What is Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy?

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy — indeed psychoanalysis, from which it derives — is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Members of APPWA are all highly trained specialists in this form of psychological treatment. Here, we offer our view of this area of psychological work:

More than a century ago, Sigmund Freud developed his theory of the mind, and of psychological treatment for disorders of the mind. His ideas and his understanding have exerted a major influence on many aspects of Western thinking and practice well beyond psychotherapy, including on literature, art, philosophy, and countless other cultural dimensions.

Over the years, there has been a proliferation of interpretations of his original theory, and there have been major schools of thought that grew out of, and sometimes away from, his ideas.


Psychoanalysis itself has been a complex and dynamic idea that has developed and evolved in many different directions.

Perhaps the most fundamentally important contribution Freud made — underpinning all later developments of his theory — was his illumination and investigation of the unconscious mind. The influence, role, operation, and contents of the unconscious mind, and its formative shaping of who we are and how we function as human beings, is at the heart of all contemporary approaches to psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy.

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy focuses on the emotional relationship that emerges between two people — the psychotherapist and the patient — in a carefully created setting. This unique relationship is designed for the discovery of, the surfacing of, and the exploration of the powerful dynamic subterranean influences that affect who and how one is as a person, and how one relates to others. This approach emphasises the important formative influence in our lives of significant relationships from early infancy to the present day.

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy can be of help to many people — children, adolescents, and adults — with problems in living, learning, working, and relating. These difficulties usually emerge in forms such as depression, anxiety, general unhappiness, relationship breakdown, sexual or intimacy difficulties, and personal crises. Some people struggle with rigid and ongoing patterns of feeling, thinking, and behaving that are maladaptive. Psychoanalytic psychotherapy may also assist people experiencing more serious disturbances.


Psychoanalytic psychotherapy usually involves ongoing and regular sessions, between one to three times a week for 50 minutes. The complexity of the mind, with its entrenched patterns, determines that this form of healing is usually a fairly lengthy experience.

APPWA members are trained in different approaches. Some draw on the American influences of ‘self-psychology’, and some on the contemporary British influences of ‘object-relations theory’.

Some APPWA Members work with adults and couples; others work with infants, children, and adolescents and their families, as well as with adults. What they have in common is an interest in the unconscious and in the therapeutic relationship as a powerful influence on healing.

Association for Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy of Western Australia


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