Psychotherapy and psychoanalysis are change processes whose aim is integration—healing, or making whole. An effective psychotherapy looks at the totality of the individual’s personality: emotions, behavior, habits of interaction and relationship, self-history, personal history, and how they put together their own story. Does someone feel happy and generous sometimes, often or rarely? Resentful and picked on? Strong in defending others but unable to stand up for themselves? Do they feel good about themselves? Or do they have to prove themselves all the time? In short, psychology is about the entirety of a person’s functioning: outside in the world and how they are viewed, and inside themselves and how they feel and how they view themselves.
People usually come to psychotherapy because something doesn’t feel right. It could be a barely discernible niggling feeling that things could be better, or it could be a full-blown war zone just to get through the day. Sometimes people feel that they should be “normal” and certainly don’t need to “get help,” yet notice over time, perhaps years or decades, that certain patterns in their lives recur in ways that leave them short of fulfillment and satisfaction. Unmet goals and unfulfilled potentials don’t stop the train but they really want more for themselves — just not sure how to get it.
Dr. Wu has practiced psychotherapy for over two decades and consulted to or treated many thousands of patients — adults and children — in her private practice office in Boston, and in major medical center hospitals such as the Massachusetts General Hospital and Northwestern’s Institute of Psychiatry. She also taught generations of physicians training to become psychiatrists at medical schools such as at Harvard and Tufts.
In one of the kinds of psychotherapy she specializes in, called psychodynamic psychotherapy, there is a core assumption that a person’s mind and personality are strongly influenced by relationships, both in present life and ones that were formative in early life.
Both treatments work with aspects of the unconscious mind—emotional behaviors or reactions that are automatic, like the operating system on a computer—rather than explicitly with those of the conscious mind. These 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.
This avenue of treatment is helpful in understanding oneself at a deeper level, and identifying persistent or unsatisfying patterns in life such as difficulties making a commitment, habitual self-sabotage, or other forms of imbalanced behavior.
Psychotherapy, especially psychodynamic and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, can be very deep work for some people. You are taking care of the foundational structures of personality — not just tweaking apps and updating versions, but working on the Operating System. It should not be undertaken by anyone who hasn’t been rigorously trained and certified. People who feel committed to see it through should plan to spend some time doing it, measured in many months and sometimes years (psychoanalysis), rather than days and weeks — in regular weekly sessions one to three times per week.
Because the relationship between the therapist and the patient is core to the change process, first of all you want to work with someone who is professionally qualified; and secondly you want to work with someone you can expect or imagine you will have a warm, collaborative and mutually respectful relationship with. This is why the initial appointments are necessary to gauge whether there is a good fit between therapist and patient.
Psychotherapy 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.
“A good psychotherapy should feel as light as a soufflé and as heavy as the solid earth. Laugh and cry in equal measure.”
~ Jenai Wu Steinkeller
Psychotherapy Issues and Reasons for Referral
Learn more about the types of issues you can work on in psychotherapy, and inform yourself about some of their common symptoms and underlying causes.
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