Modern Perspectives in
Psychoanalytic Thinking



When people are asked, “What is psychoanalysis or psychoanalytic psychotherapy”, they usually have some idea that it is an intensive treatment which involves talking to a professional who has been trained to listen and to engage people in treatment in a very particular way. While this picture is not untrue, it is incomplete. A psychoanalytic perspective in its broadest sense as bodies of ideas, methods of treatment, or modes of research is dedicated to understanding how the mind works, and how it is organized unconsciously to create problems in living. From its inception, psychoanalysis has focused not only on what is in a person’s conscious awareness, but, also, and perhaps more importantly, on the operations of the unconscious, and how its hidden narratives are lived out as impediments to working, loving, and living as fully as one can. Psychoanalytic treatment is a special kind of partnership devoted to the exploration of who one is and who one might become.

Various unconscious factors, alongside conscious ones, may create unhappiness and anxiety, sometimes in the form of recognizable symptoms, troubling personality traits, as well as in difficulties in living, working, romantic relationships and/or friendships, or in disturbances of mood and self-esteem. At its core, psychoanalytic treatment is about thinking and the barriers to being able to think and feel more fully and to live more freely.

As a form of treatment, it is an intimate partnership during which the person becomes aware of the underlying intrapsychic, and interpersonal social and contextual sources of his or her difficulties, not simply intellectually, but also emotionally, by re-experiencing them within an intense relationship. A psychoanalytic understanding of the mind often entails exploration of unconscious fantasies, internal conflicts, and the relationship narratives that have developed over a lifetime, but whose pull on the present remains unknown. This also includes focusing on the influences of culture, ethnicity, religion, gender, and race, all of which are focused on to both understand a person and to provide opportunities to foster a person’s growth. These diverse influences similarly challenge Eurocentric definitions of seminal concepts, such as the unconscious, to provide a locus for historical and social contingencies as the origin of much neurotic misery and as such necessitate a broadening of the psychoanalytic model of the mind.

Psychoanalytic thinking can be extended to individuals, couples, groups, and communities, framed as a psychoanalysis, psychotherapy, or community partnership. The Washington Baltimore Center for Psychoanalysis is committed to training psychoanalysts, psychoanalytic psychotherapists, and scholars, and to furthering the discourse that has come to be called a psychoanalytic understanding of the mind.

What is Child and Adolescent Psychoanalysis?

In addition to treating adults, psychoanalysts also treat children and adolescents after receiving additional didactic and clinical training, with supervision. APsaA’s publication on child and adolescent psychoanalysis outlines how treatment can be beneficial.

Psychotherapeutic work with children was introduced in the early days of psychoanalysis. In 1912, the Austrian teacher, Hermine Hug-Hellmuth, published a monograph about child psychotherapy, which was later followed up with an article (1921). These works have been described as “the invention of child analysis” and they influenced both Anna Freud’s work and that of Melanie Klein, the two best known early child analysts, whose work others have built on, even today.  

Not unlike adult psychoanalysis, when working intensely together with the analyst, the child has the opportunity, over time, to explore and understand adaptive responses to current experiences that are interfering with his or her functioning and relationships, ultimately interfering with progressive development. Understanding the complexity of factors that influence a child’s development is central to the work of a child analyst. These factors include, but are not limited to, psychology, biology, the environment, family, family history, race, culture. 

In addition to working intensively with the child, child analysts understand the importance of working closely with the child’s caregivers as well. Caregivers want the best for their children but often are not aware of how their own past experiences inform and influence their relationship with their own child. Meeting with their child’s analyst can help caregivers reflect upon their own past and its impact on them and on their child.

Seeing children and adolescents in our consulting rooms is only one of many applications of psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theory and technique and child analysts view community psychoanalysis as equally one of its applications. Child analysts who work in community mental health settings have the privilege of working with a wide range of child cases and increase their opportunities to consider social, cultural, and racial diversity.


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