Psychoanalysis is a form of psychotherapy based on understanding the unconscious mental processes that determine a person’s thoughts, actions, and feelings. Therapy helps to identify and relate these unconscious processes to a person and to any psychological or physical issues they may be experiencing.

While some mental health professionals consider psychoanalysis to be a viable treatment for a variety of mental health issues, many experts don’t see psychoanalysis as a direct cure for depression or other conditions. Instead, it’s meant to provide:

  • relief from symptoms
  • greater self-awareness of actions and decisions
  • a broader scope with which you can self-observe and correct the problem at hand

Through careful observation of particular patterns, you and your therapist can trace the source of a behavior or feeling back to the moment of origin and provide you with perspective on your current situation.

A trained psychoanalyst works with the idea that human beings are largely unaware of the factors that lead them to a particular behavior or feeling. The psychoanalyst uses talk therapy to explore thought patterns, reactions, and feelings. Once the unconscious mental material is brought forward in discussion, you will have better control over your emotions and behaviors.

Psychoanalysis is one of the most intensive forms of treatment in terms of time and financial commitment. It usually requires years for you and your analyst to reach a point where patterns can be identified and observed. In traditional psychoanalysis, a person meets with a psychoanalyst three to five times a week for an average of 45 minutes per visit.

Psychoanalysis can be used to treat many conditions, including:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • obsessive compulsive tendencies

Other issues psychoanalysis can help treat include:

  • feelings of isolation
  • severe shifts in mood or self-esteem
  • sexual difficulties
  • unhappiness in work, home, or love life
  • interpersonal relationship issues
  • an overwhelming sense of helplessness
  • difficulty concentrating on assignments or day-to-day activities
  • excessive worrying
  • self-destructive behavior, including drug and alcohol abuse

In most traditional psychoanalysis treatments, you will lie on a couch while your therapist sits behind the couch, where both of you can’t make eye contact. To reach a more intimate level of discussion and discovery, your therapist may use one or more of the following psychoanalytical techniques:

Free association

You will talk freely about whatever enters your mind without censoring or editing the flow of thoughts and feelings. This method allows you to regress, or return to a more childlike emotional state, so that both you and your analyst can identify the source of an issue and forge a better therapeutic relationship.


Your psychoanalyst may insert themselves into the session by commenting on a memory you share or to encourage further exploration and more in-depth information.

Therapist neutrality

In this technique, your therapist remains neutral, to keep you focused. Your analyst will avoid inserting themselves into the discussion to prevent distracting you with their reactions or feelings.


If the relationship between you and your analyst is well-established, you may begin to transfer thoughts or feelings connected with another person, often your sibling, spouse, or other significant figure in your life, to your therapist. Transference allows you and your therapist to discuss perceptions and interpretations you may have of other people.

Working through

This type of psychoanalysis is often a secondary technique. It’s used to bring awareness to the source of an issue and then “test” you and your reaction to it. Over time, this technique allows you to make changes to your life to gain control over reactions and conflicts.

Psychoanalysis is used to identify and treat many issues and conditions, and uses many different techniques. Although it can be a long process, psychotherapy will help you identify and understand your unconscious mental processes to help treat a specific issue or condition. It will help you understand yourself and your thought patterns, feelings, and emotions better, so that you can live a healthy and fulfilling life.

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
  • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.

If you think someone is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

Sources: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration