Let us begin with a summary of current knowledge about outcomes of psychoanalytic treatments – and proceed to explain how this knowledge has come about later.
What do we now know?
By combining and comparing the many past studies of a variety of treatment methods, it is now appreciated that Psychoanalytic Treatments do at least as well as – and, very often, better than – the other treatment approaches in achieving AND maintaining treatment gains – as well as continuing to show improvements long after treatment has been concluded. (See the research review “Empirical Status of Psychoanalytic Treatments.”)
Psychoanalytic treatments have been regularly “compared” to other treatment methods in recent decades. The other treatments are generally briefer, more “focussed”, talking therapies (e.g. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy [CBT], Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, [DBT], Interpersonal Therapy [IPT]) or medication with anti-depressants, or major and minor tranquilisers for anxiety symptoms.
For anyone considering entering a psychoanalytic treatment, the question about a beneficial outcome is a highly legitimate one, because entering such treatment requires investment of considerable time and – usually – financial outlay.
In the past, one often could only ask the analyst or psychoanalytic therapist themselves. Of course, these clinicians had confidence in their work – and why wouldn’t they, if psychoanalytic ideas were the very concepts which guided their understanding of the relevant disorders?
Regrettably, there has been considerable controversy over past decades about the question of outcome in psychoanalytic treatment, due to two things: firstly, an inherent difficulty in conducting the required studies into what is first and foremost a private and confidential form of therapy; and secondly, the existence of a form of hostility to the concepts and theories which inform the conduct of psychoanalytic treatments. In addition, in recent decades, the advent of increasing numbers of medications aimed at anxiety and depression, as well as at obsessive-compulsive behaviours, has offered more “short-cut” and “less deep” approaches to treatment of many disorders.
As explained in many of the sections on this part of our website the focus of attention in a psychoanalytic treatment is the relationship between the analyst and the patient as it evolves over the considerable time taken to explore the relevant problems.
In more recent years, a number of research groups have developed increasingly sophisticated studies of treatment outcome which have, to a significant degree, overcome many of the criticisms of past studies – as well as allaying the objections (in the past) of many treating analysts themselves about the intrusion into the private therapy “space” which “research methods” could involve. [You can be assured that any psychoanalytic treatment which you undertake will be absolutely confidential].
In addition, modern statistical measures have permitted undertaking of more valid comparisons between studies of outcome in different treatment methods.
In summary then, if you enter a long-term, intensive psychoanalytic treatment with a well qualified, psychoanalytically-trained clinician, you have a very good chance of achieving the goals of relieving the problems which may have caused you to seek treatment in the first place. It will take time and commitment on your part – as well as on the part of your therapist.