Psychoanalysis in Psychology

Psychoanalysis in psychology is a specialty of professional psychology distinguished by its body of knowledge and methods of treatment. Its theories of personality cover human development, abnormal and normal behavior, social behavior and even artistic functioning. Cognitive processes, affective reactions and both conscious and unconscious processes are part of its purview.

One of its most noteworthy and historically distinctive features is its focus on implementing long-term, intensive, psychotherapeutic activity, employing such interventions as dream interpretation, attention to free association, analysis of the therapist-patient relationship and other distinctive foci in order to achieve effective character transformation. More recently, psychoanalytic intervention methods have been developed that produce short-term therapies, group therapy, marital and family therapy, and milieu therapy, all of which make use of the distinctive features of psychoanalytic theory of personality development. 

Advanced Scientific and Theoretical Knowledge Germane to the Specialty

Specialist training for psychoanalysis in psychology is entered only postdoctorally. Such training is intensive, typically stretching out for several years, and is conducted in formal training institutes developed for this purpose. The typical contents imparted during the training are quite broad and comprehensive.

These include courses and seminars in which attention is paid to theory building in psychoanalysis and the specific contents of the psychoanalytic personality theories: traditional Freudian theory, the British school of object relations, contemporary theories of the construction of the self and its disorders, and ego psychology focusing on patterns of normal development. The theory and tactics of interpersonal psychoanalysis are studied. Knowledge is imparted about the findings of empirical research within the specialty, including its limitations and as yet unanswered questions.

The techniques of intensive psychoanalysis are taught, accompanied by specialized seminars in dream interpretation, transference and countertransference, and the unique challenges posed by the disorders of the self. Special attention is paid to analytic theories of gender and sexuality.  

Parameters to Define Professional Practice in Psychoanalysis in Psychology

Psychoanalytic training includes a focus on current controversies that exist in the specialty, along with completion of supervision and a personal training analysis that provides rich knowledge about the use of the psychoanalytic psychologist's self as tool in the work to be done.


Psychoanalytic treatment began over 100 years ago with the treatment of individuals with dissociative disorders. It has since expanded to include a large variety of forms of individual psychopathology presented by children, adolescents and adults. In some of its variants, it has expanded from a sole focus on the individual to the treatment of couples, families and groups. Psychoanalysis in psychology is rich in its treatments and studies of these populations. Such study is long term, often of many years' duration, and extremely detailed.

Populations of interest are not restricted to living humans. Biographical analyses of historical figures and human productions, such as works of art and literature, have also been subject to psychoanalytic investigation.


The breadth of problems addressed by psychoanalysis in psychology matches the diversity of the populations it studies. While applicable to most problems of human adaptation, it is distinctive in several ways. It provides a systematic explanation of unconscious processes. The huge attachment literature has grown out of psychoanalytic work on infant and child development, a literature that explores the vicissitudes of various kinds of attachment and attunement between parents and children and child psychopathology as well.

In addition, those who have entrenched character pathology or have proven resistant to alternative forms of treatment often require a more intensive form of intervention over a longer period of time. It is in the area of character pathology (such as has been found in borderline personality disorders and the other severely crippling disorders of the self) that psychoanalysis in psychology has been a leader, both in theoretical writing and clinical procedures.

The utility of psychoanalytic psychology for addressing the needs of those with such problems has been documented in the Menninger project and other studies.


In all of their manifestations, the techniques employed by psychoanalytic psychologists deal with the dynamic unconscious, transference and their relationship to psychological functioning. The applications range broadly depending on patient characteristics, characterological issues, and type of population. Use of empathy, play therapy, free association, dream analysis, attention to the patient/psychologist relationship and its disturbances, and investigation of significant present and past relationships, as well as classical psychoanalysis and its variants, are some of the intervention techniques employed.