Woody Allen has famously been called the “poster child” of psychoanalysis. Ironic isn’t it that the comedian/filmmaker has become the recognized face of psychoanalysis? Well, perhaps not. Psychoanalysis -- what it is and what happens during sessions has historically been the butt of jokes in culture, film and literature. Here we tackle a few myths about what psychoanalysts and their patients actually do during sessions. We hope to dispel, elaborate, or corroborate those familiar myths. We invite your comments and the sharing of your own myths.
Psychoanalysts encourage patients to re-hash their troubled childhoods over and over
While analysts do encourage exploration of the patient’s experiences in childhood, parental and family relationships, cultural background, and traumas, they are not the exclusive focus of attention. What all analysts share in common is a profound respect for the unconscious: the contents of mind that operate out of awareness but influence and direct our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationships. It is usually problems and disturbing patterns in these areas that bring people to treatment.
Analysts help patients become acquainted with the unconscious so as to have more freedom to make choices about their lives. Talking about childhood experiences and parents is one route to uncovering the invisible influences. But also, we examine how the patient functions in the world today and the perennial obstacles that stanglehold the person from achieving goals. Tuning into what is going on in the mind, body, and action in the present moment is a valuable source of information. Recent dreams, fantasies, everyday actions and reactions provide rich clues to where difficulties originate.
One of the most powerful ways the unconscious is revealed is in the very current, very alive relationship of analyst and patient. Once trust has been established, analysts invite the patient to collaborate on how the dynamics evolving between them may replicate difficulties in other relationships. The therapy room becomes an “in vivo” laboratory for the study of the unconscious with the goal of untangling the patient from past and present constraints.
Sally Rudoy, LCSW