All psychoanalytically-informed theories and therapies (some of them also called psychodynamic) are based on the work of Sigmund Freud.
Freud was a neurologist who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis at the end of the 19th century, within the context of the psychiatry of his time. Psychoanalysis was named, by one of Freud’s patients, as a ‘talking cure’. Freud found listening to his patients and allowing them to speak about their symptoms brought relief and understanding. Freud defined psychoanalysis in a way that was threefold: as a theory of psychological functioning and human subjectivity, as a method of research of the human psyche and its cultural productions, and as a form of treatment / therapy for psychologically determined symptoms.
Psychoanalysis has influenced many fields of thought and science, particularly in the Western world. Freud’s ideas constituted a revolution that continues to impact on a variety of discourses and practices. His theses contributed to the interpretation and critique of society and culture, beyond their application to psychology and psychopathology. It is from Freud’s work that a number of concepts which are now part of people’s everyday vocabulary, such as trauma or the unconscious, stem. Since its beginnings, this work has been developed and reformulated in many directions all around the world. Nowadays there exist a large number of schools of thought and therapies based upon Freud’s early formulations of what constitutes human suffering and how to treat it, and there are also many areas where psychoanalysis intersects with other disciplines such as neuroscience, psychology, the arts, humanities, et cetera. Lacanian psychoanalysis is based on Jacques Lacan’s reformulation of Freud’s central theories. Jacques Lacan was a French psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who developed psychoanalysis by both returning to Freud’s original texts and also incorporating elements from other disciplines such as anthropology, linguistics and mathematics.
Central to both Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis are the notions of the unconscious, transference, repetition and the drive. Within psychoanalysis, these concepts are the cornerstone of understanding psychoanalytic theory. It is from these cornerstones that psychoanalysis has come to formulate theories about how a person comes to be as a speaking being, how language influences and affects the way the individual comes to think about him/herself. In this sense, psychoanalysis proposes a way of understanding the human condition including psychical suffering, as well as the strategies and defence mechanisms which we develop to deal with it.
Psychoanalysis conceives the human being as not merely a biological body or a rational mind, but rather as a complex mixture of both, from where problems or obstacles may emerge at certain points in life. A psychoanalytic approach is interested in and takes into consideration, the entirety of the person, not only what is happening at a conscious level, but also at an unconscious level, those aspects of ourselves that we are not always aware of, those that are beyond a conscious or ‘objective’ perspective. It is these dimensions of human experience that reflect conflict, contradiction, nonsense and excess, or lack, of meaning. These are expressed by thoughts or acts that are beyond the person’s control or understanding, such as dreams or slips of the tongue, but also by obsessions, fears et cetera. Psychoanalysis as a form of treatment offers the possibility of exploring difficult experiences, ailments, distressing thoughts or feelings, anxieties and inhibitions. This may give access to a new knowledge about the intimate motivations of one’s actions; what desires, fantasies and ideals are at play in one’s choices; how words and meanings have impacted on one’s relationship with oneself and with others.
Regardless of the setting in which it takes place, what characterises the psychoanalytic experience is a particular way of listening and speaking that focuses on each person’s singularity and on his or her unique way of being in the world.
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