Psychoanalysis and its chief tool, the couch, certainly evoke a lot of images. New Yorker cartoons come to mind. (A large fish is lying on the couch, the analyst in his chair behind the fish. The analyst asks: “So can you give me a metaphor for how you feel?” Presumably ‘Like a fish out of water’ would be the reply.) Woody Allen and, of course, Freud also come easily to mind. All joking aside, psychoanalysis remains a powerful tool for exploring one’s life, for growth, deeper understanding and making lasting changes. Over the course of the last hundred years, since its development by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis has undergone substantial changes. However, what has not changed remains its potential for providing an enriching and fascinating journey to the most exotic places, awe-inspiring sights and richest of cultural experiences all within oneself. It offers an incredible education in the depths of oneself, ones thinking and feelings, ones interests, desires and motivations. It is a journey that promotes the greatest personal growth as one stretches to new heights and the farthest dimensions of oneself.
One area of focus for Freud that remains of great interest today is the unconscious, the area of human thought, motivation, desire that while very influential is by its nature hard to recognize, hidden. While even the understanding of the unconscious has changed since Freud’s day, psychoanalysis continues to be an exploration of the unconscious: it provides access into those powerful forces which motivate a person – the underlying fears, conceptions and beliefs about oneself and the world which continually operate in the background.
The method of psychoanalysis generally involves meeting multiple times per week and, as in Freud’s day, the client lying on the couch. There is much to be said about the couch. The couch is a tool, intended to help foster a sense of relaxation for the client. Humans generally do just about everything better when in a relaxed mode. Exploring the self is no different. Lying down also helps to foster a better connection to one’s self, to one’s feelings, bodily sensations, thoughts and memories in the moment. It is of course a rarified experience: the two people do not look at one another as is customarily the case. Consequently, the client has more room to focus on his or her own experience. In a sense, the client has private space, but is not alone. The analyst also has more room to focus and use the information about what he or she is feeling or thinking to better understand the client. Lying on the couch also offers the client a physical sense of support; the client feels the couch underneath her and this helps to feel more supported emotionally and psychologically as well. As with any journey, particularly ones that can at times be challenging and can take you outside of your comfortable surroundings, feeling safe and supported is essential in order to make the trip.
I am currently doing advanced training in psychoanalysis at a local psychoanalytic institute, and I am pleased to be able to offer psychoanalysis (and psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapy) to prospective clients. While such a process requires a commitment of time and resources, it is in the final analysis (no pun intended) a commitment to one self. I believe that psychoanalysis is ultimately an adventure in love. It seems to me that the highest human purpose is to love, to learn to love more openly and fully. And that is the aim of psychoanalysis: by becoming more of oneself, one stretches, and one’s capacity for love (of oneself, of others and the world) increases.