Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Journey from Psychotherapy To Psychoanalysis

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on June 2, 2015


I return to blogging, filled with new tales from my latest endeavors including teaching art therapy students at Loyola Marymount University, drilling down into the world of substance abuse rehabilitation, and now adding on, teaching a new class to psychoanalytic candidates on “converting” patients from psychotherapy to psychoanalysis. This class, never taught before at the New Center for Psychoanalysis, is my current challenge. To begin, the name of this class escapes me. I am working on a catchy title. Then, the syllabus. What should we read? I chose Owen Renik’s book, “Practical Psychoanalysis for Therapists and Patients.” Now, my task is to stimulate conversation, not so much to delineate the difference between psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, but more to help these clinicians transition patients from one kind of psychotherapy to another. This transition, in my mind, grows out of a strong pull to go deeper into the psyche, by having the time to explore associations and nuances of behavior, which can only be discussed when the relationship is intense, meaning a lot of time together. Weekly psychotherapy is often consumed with “dear diary” material, that there is little opportunity to interrupt and pursue choice of words, small changes in facial expression, or small changes in posture. It is the ability to take the small things, Freudian slips, if you will, and create narratives with deep meaning. These small behaviors, looking under a microscope, exposes a wealth of ideas about hidden assumptions and hidden agendas that lurk behind conscious motivation for action. The microscopic assessment lends the both viewers to examine a clearer picture into the behind the scenes examination of how the mind works. “Why did you choose that word,” is an example of pausing and reflecting about language as a royal road to the unconscious. That question is hard to ask in once a week psychotherapy, where that might be heard of as an interruption, rather than an opportunity to understand the layers of the mind. Like any skill, the more you do it, the better you get, and so it is for a psychoanalytic understanding of oneself.

4 Responses to “The Journey from Psychotherapy To Psychoanalysis”

  1. Eleanor said

    Very interesting Shirah….”practical psychoanalysis”? Just out of curiosity I downloaded a free sample of the book you mentioned and read the few pages the sample offered….Just from what I read (very limited) it sounds a bit like CBT (could be wrong here tho). And the story of Roger…”cured in one session” and that was called “therapy”? Be fascinating to hear, from a psychoanalyst point of view, how a 50 minute “cure” like this can actually be effective long term as it was (at least from what I read)…… Didn’t get to read any more as sample cut off with this part of his story. I will be interested to hear you report back on the class you are teaching on converting from “psychotherapy to psychoanalysis”. My only personal experience has been with the latter.

    Would also enjoy hearing about your latest tales on teaching art therapy students. As far as all the artists/photographers I know, their art is most definitely therapeutic in one way or another. It comes with the territory, fortunately. I’ve heard some of the elementary schools are so overloaded with “more important things” that they are dropping art as a subject. This is sad to hear as it can be so beneficial.

    • Thanks, Eleanor. It is amazing to get your comment because the class discussion was about how CBT and psychoanalysis share certain principles of core beliefs, and underlying assumptions, in which changing one’s way of thinking about one’s circumstances can create lasting mental health benefit. The difference is in how the therapist approaches the unconscious processes and the lack of time constraints on the therapy. Owen Renik, the author, does have a folksy tone, and he oversimplifies the process, but he is a refreshing change from some writers who are so philosophical it is hard to connect to the material.
      Yes, my art therapy students are a very interesting bunch. They are artists, motivated to heal, and for that I am privileged to be a part of their world. Yes, the arts are being taken from public (not private) education and the sadness associated with this, parallels the sadness of the changing nature of my field. Thanks, as always for chiming in.

  2. Shelly said

    Wouldn’t hard core psychotherapists be resistant to learning psychoanalysis? Wouldn’t they say that in essence, that is what they do already? Don’t patients think that they are already being “analyzed” by their therapists? Don’t several times a week appointments with the therapist cause a dependence on the therapist, which is in conflict with what you were trying to do in your last blog?

    • Hi Shelly,
      I am not sure what you mean by “hard core psychotherapists.” Therapists have different styles and not all try to probe for underlying conflict and unconscious motivations. Not all therapists privilege childhood as the paradigm for adult living, and hence, at times, cognitive distortions. Multiple times a week appointment, when gone well, leads to a healthy dependence which ultimately leads to a new way of being in the world,often with less self-sabotage and more joy and fulfillment. The dependency in the analytic relationship is the tool towards creating a deeper understanding of how the person has underlying assumptions that their relationships and their identification with their previous authority figures, in some ways, may have led them to have feelings which are hurtful. For example, children of narcissistic parents often have a hard time understanding that their job in the world may not be to fulfill the dreams of their parents, but rather to discover their own dreams and pursue them. Although that is a simplistic version of why the dependency created in psychoanalytic work is important, it gives you the idea that pulling away from primary relationships, for some people, is critical for personal growth, and new relationships are necessary for this growth to happen. Psychoanalysis gives the person to have a new relationship without the burden of trying to please the other person, and as such, the patient can use the relationship for his personal journey. This is the idea, and of course, there are many hazards along the way. Thanks, as always, for your comments.

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