Psychoanalysis is, first and foremost, a theory of human potential. It offers an elaboration of the premise that people are more than they believe themselves to be, and it offers a method for allowing people to become more fully who they are. Its aim is to nurture the growth of individuals as whole people. Although this process is time-consuming and labor-intensive, research has repeatedly shown that the treatment of psychological distress – depression, anxiety, relationship difficulties, and the like — through psychoanalysis/psychoanalytically-oriented psychotherapy is generally more successful, robust and personally meaningful than treatment by other methods.
Some of the guiding ideas of psychoanalysis — the importance of the process of development; the presence and workings of the unconscious; the expressive power of dreams; the contributions of fantasy and creativity — were first explored and systematized, if not exactly discovered, a hundred years ago by Sigmund Freud. Insights about the ways in which people distance themselves from painful thoughts and feelings, repeat old relationship patterns, and prevent themselves from fulfilling their desires and ambitions, form the cornerstones of psychoanalytic theory and practice to this day. Other theorists and mental health workers, intrigued by Freud’s ideas, have created modifications and extensions of the original theory, each emphasizing a different modification of the original ideas. Current psychoanalysis is a lively amalgam of theory, research and practice that is becoming more complex, deep, and effective with each passing year.
Psychoanalysis is different from other forms of psychotherapy on the basis, among other parameters, of the training of its practitioners, the frequency of sessions, and the use of the couch. To undertake a psychoanalysis requires a significant time commitment from both analyst and analysand (patient). Most psychoanalysts also work with individuals in psychotherapy, guided by the same principles but with less investment of time and expense. Many analysands begin their treatments in psychotherapy and shift into psychoanalysis as they begin to see both the benefits and limitations of their original treatment arrangements.