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Random Thoughts On Psychoanalysis vs. Psychotherapy…

It was a grey, humid, rainy morning in my new neighbourhood and psychoanalysis was on my mind.

Among other things.

Why psychoanalysis? Simple. I spent 40 minutes reading Daphne Merkin‘s engaging lead New York Times magazine feature on her 40 years in psychoanalysis.

I’ve been in psychotherapy for 50 years.

We were both considered “difficult” children…

There is no comparison, though…

Daphne and I have some strong similarities. We’re both writers. Both Jewish. Though I was not raised in an Orthodox home. We both were considered “difficult” children. She was sent to her first psychiatrist at age 10. I was 12. But she went the psychoanalytic route. I did not.

A cook’s tour of her psychoanalysts…

She’s had many. Like me in my psychotherapy. She’s been in “serial psychoanalysis,” criss-crossing the thresholds of many psychoanalyst’s offices over her life. Often, though, for far shorter sojourns than I. The reasons vary widely and she explores them in a narrative tone tinged with the frustrations and angst that often earmark the quest for self-acceptance and a strong sense of self. Without those, life can present treacherous problems if you’re sensitive and you seek approval from the people who never seem to be approving ~ often, almost always family ~ one parent, perhaps.

Why is letting go so hard?

Psychoanalysis was not “appropriate” for me…

My current psychiatrist, Dr. Bob, is not a psychoanalyst. We’ve been working together for 20 years. He describes himself as eclectic, but he’s certainly Freudian in his basic approach. Still, he uses many other therapeutic modalities, too. Depending on the issue du jour.

Years ago, a psychoanalyst told my mother that psychoanalysis would never be “appropriate” for me because of all the Electroconvulsive “Shock” Therapy  (ECT) I’ve had.

Dr. Bob has told me since that there is no validity in that. Nevertheless, Freud and “the talking cure” and all the classic conventions of psychoanalysis remain a mystery. Or did, until I read Merkin’s illuminating piece.

The essence of psychoanalysis…

Daphne’s issues differ entirely from mine, as do our psyches. She has struggled with chronic depression. I, with mania. We’re on different geographic spots on the affective mood disorder spectrum. Still, her story is enlightening. It is not just her story ~ Merkin is a literary critic, essayist and novelist ~ but the context into which she places psychoanalysis.

And the essence of psychoanalysis. She writes:

“Freud described it as an effort to convert ‘hysterical misery’ into ‘common unhappiness,’ which suggests a rather minimalist framework against which to judge progress. There is no absolute goal, no lifetime guarantee, no telling how much therapy is enough therapy, no foolproof way of knowing when you’ve gotten everything out of it that you can and would be better off spending your valuable time and hard-earned money on other pursuits,” she writes.

Later she reflects:

“The goal of successful psychoanalysis, I knew, especially when it came to more severe problems, was not just to modify neurotic suffering so it took on the aspect of “ordinary unhappiness,” but to effect a real difference in the patient’s way of functioning.”

Looking for your perfect psychotherapist…

At the outset, she explains that she has been on a quest for the perfect psychoanalyst for her all her life ~ with no success.

I don’t think such a person exists for anyone, especially four times a week for 45 minutes at a huge financial fee. But then I do not lie on a couch and “free associate” to some phlegmatic note taking “listener” who says almost nothing.

Nor do I pay a penny for my psychotherapy with Dr. Bob. He and I engage in lively dialogue. Active emotional and intellectual intercourse. He does advise me. He does tell me what I should or shouldn’t do. He does alert me to issues that I need to address. He is very involved. I can say what I want, but so can he ~ and he does.

There is no quick fix…

Either way, the subtext of Merkin’s psychoanalysis story and my psychiatrist psychotherapy story are the same.

There’s no quick fix for serious emotional trauma. No magic pill.  It takes time. Short term therapies may work for some people but not all people. It depends on what you want from you therapy. Whether you’re talking to a psychoanalyst or a psychiatrist or any psychotherapist, some of these practitioners can do more damage than good. With maturity, you can begin to see what you need or don’t need. You can reflect more accurately. You can develop self-awareness. One layer at a time. It’s like my onion.

I urge you to have a look the Merkin piece. It’s highly informative and provocative, as, I believe psychotherapy/psychoanalysis can be. I find the process fascinating, as I’ve always said ~ “my PhD in me.” That’s how I envision it. My personality hasn’t changed over my half century in psychotherapy ~ nor has Merkin’s during her more than 40 years ~ but it’s obvious from the richness of her writing that our levels of self-awareness and insights have grown and deepened immeasurably.

Nobody’s perfect…

And she concludes that right now, on this leg of her Recovery journey, she doesn’t want to continue in psychoanalysis ~ but she leaves the door open. She may be back. Who knows? You never know. I don’t feel addicted to my psychotherapy. I just know when I need it. She’s learning that, too.

I’ve found, too, that with each of my therapists, I’ve learned a great deal, even when there were serious problems and missteps.

I’ve also learned that there is no perfect psychotherapist. Nobody’s perfect.

Random Thoughts On Psychoanalysis vs. Psychotherapy…

Sandy Naiman

Sandy Naiman is a Toronto freelance journalist.

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APA Reference
Naiman, S. (2011). Random Thoughts On Psychoanalysis vs. Psychotherapy…. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Oct 2011
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