What Makes Psychoanalysis Still Relevant Today?

Below is my Q&A With Routledge Press, on the eve of publishing The Making of a Psychoanalyst….

In honor of the publication of The Making of a Psychoanalyst, we spoke to author Claudia Luiz about what makes psychoanalysis relevant today—perhaps more than ever.

Congratulations on the publication of your new book, The Making of a Psychoanalyst. As you observe in the introduction, people are “more emotionally sophisticated than ever. More aware of their feelings. More attuned and able to face their problems unabashedly, courageously, and without reservation.” How has psychoanalysis evolved to meet the needs of the contemporary patient, and why is it still relevant today, more than a century after its foundation in a very different time and place?

Years ago psychoanalysis was mostly about giving people interpretations and insights. That proved to be ineffectual. Now, the good news is, we’ve had 50 years to figure out new ways to engage and truly influence patient’s emotions. As an example, I write about how I treated an anxious, depressed woman who was driving herself to ruin with perfectionism. That’s the first story in the book and there you’ll discover how “emotional communication” has effectively replaced giving patients antiquated interpretations in today’s psychoanalysis. Then, in each subsequent story, readers can experience the gradual unfolding of all the major discoveries and innovations in clinical theory and method that are revolutionizing psychoanalysis.

Now, I know that “mindfulness” and Cognitive Behavior Therapy are also popular treatment modalities these days. But I think these methods are likely to end up hitting the same brick wall we analysts did, years ago, back when our antiquated, over intellectualized methods proved ineffectual against people’s resistances to getting better. That’s why I believe psychoanalysts are now a bit ahead of the game. We’ve learned how to get in there and work with the resistance. This makes psychoanalysis perhaps the only discipline relevant to adequately meeting the need for people to change in an emotionally awakened, motivated, but still unconscious society.

You use a series of “stories” to explain the practice of psychoanalysis today. Though inspired by patients and people you know, the stories are fictional. How and why did you decide that storytelling would be the best way to explain the complexities of psychoanalysis?

Make no mistake, the transformative interventions and the therapeutic action in the stories are all very real. It was just a lot easier for me to condense 30 years of marvelous, unforgettable session moments into six or seven characters.

The “how” is that I wrote these stories in very close collaboration with Keith Talbot, a seasoned TV and radio producer. I can boast winning a couple of prestigious awards for my work, but Keith has won seven, including a Peabody; he taught me exactly how to balance the right amount of tension with the right amount of dopamine for an audience. It is completely thanks to him that the intricate complexities of psychoanalysis have been rendered so accessible in this work.

The book is primarily concerned with strategies to help patients better know and understand their unconscious. However, it is also very much about your own growth as a person and analyst. What have you learned about yourself through your work?

Well, we basically all learn the same thing about ourselves in analysis: our deepest, darkest secrets. That much has never changed. And let me tell you, it’s not always easy. Especially recently, since I have been in analysis for almost 40 years, I have been exploring some really deep aspects of my consciousness that are not easy to bear. Thank God I have magnificent analysts that can help me know how to be there. What I’ve learned is that the rewards of getting to know yourself are truly incredible. I had to write about some of that. You see, when you can get to know yourself there is just so much less to be afraid of.

National Psychotherapy Day is coming up on September 25th, which is a day dedicated to increasing awareness of the benefits of psychotherapy and reducing stigma. What advice do you have for people who may want to try psychoanalysis or psychotherapy and aren’t sure where to begin or what to expect?

I was in a supermarket the other day when I saw a button that read: “Everybody is normal until you get to know them.” In other words, we truly are enjoying a less stigmatized “normal.” To prepare yourself for psychotherapy you might begin by reading my stories to see what helps people open up, and to know what you should expect from your own therapist. Look for someone who has had a lot of their own therapy — anyone with a “P” designation on a list at the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (NAAP) is a graduate of a psychoanalytic institute who has met an educational requirement of 400 hours of personal analysis (7 years.) This will protect you from getting into treatment with someone who could contaminate it with their own unresolved issues. The Society of Modern Psychoanalysis (SMP) has another good list.

So, what should you expect from therapy? Deep and lasting emotional change. That much hasn’t changed over the past century. Only now, I think we’ve also figured out how to best prepare your mind for self-discovery.

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