past, of feeling about the analyst. The analysand and analyst work together to understand the analysand's reactions to these experiences. As the analysand speaks, hints of the unconscious sources of current difficulties begin to make themselves clear and important patterns of meaning gradually emerge. Contrary to popular impression, analysis is not preoccupied with the past. Memories from earlier parts of one's life are only used to understand one's reactions to the present moment. This integration of the past and the present is part of the holistic growth associated with psychoanalysis.

In analysis the analysand-analyst relationship is an important part of the treatment. Sometimes people are nervous about going to see an analyst because they feel they will reveal aspects of themselves that feel very private, but the analytic relationship allows this to take place in an atmosphere of emerging trust; an atmosphere in which difficult, painful experiences can be safely explored and understood. The therapeutic relationship provides a unique opportunity to understand one's emotional reactions by exploring the feelings that come up in the therapeutic partnership. Through this exploration the patient becomes more aware of how unconscious patterns influence interpersonal relationships.

Continuity in treatment is essential to developing the therapeutic relationship required for this kind of self-exploration. Typically the analysand and analyst meet on a weekly basis. Occasionally, more frequent sessions are helpful. When this is the case, people often have the impression that coming more frequently means they are more ”sick.“ However, this is not the case. When mutually agreed upon, the higher frequency of sessions is used to ”intensify“ the experience of analysis and allow the analysand to delve deeper into his or her emotional life.

How long will the analysis last?

It is very difficult to say at the outset how long an analysis may last as this will relate uniquely to the individual and his or her particular needs and aims. It is a process that develops at its own pace. Sometimes what may seem like a limited difficulty may turn out have wider implications—for example, difficulties following a bereavement may bring up wider issues about loss and relationships.

Ending analysis

It is always the individual's decision when to finish analysis—when they have resolved the issues they wanted to resolve, or have done what feels possible or practicable at the time. The analysand discusses this with the analyst. A suitable period for ending can then be decided upon—time enough to think about the individual's situation, to consider the forthcoming ending, and to bring the analytic relationship to a close.

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. The latter procedure, however, is disagreable and therefore not popular.
—C.G. Jung, CW 13, Para. 335
By Robert Sheavly

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