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What is Psychoanalysis? - by Janet Haney


A psychoanalytic session is a place where you come to speak to an ‘Other’ about whatever troubles you. A psychoanalyst offers to listen to you in a way that makes it possible to hear what it is that is trying to be said.

The analytic rule is to say whatever is on your mind, without censorship, without judgement, without the need to make much sense. The analyst listens and in this way the relationship begins that will allow you to understand the patterns and structures of your life.

Desire is the point of departure in psychoanalysis. Over the course of an analysis the desire of the analysand (the one who comes to speak to an analyst) gets transformed. It is this that then transforms the unbearable suffering and allows life to be once more lived – this time according to your desire.

The kinds of burden that people bring to analysis are as many and varied as the people themselves. Because our suffering is so tied and knotted into the essential nature of our being, and so embedded in the narratives and contexts of our lives, the troubles of the mind have always proved resistant to fixes that are imposed from outside. This human condition cannot easily be subdued by a universal cure whether it be administered through medical experts, the pharmaceutical industries, or the various agents of the State. It is this that forms the bedrock of what a psychoanalyst knows.

Psychoanalysis is a practise based on a relationship between the analyst and analysand. This relationship depends on the analysand to grasp the ethic of the work and subject themselves to the fundamental rule (free association). If the analysand does not choose to take part the analyst is powerless and the analysis will not occur.

The analyst in turn promises to subject themselves to the discipline of psychoanalysis and in this way helps the analysand to keep going even when the going gets tough. There is no promise of cure, no assurance of happiness, but a simple offer to listen and accompany you as you take the journey of a lifetime to understand and reconcile your troubles.

The person of the analyst is not important in the work and so they won’t bring their personal concerns into the frame. This does not mean that the relationship with the analyst is cold! On the contrary, it is in the nature of psychoanalysis that the analysand will experience their feelings and emotions when they enter their analysis – and sometimes this can be intense. The analytic session is a place where these feelings can be explored, analysed, and understood. In this way you can begin to feel more in control and to regulate the intensity.

The course of an analysis goes through three main phases. These have been dubbed the instant of perception, the time for understanding, and the moment to conclude. Because of this, an analysis takes place over a period of time which cannot be predicted, and will depend on your particular demands. There is no quick fix – but, therapeutic effects often occur right from the first encounter.

Because of the temporal nature of the analytic work we often organise the sessions like this: first you are invited for an exploratory chat. If you think you can work with the analyst, then you may organise some preliminary sessions. This will help to clarify the kinds of questions you want to work on, and will give you and your analyst a chance to decide whether to embark in earnest. The frequency of sessions will be negotiated with your analyst, as will any interruptions to the work (holidays etc). The ending of the work will also be subject to discussion. Sudden breaks are to be avoided if at all possible, as each stage needs time to be taken on and understood.

For public lectures and more reading material visit the LS-NLS and CFAR web-sites.

Psychoanalytic training is extensive and is made up of 4 key components: personal analysis; clinical experience; clinical supervision; and ongoing research. An analyst demonstrates their commitment to the field of psychoanalysis through their clinical work and their continued participation in lectures, seminars, conferences and the literature of the field.

Psychoanalysis is on the side of science and reason, not of magic and mysticism, nor of managerial professionalism. It begins with axioms and proceeds through deductions, and is clear about its ethic: it aims beyond moral judgments of good and evil to the truth of the human subject. Psychoanalysis is a practice in the field of desire, and this is what makes it different from the every other form of psycho-logical science on offer today.

The work is confidential.

The work is individual.

There is no preset limit or expectation to the duration of the work.


'What is Psychoanalysis': content copyright © Janet Haney 2006