Psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy takes the approach that although we can know quite a lot of what goes on in our mind, we have all had the experience of being surprised at times by our reactions to events, or taken aback by sudden thoughts or memories that seem to come unbidden into our awareness. Sometimes people also find themselves seemingly compelled towards certain actions, or unable to rid themselves of certain thoughts, beliefs or feelings, despite their best efforts.
These unwanted thoughts, feelings and desires are related to the unconscious, which may be thought of as a kind of accumulation of problematic thoughts, intrusive memories, and unacceptable desires that have been repressed, or quarantined. However, these unwanted thoughts do not disappear entirely, but are retained, and continue to exercise an influence on our conscious mind in certain circumstances.
Sometimes certain circumstances or certain events in a person’s life contrive to spark off, or re-stimulate, these repressed thoughts. It may then happen that unwanted thoughts, feelings, or wishes intrude into consciousness in a distressing way. Since these thoughts, feelings, and desires have usually been repressed at an early stage in a person’s life, their later intrusion can have a very primitive and disturbing quality. Difficulties or distress, be it through anxiety or depression, in a person’s life can then become so serious that it affects their relationships, their work and their sense of well-being.
However carefully a person examines his/her conscious rational mind in these situations, no reason for the troubling thoughts or actions can be found, or what reasons might be uncovered seem insufficient. The roots of these kinds of troubles lie in the unconscious.
A psychoanalytic psychotherapist is trained to be attentive to the unconscious aspects of the mind that are usually hidden, difficult to express or that we would prefer not to know about. It is by allowing these challenging ideas to emerge into speech and to be worked through that their effects can be alleviated.