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Psychoanalytic therapy – the talking cureThe earliest psychoanalytic therapy was dubbed the talking cure, but it was anything but just talk.


Breuer, a colleague of Freud, treated a young woman who suffered debilitating spells. He did it by listening to her talk about all that she was thinking and feeling. She called his treatment the ‘talking cure’. She also called it ‘chimney sweeping’ describing how talking seemed to clear out her troubling emotions. This is the earliest example in the history of psychoanalysis of encouraging talking about one’s thoughts and feelings; it is the foundation of psychotherapy today. 

A man who came to see me would chide me by saying ‘talk, talk, talk, you always want me to talk’.  Which I did and as he talked over a period of time he began to feel less haunted by guilt and more free to step out into the world.  And he became more able to talk with his spouse.  He looks back on that early time and we both laugh about talk, talk, but we also share a pleasure in the results.

The talk, the words, are only the obvious action that makes all other aspects of psychotherapy come into play.

By talking with the therapist the patient begins to enter a relationship, begins to form ideas about who the therapist is, what the therapist is like and what is happening between the two of them. Many processes begin as a person undertakes to speak openly with another person who listens carefully to what is being said.

As a patient talks to a competent therapist she begins to feel a sense of trust that allows an increasing openness about sensitive matters. The act of speaking about emotional concerns or a crisis creates hopefulness and begins to ease the anxiety or pain connected with the problems. 

These experiences occur largely outside of one’s awareness and are a crucial aspect  of psychoanalytic therapy which attends to the unconscious.

The therapist begins to experience both the verbal and non-verbal communications. This provides the therapist with a great deal of information about how the patient’s emotions and thinking work, how the patient relates to others and the ways her experience has been shaped. The therapist helps the patient read these experiences in herself and learn about herself in this much deeper way. 

Amidst Psychoanalytic therapy - the talking curethe talking between the patient and therapist these non-verbal events move the therapy along.

The patient begins to feel a sense of safety and trust and a sense that emotions and anxieties are contained and eased by the relationship with the therapist. Additionally the patient begins to relate to the therapist in familiar ways, ways rooted in past experiences. The analytic therapist is able to recognize these relational experiences and along with the patient observe and understand how these characteristic ways of relating are beneficial or detrimental. New ways of relating become possible as the old ways are worked through directly with the therapist. 

This talk therapy is much more than talk.

Talk therapy distinguishes psychotherapy from medicine or physical manipulations, but the treatment goes far beyond words and begins to heal those parts of ourselves that are out of our awareness. The key is that the words are the vehicle of unconscious processes in a relationship with a skilled therapist who can use the shared experience to clarify and heal. 


peter-armstrong-clinical-psychology-psychoanalysis-portland-oregonPeter has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and maintains a private practice in psychotherapy since licensure in California in 1984. Currently he lives and practices in Portland Oregon.

He completed additional training as a Psychoanalyst in 1996 and treats individuals in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Peter also supervises and consults to practicing psychotherapists.

You can contact Peter here to discuss your needs and questions about a consultation.

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Shared by permission from: Peter S Armstrong PhD.com.

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