A guide to psychoanalytic couple therapy

The global pandemic hasn’t helped. The last year has been a testing time for couples, with lockdowns and a rise in home working causing greater rifts for many. For a number of those with children, these feelings have only been compounded by the added pressure of childcare in the face of widespread closures of schools.

However, there are a number of options available to couples going through problems, whether married, engaged, or in a long-term relationship. One of the most effective is psychoanalytic couple therapy.

What is psychoanalytic couple therapy?

Psychoanalytic couple therapy is an approach to couple counselling based on modern psychoanalysis. Its ideas are rooted in key psychoanalytic concepts, including the unconscious, transference, the influence of childhood, the role of sexuality, and the use of interpretation in fostering an understanding between individuals.

Like any form of psychoanalytic approach, these core ideas must be expanded and adapted to fit the needs of each couple in order to be effective. Importantly, therapy involves assessing the couple as a pair and as two separate people, helping reveal the extent to which issues belong to one of the partners compared to the pair.

A central aim of psychoanalytic couple therapy is to determine how each partner contributes separately and together to the couple dynamic, and how they can work together with the therapist to create a path toward a healthy relationship.

Where did psychoanalytic couple therapy originate?

The key concepts of psychoanalytic couple therapy are rooted in psychoanalytic therapy, a form of talk therapy that aims to bring unconscious thoughts and feelings to the conscious mind so they can be properly examined.

This form of therapy is based on the work of 20th-century Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Among other things, he believed that the therapist-patient relationship was central to the healing process, a situation he termed “the working alliance”.

Psychoanalysis continues to be applied today to a range of conditions, from anxiety and depression, to trauma and behavioural disorders. However, its use in treating problems between couples is largely thanks to a landmark work, titled Psychoanalytic Couple Therapy: Foundations of Theory and Practice (2014).

Drawing on various lectures and workshops of the International Psychotherapy Institute (IPI) and the Tavistock Centre for Couple Relationships (TCCR), the book comprises 28 chapters covering the major ideas underlying the application of psychoanalysis to couple therapy, clinical illustrations of cases, and problems in various dimensions of the work.

Does psychoanalytic couple therapy work?

Many of the ideas applied in psychoanalytic couple therapy have been shown time and again to be highly effective in rekindling relationships long-term. Because the focus is on the shared objective of the couple rather than the individual needs of each partner, it is generally more successful than one-on-one therapy.

Nevertheless, like all forms of therapy the success of each session lies in the motivation of the people involved. If only one of the partners is eager to build towards a better future, then it can be difficult to achieve results, particularly if the number of sessions are limited.

To make the most of psychoanalytic couple therapy, a good therapist is paramount. At Philippe Jacquet & Associates, we offer decades’ of experience in applying psychoanalytic therapy to help resolve problems in relationships. 

Based in Harley Street, London, we can help you and your partner work towards a more positive long-term relationship by using our professional, approachable, and fully confidential approach to counselling.


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