What is the difference between psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy?
They are more similar than different.
If the term psychoanalysis conjures up images of Viennese capes, monocles and Freudian consulting rooms replete with figurines and carpeted chaise, you are not far off, at least as far as the beginning of the school of psychoanalysis currently certified by the International and American Psychoanalytic Associations. But that beginning was before motor cars, and in 130 years psychoanalysis has diversified and evolved to a quantum degree.
In another way psychoanalysis could be said to have come full circle because Sigmund Freud was a neurologist before he developed psychoanalysis, and started with research on the brain. One hundred years later, brain science is what accounts for some of the most important breakthroughs in the practice of psychoanalysis today. Specifically, if not surprisingly, we now have incontrovertible proof that mind, unconscious psyche, personality, brain, and social relationships are inextricably tied.
From time to time people seek counseling or therapy having made up their mind that certain topics or approaches are off the table. Past-orientation is viewed as a waste of time, such as talking about childhood or background, versus focusing on skills and techniques to improve the situation for the now.
Yet brain science has demonstrated to us that relationships hard-wire our brains from womb onwards. We could say early relationships are formative to our brains and personalities but not deterministic. Being human makes us flexible and susceptible to literally millions of forms of input from childhood to death. Part of that flexibility is the myriad permutations of what the mind does with itself, including how and where it stores memories and feelings and experiences.
A core principle of psychoanalysis is the concept of the unconscious mind — where important things are stored in the brain but not easy to access.
Psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy are both treatments that work with unconscious aspects of the mind — aspects of personal functioning that are automatic – like the operating system on a computer – rather than explicitly conscious. Such aspects can include habits of interactions and ways of relating to people; persistent or recurring emotional states or themes; and self-esteem and challenges to it.
Understanding oneself at a deeper level, including seeing persistent or unsatisfying patterns in life — such as difficulties making a commitment, or habitual self-sabotage, or trying to cope with emotions that are hard to work with, can sometimes be the only way to release oneself from these patterns.
Key to this form of treatment is the psychotherapeutic or analytic relationship with a professional who is well-trained in this methodology. Techniques include using deep listening, free association, dream analysis, observation and interpretation of interpersonal process, and using the safe, confidential, and structured therapeutic relationship to explore and understand how one functions in the world.
The main difference between psychodynamic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis is the depth of work that is undertaken. Psychoanalysis may occur at a frequency of 3-5 hours a week, and may involve the use of a couch (yes, the chaise). The purpose of lying on a couch, facing away from the analyst, is to allow patients greater freedom and mental space to freely associate — to say what might come to mind, and to reflect on inner experience without self-consciousness. This method may take a little practice but has a track record in helping people do some of their deepest psychological work.
Dr. Wu is a certified psychoanalyst having graduated from the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, an affiliate of the American and International Psychoanalytic Societies. She practices psychoanalysis for patients strictly in her Boston office, but psychoanalytic principles and approach imbue all aspects of her work, including her executive coaching and organizational clients in Greater Boston and abroad.
Psychoanalysis Areas of Focus
Learn more about the types of referral problems that Dr. Wu treats and inform yourself about some of their common symptoms and underlying causes.
- Tackling Procrastination
- Drawing from Creativity
- Emerging from Anxiety
- Women in Leadership
- Improving Relationships