The difference between a therapist of a psychoanalytic persuasion and one who identifies as non-psychoanalytic may be difficult to describe to a layperson. Frankly, I have found some of my attempts to explain to friends what psychotherapy is and how it can be of any service to them to be a near impossible venture most days. Many of those individuals, I have found, are so resistant to the idea that the simple act of conversing with someone with “professional listening skills” can be at all salubrious that one wonders how the field has come to exist at all.
Fortunately, I have also found that there is hope in this matter. Rather than attempt to place impenetrable concepts such as the unconscious, cognitive distortions, and self-actualization in the grasp of a lay, I have devised a method that I feel is at least clever, if not credible. While the fallacies of gender stereotypes have lived long and will surely die hard, I do find some utility of gender stereotypes in explaining the difference between a psychoanalytic and non psychoanalytic therapist.
Oh how the non psychoanalytic therapist is like one of my male friends growing up, the ones who desired to provide direct advice! After all, the more expedient they could be in solving my problem, the sooner we could get back to watching sports, debating the best alternative rock album, and other inane acts of adolescent male development. To my friends' credit their listening could usually be described as sharp, persistent, and genuine. At the same time, however, listening was used as a vehicle to impart knowledge they confidently owned. “Just give us the facts and the information we need!” I can still hear them say. In retrospect, they had great respect for the observable nature of the scientific process. The concept of how earlier life experience could shape personality was of little relevance to them. From their perspective, I needed a good dose of reason, direction (at time experienced as condescension), and reminder that reality was harsh. Of course, the tribulations of the real world were a product of myself, as I was clearly my own worst enemy as opposed to an extension of my past.
The therapist of a psychoanalytic sensibility was much more like female friends, occasionally to my delight. My female friends tended to lean towards more nuanced listening, as the desire to understand a problem fully trumped impatient advice giving. Listening was not a passive act, but a necessary step in understanding the human experience. Always supportive and optimistic, there was confidence that if I could better comprehend myself and I would simply yet profoundly grow. Emotions were not things that interfered with hedonism, but provided necessary clues to understanding my relationships and myself. To wonder whether there was some force that was part of myself, yet difficult to identify and understand was more than a plausible idea, but an integral facet of the human condition. Empathizing with core aspects of human beings was the true path to emotional well-being. Direct advice giving could only serve to interfere with that understanding.
I sincerely hope that this all too real compare and contrast exercise has shed light on the difference between the therapist with psychoanalytic sensibilities and the one who does not espouse a psychoanalytic paradigm. The humor that I have attempted to deploy in this writing emanates equally from a desire to entertain as it does to elucidate.