Myth 1: Psychoanalysis is all about sex. 

This is probably the most common myth about psychoanalysis, probably stemming from Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where he addressed the question of infantile sexuality, sexual “perversions” and the question of the “sexual instinct” in neurosis. However, psychoanalysis is more about the individual human experience and the workings of the unconscious than it is about sex per se. Sexuality plays a major role in the human experience but it is certainly not the only aspect of the human mind of interest to psychoanalysts.

Myth 2: Psychoanalysis never ends. 

Although it is true that psychoanalysis takes longer than most psychotherapy approaches, termination and ending is an important part of the psychoanalytic process and often, the most enriching part. The reason why psychoanalysis requires time is because it aims at a deep understanding of oneself and a significant change in healing, which can only be achieved over time in a safe, trusting and honest relationship to oneself in the presence of another.

Myth 3: Psychoanalysts require that you lay on the couch.

Traditionally, it is true that psychoanalysts still use the couch and when you lay down, the relationship you develop with your own speech is different from when you are sitting face-to-face. However, you do not need to lay on the couch to be doing psychoanalytic work. In fact, it is counter-productive to use the couch with some patients, especially those with psychotic disorders or when working with children and adolescents.

Myth 4: Psychoanalysis only focuses on the past.

There is no time in the unconscious. The past is used to inform the present and to look into the future but the most important time in psychoanalysis is the here-and-now.

Myth 5: Psychoanalysis is not supported by research. 

Psychoanalytic theory and practice has been fundamental for research in the areas of attachment, infant development, the parent-infant bond and trauma to name a few. In many countries, including Canada, France, Finland, Switzerland, Israel, Portugal and Argentina, it is a nationally recognized form of treatment, reimbursed by the health care insurance system.

Myth 6: Psychoanalysis is only for rich people.

Not at all. As a matter of fact, many psychoanalysts and psychoanalytic institutes allocate resources to make psychoanalytic treatment accessible to all, including underserved communities, affected by trauma, poverty and emotional hardship. The Chicago Institute for Psychoanalysis is an example of this and has been successful at providing psychoanalytic training, research and services to children and families from lower-income communities.

Myth 7: Psychoanalysis is not for children and adolescents.

Psychoanalysis takes a different shape and form when working with children and adolescents. The use of play, drawings, modelling and fantasy take precedence over the traditional talk therapy, simply because children are not as articulate as adults, are still developing and play and art come more naturally to them than words. As a matter of fact, child and adolescent psychoanalytic work is very appropriate to treating a variety of behavioral and emotional disorders and is particularly useful because of the emphasis on meaning, understanding and development. (To learn more about applying psychoanalytic theory and practice to child and adolescent development, check out my Parenting Blog.)

Myth 8: Psychoanalysis cannot treat psychotic disorders.

False. I personally know of two psychoanalytically informed institutions that have successfully applied psychoanalytic theory and practice to the treatment of psychotic disorders – one is for adults – the Psychoanalytic Treatment Center for Young Adult Psychotics, The 388 in Quebec, Canada, and the other is a residential treatment center for children and adolescents – the Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School at the University of Chicago.

Myth 9: Psychoanalysis = Freud. 

Although Freud is the father of psychoanalysis and his contribution to the “talking cure” is fundamental, Freud does not equal psychoanalysis. Contemporary psychoanalysis has made huge strides from classical psychoanalysis, including incorporating neurodevelopmental and attachment research to name a couple.

Myth 10: The unconscious does not exist.

Many people are skeptical that such thing as the unconscious actually exists. Certainly, there is no way to physically grasp the unconscious but the clinical evidence in support of it speaks quite loudly. In fact, Freud discovered the unconscious at a time when he used hypnosis as a treatment modality with his patients.

Specifically, he discovered that he could plant a thought into his patient’s mind under hypnosis that the patient executed into an action after being released from the hypnotic state, having no recollection of the fact that Freud asked them to do the action in the first place. Instead, the patient fabricated an explanation and was convinced in its validity. Freud then realized that there must be a part of the patient’s mind where the thought he planted remained inaccessible or unconscious.

Believe it or not, the unconscious does exist and psychoanalytic practice, which has changed dramatically since its invention, has proven it over and over again throughout the years. The question is, do you want to know about your unconscious? Do you wish to have a deeper understanding of yourself and your actions?

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How does psychoanalysis differ from psychotherapy?