Psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic therapies are talking treatments premised on the belief that a part of our mind which is outside of our immediate awareness, the unconscious, can profoundly influence our behaviour and experience. The presence of unconscious processes renders the advice of others or of self-help books inadequate to provide relief, as there is a deeper layer to our symptoms and ultimately to our suffering.
Psychoanalytic sessions offer a space that can allow for these more singular aspects of ourselves and our stories to emerge. Although all talking treatments involve therapists listening to people's speech during sessions, Lacanian psychoanalysts aim even more to pay close attention to the unique words that have unconsciously affected us. Analytic listening is founded on the principle that the subject is first and foremost a speaking subject; but what makes it analytic listening is that the analyst listens to the speaker as a subject, that is, in his or her singularity and without any presuppositions about complying with social norms or any presumptions concerning ideal outcomes.
Over the course of an analysis, an alternative narrative pertaining to the unconscious is pieced together, over time freeing the individual to experience her unique desire, freed from the strong hold certain imperatives, expectations and narratives imposed by others may have had on her. In an analysis, we can question ways of being we have taken for granted, passed on to us by social or familial others; we can look into the patterns in our own life and how we may be repeating things in an automatic way, acting as if there are no alternatives.
During analysis people often realise that they have more agency in their life than they thought; that it is possible to act according to their own desires and still be involved in meaningful relationships; they often come to realise that they are emotionally invested to symptomatic ways of being despite the suffering those may bring on them and that there is a possibility to letting go in favour of adopting a different position in life.
One of the aims of psychoanalytic work, then, is to address underlying issues by increasing our awareness of the hidden conflicts and tensions that lie at the heart of our problems. For such exploration to occur, the analytic process cannot be a quick-fix method promising quick relief or immediate solutions. However, by entering the analytic experience, one can make deeper, more lasting changes, and can find creative and individual solutions to their concerns.
Another important feature of psychoanalytic practice, particularly of the Lacanian orientation, is that it it a non-normalising therapy. Not only does it not attempt to pigeonhole people into all-inclusive categories, it also does not hold preconceived notions of 'healthy' or 'normal'. Rather than making people conform to widely held social, cultural and sexual norms, it provides a space where things can be questioned and individuality can be expressed.