Here is another installment in our look at a few common myths about what psychoanalysts and their patients actually do during sessions. We invite your comments and the sharing of your own myths.
Will I have to spend all my time in a psychoanalytic therapy talking about sex?
Your question reflects two concerns you might have about psychoanalysis. One is that you will “have to” do something that you may not want to do – in this case talking about a subject that your analyst feels is most important. The second is the concern that your sex life will be the focal point of inquiry.
Tackling concern one: Many people new to analysis imagine their therapist will be an authority figure who will set the agenda for what is discussed. Many worry that they will be criticized, judged, or made to feel embarrassed. Although an expert in human psychology, the analyst’s view of the therapy process is collaborative and accepting. The analyst creates a climate where what is most meaningful and salient to the patient can be explored in a manner that is safe and respectful.
Concern two addresses the stereotype that psychoanalysts believe that sex is at the root of all problems. During the repressed Victorian era when Freud was developing psychoanalysis, he indeed encountered many patients with debilitating symptoms related to sex. He called sexual energy, libido -- a drive from the most unruly, uncivilized parts of ourselves.
Over time, with the benefit of many years of study and clinical evidence, analysts have also observed other causes for emotional difficulties such as ingrained patterns of being in relationships, vestiges of traumas, cultural and environmental influences, and individual genetic and body endowments. All of these and more are possible topics of discussion in an analytic therapy.
The thought that sexual matters may be discussed can be anxiety provoking. However, reflecting on the role of sex in one’s life is important. An essential aspect of the human experience, sex impacts our perception of ourselves, our relationship with others, and the choices we make in all arenas of life. So, analysts will invite you, when appropriate, to talk about sex. To never talk about it would be to bypass understanding yourself fully and omit tapping into a resource for happiness and positive change. Psychoanalytic therapists provide the confidential, private, and safe space for such exploration.
Sally Rudoy, LCSW