The #1 Problem that Causes Severe Anxiety

One of the most common reasons why people seek out psychotherapy is because they struggle with anxiety. However, saying that someone has a problem with severe anxiety doesn't really say much about what is it that the person is really struggling with. In my practice, I work with children, adolescents and adults, who experience anxiety to one degree or another, but the anxiety itself is rarely the main problem. Please, let me explain.

The presenting complaint

Often times in psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, what we call the "presenting complaint" isn't always the issue at stake in the treatment. For this reason, when I hear that a new client needs help for anxiety, I am often cautious not to take that statement at face value. As I reviewed in a previous post, from a psychoanalytic point of view "anxiety is the universal currency of affect, in a sense that every emotion can be converted into it" (Bruce Fink). So when I hear anxiety, I pretty much know that we'll have some digging to do.


Is Psychoanalysis Right for You?

Psychoanalysis is not for everybody. I don't mean this in a negative or exclusive kind of way but rather in an is-this-the-right-fit-for-me kind of way. There are many therapeutic approaches out there and there is no one size fits all when it comes to mental health.

But let's say you've wondered about this before: "is psychoanalysis right for me;" maybe you've tried other types of therapies but there's still something kind of missing, something was left unsaid, or unaddressed and the problem you wanted to solve persists. Maybe it's anxiety, maybe it's your mood or relationships, whatever the case may be, the issue is still there despite all your efforts to change it. How do you know if psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy is right for you?

Read along and if you find yourself identifying with some or all of the statements below, psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy is definitely the right choice for you.

You seek a deeper understanding of yourself


How Psychoanalysis Understands Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues encountered in clinical practice today and probably one of the most misunderstood, often neglected and minimized mental health issue. Just browse any psychotherapy website, and I bet you'll find anxiety mentioned in every single one of them. But what is anxiety to psychoanalysis? How do we understand it from a psychoanalytic point of view and what can we do to overcome it?

Anxiety defined...

Everyone experiences anxiety to a certain degree. In fact, it is well proven in the field of psychology that moderate levels of anxiety are actually beneficial and foster learning, problem-solving and productivity. However, when the anxiety becomes too high, relative to our resources and abilities to cope with stressors and changes in the environment, it becomes overwhelming and can cause one of three responses - fight, flight or freeze (I know of a very interesting Anxiety Curve Model that explains this and can be applied to various issues in adult as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy but I will save it for a future post).

Manifestations of anxiety


What Psychoanalysis Says about Love

When you think of psychoanalysis and love, what comes to mind? It has become a normative narrative to put psychoanalysis, Oedipus complex and sex all in the same sentence but is it all there is? Let's look at what psychoanalysis does have to say about love.

I won't give you a thorough explanation of psychoanalytic theory on sexuality and love here because frankly, this is a highly complicated issue to write about, let alone synthesize in a blog post. Instead, let's touch on a few basic concepts about the psychology of love that we learn from psychoanalytic theory and practice, that will hopefully introduce a different image of psychoanalysis for you.

Different kinds of love

First off, psychoanalysis accounts for all kinds of love - sexual love, sensual love between partners, parental love, sibling love, grandparent love, love between friends, being in love versus loving, imaginary love, impossible love, transference love, love between humans and animals, love for religion and/or ideology, love of oneself, adult love, childhood love, adolescent love... Of course not all of these are formally defined but you get my point.

What a few psychoanalysts say about love


10 Myths about Psychoanalysis you should know

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.


Fatherhood in the Movie “Boyhood”

With Oscars 2015 just behind us, you probably heard about the movie "Boyhood," which was nominated for Best Picture and traces the aging of a boy, named Mason, along with that of his family. We see the main characters age naturally over the course of twelve years, accompanied by the popular music of the times, creating a sense of nostalgia and a unique appreciation for music. In fact, music seems to be a character of its own in this movie, inviting us to listen to life with a different set of ears.

This is not the only reason why this film is an extraordinary piece of art, however. In another post, I discuss the meaning of good enough mothers as depicted in the movie "Wild" and how good enough mothering (a term coined by the British Pediatrician and Psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott) lays the foundation for a healthy development. "Boyhood" in its own right, depicts how important the role of men and fathers is in the growing up of children, something psychoanalysis pays special attention to.


How Psychoanalysis Differs from Psychotherapy

The talking cure

Psychotherapy is a rather generic term - social workers, counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists can all call themselves therapists. Psychoanalysis is an experience - you cannot call yourself a psychoanalyst without having done your own analysis. The same is not always true for psychotherapy - not all psychotherapists have gone through their own therapy.

Before there was psychotherapy, however, there was psychoanalysis. Freud “invented” the psychoanalytic method, or the “talking cure,” together with his friend and mentor Breuer, a Viennese psychiatrist, who worked with female hysterics (an old-fashioned diagnostic term for what today is classified as conversion disorder).

In his work with his patient Anna O., a pseudonym for Bertha Pappenheim, one of the first feminists, Breuer discovered that after she was able to speak about the origin of her symptoms, they disappeared. Hence, “the talking cure.”

The difference

The presumption that talking has healing powers fuels many psychotherapeutic practices today. No one argues against that. What is the difference between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis then?


What is Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is a way of listening, a way of living, a philosophy and an art form; a theory about the human condition and a clinical practice. It is an experience of being listened to, accepted, heard and validated; an experience of being "alone in the presence of another," yet feeling utterly connected. Psychoanalysis is a form of clinical practice that allows for an understanding of oneself, ones thoughts, feelings and behaviors and an awareness of who we truly are as human beings.

Many people still harbor the misunderstanding that psychoanalysis pathologises the individual and puts people into pre-determined categories that feel judgmental, invalidating and diminishing. In truth, psychoanalysis emphasizes the uniqueness of everyone's experience and seeks to create meaning, specific to each person's unconscious and history. Oftentimes in psychoanalysis, we have to sit with the unknown, the anxiety-provoking and the uncomfortable.