Psychoanalysis vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: Overview

By Jared Levenson - Reviewed on July 7, 2023
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Navigating the world of mental health treatment can be challenging. With numerous approaches and therapies available, it’s crucial to understand what each one offers to make an informed decision.

The Online Mental Health Reviews team is highly qualified to write about Psychoanalysis vs CBT due to their extensive experience in the mental health field, including work in residential centers and licensed counseling.

We’ve practiced CBT with many clients over the years, and lead author Jared Levenson credits psychoanalysis therapy with changing his life.

This article will explore two popular methods: psychoanalysis and cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), delving into their objectives, techniques, session times, and comparative effectiveness.

Understanding Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Psychoanalysis is a therapy developed by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century. It aims to bring unconscious or repressed thoughts and feelings to consciousness, helping individuals understand their behaviors, feelings, and relationships. The ultimate goal is to reduce internal conflicts causing emotional distress and improve the patient’s overall mental health.

On the other hand, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a more contemporary approach that focuses on teaching clients to identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors. It’s a problem-focused and action-oriented method where therapists help clients develop coping strategies to change unhelpful behavior and thinking.

Key Differences Between Psychoanalysis and CBT

Here are some significant differences between the two therapies:

  1. The focus of Therapy: Psychoanalysis focuses on the unconscious mind and past experiences, while CBT concentrates on present thoughts and behaviors.
  2. Duration of Therapy: Psychoanalysis is typically a long-term therapy lasting several years. In contrast, CBT is generally a short-term therapy, usually lasting several weeks to months. So the costs of CBT may be lower.
  3. Therapist’s Role: In psychodynamic therapy, therapists help clients explore their unconscious misintend and interpret their thoughts and feelings. In CBT, therapists actively teach clients to identify and change distorted thought patterns.
  4. Techniques Used: Psychoanalysis uses techniques like free association and dream interpretation. CBT uses techniques such as cognitive restructuring and behavioral activation.
  5. The goal of Therapy: The goal of psychoanalysis is deep personal change and understanding, while the goal of CBT is symptom relief and behavior change.
  6. Theoretical Underpinnings: Psychodynamic psychotherapy is rooted in the theories of psychoanalysis, focusing on unconscious processes and the client’s past experiences Learn More. CBT is based on the cognitive model, emphasizing the role of thoughts in influencing behaviors and feelings Learn More.

Pros, Cons, and Effectiveness of Each Therapy

CBT and Psychoanalysis Similarities and Difference

Like any therapeutic method, psychoanalysis and CBT have strengths and limitations.

  • Psychoanalysis can provide profound personal insights and lead to long-term changes in personality and self-awareness. However, it can be time-consuming, expensive, and emotionally challenging due to its intense nature.
  • CBT, being structured and focused, often leads to quicker symptom relief. It equips individuals with practical tools that they can apply in their daily lives. But, it might not dig deep into underlying psychological issues as psychoanalysis does, potentially leading to a recurrence of symptoms.

In terms of effectiveness, research indicates that both therapies can effectively treat various mental health conditions. Nonetheless, CBT has more empirical support due to its measurable nature.

Real-Life Examples and Who Could Benefit More

Consider someone suffering from panic attacks who needs immediate coping mechanisms. They might find CBT more helpful due to its focus on present problems and actionable solutions.

On the contrary, an individual dealing with recurring relationship issues might benefit more from psychoanalysis, which could help them uncover underlying patterns of human behavior from their past affecting their current interactions.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Navigating the world of mental health therapies can be a daunting task. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Psychoanalysis are the most popular and effective treatments.

Both offer unique approaches to various mental health problems, but how do they differ?

  1. Definition: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a type of psychotherapy that helps individuals identify and change negative, worrisome thought patterns that lead to destructive behaviors and beliefs.
  2. Objective: The main goal of CBT is to teach individuals how to recognize negative behavior or thought patterns and learn how to replace them with positive ones.
  3. Techniques: Some common CBT techniques include cognitive restructuring, exposure therapy, and stress inoculation training.
  4. Duration: Typically, CBT is a short-term therapy lasting between 5 to 20 sessions.
  5. Effectiveness: CBT is highly effective in treating various disorders, including depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Stay tuned as we delve deeper into these aspects and compare them with Psychoanalysis in the following sections.

Origins of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a highly effective therapy used worldwide, but where did it originate? Understanding its roots can provide valuable insights into its principles and techniques. Let’s take a look at the origins of CBT.

  1. The Founding Father: Aaron T. Beck, an American psychiatrist, is often credited as the father of CBT. He developed this therapy in the 1960s.
  2. Inspiration: Beck initially practiced psychoanalysis but became frustrated with its limitations. This led him to develop his cognitive theory, which became the foundation for CBT.
  3. Evolution: Over time, Beck’s ideas were combined with behavioral therapy strategies, forming what we now know as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
  4. Influence: Today, CBT incorporates ideas from various fields, including cognitive psychology, behavioral psychology, and emotional learning.
  5. Spread: CBT has been widely adopted worldwide since its inception due to its effectiveness and adaptability across different cultures and settings.

Who developed cognitive behavioral therapy?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a frequently used mental health treatment approach. But who was the brain behind this effective therapy? Let’s find out.

  1. Aaron T. Beck: An American psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Beck is often recognized as the father of CBT. His work in the 1960s laid the foundation for this therapeutic approach.
  2. Albert Ellis: Around the same time, psychologist Albert Ellis developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), another form of cognitive therapy that significantly influenced CBT.
  3. Collaboration and Development: Over the years, numerous other psychologists and researchers have contributed to the evolution and refinement of CBT, making it the versatile and effective tool it is today.

In the next section, we’ll delve into the specifics of how CBT works and how it contrasts with psychoanalysis.

How does CBT work?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a cognitive behavioral therapy with a proven track record in treating various mental health conditions. But how exactly does it work? Let’s delve into the mechanics of CBT.

  1. Identifying Negative Thoughts: The process begins with identifying harmful, inaccurate, or negative thoughts contributing to problematic behaviors and emotions.
  2. Challenging Negative Thoughts: The therapist then helps the individual challenge these thought patterns by examining their validity and usefulness.
  3. Developing Coping Strategies: Through various techniques, individuals learn alternative ways to respond to challenging situations, replacing negative thoughts with more accurate and positive ones.
  4. Behavioral Techniques: Individuals are often given practical assignments to change their behavior, such as confronting rather than avoiding a fear-inducing situation.
  5. Maintenance and Prevention: Lastly, the therapist works with the individual to develop strategies to maintain their improvements and prevent future relapses.

In the following sections, we’ll compare these aspects of CBT with the principles and techniques of psychoanalysis.

Goals of cognitive-behavioral therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal-oriented approach to mental health treatment. But what are the specific goals that guide this therapeutic process? Let’s take a closer look.

  1. Changing Negative Thought Patterns: One of the primary goals of CBT is to help individuals identify and change harmful thought patterns that lead to destructive behaviors and emotions.
  2. Developing Coping Mechanisms: CBT aims to equip individuals with effective coping strategies to deal with stressful situations or triggers, reducing their impact on mental health.
  3. Improving Emotional Regulation: Through CBT, individuals may use journaling to regulate emotions better and other techniques, improving mood and less anxiety.
  4. Increasing Self-Efficacy: CBT aims to increase individuals’ confidence in managing their mental health.
  5. Preventing Relapse: By teaching individuals how to maintain their improvements, one of the long-term goals of CBT is to prevent future relapses.

In the next section, we’ll compare these goals with those of psychoanalysis to provide a clearer understanding of the differences between these two therapeutic approaches.

Cognitive behavioral therapy techniques

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) employs various techniques to help individuals manage their mental health. These techniques are designed to change negative thought patterns and behaviors. Let’s explore some of these techniques.

  1. Cognitive Restructuring: This technique helps individuals identify and challenge negative thoughts, replacing them with more positive and realistic ones.
  2. Behavioral Activation: This technique encourages individuals to engage in activities that boost their mood and counteract feelings of depression or anxiety.
  3. Exposure Therapy: Used primarily for anxiety disorders and phobias, this technique involves gradually exposing individuals to feared situations to help reduce fear or avoidance.
  4. Mindfulness: Involves teaching individuals to focus on the present moment and accept it without judgment. It can help reduce stress and improve emotional regulation.
  5. Problem-Solving Therapy: This technique helps individuals develop effective problem-solving strategies to cope with life’s challenges and stressors.

How long does cognitive behavioral therapy typically take?

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is known for its relatively short duration compared to other therapies like psychoanalysis. But how long does CBT typically take? Let’s delve into this aspect.

  1. Short-Term Therapy: CBT is generally considered a short-term therapy, with most treatment plans lasting between 12 to 20 sessions. However, the duration can vary based on the individual’s needs and progress.
  2. Session Duration: Each session of CBT typically lasts about 50 minutes to an hour, held once a week or every two weeks.
  3. Factors Affecting Duration: The length of therapy can be influenced by several factors, including the severity of the condition, the individual’s rate of progress, and the specific therapy goals.
  4. Long-Term Maintenance: Even after formal therapy ends, individuals may continue to use the skills learned in CBT throughout their lives. Some individuals might also benefit from occasional “booster” sessions to reinforce their skills.
  5. Resources: For more information, check out the American Psychological Association’s guide on CBT.

In the next section, we’ll look at how this timeframe compares to that of psychoanalysis

Cognitive behavioral therapy examples and benefits

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a versatile therapy with numerous applications and benefits. But what does CBT look like in practice, and how can it benefit individuals? Let’s explore this further.

  1. Example – Anxiety: For someone suffering from anxiety, CBT might involve identifying triggers, challenging anxious thoughts, and practicing relaxation techniques.
  2. Benefit – Effective for a Variety of Conditions: CBT treats various conditions, including reducing anxiety, depression, PTSD, and eating disorders.
  3. Example – Depression: A person with depression might use CBT to identify and challenge negative thought patterns, engage in mood-boosting activities, and improve problem-solving skills.
  4. Benefit – Skills for Life: The skills learned in CBT can be used throughout life, providing a long-term solution for managing mental health challenges such as BPD. Check out this article by Mayo Clinic for more information.
  5. Example – Insomnia: For insomnia, CBT might involve establishing a sleep routine, improving sleep hygiene, and challenging beliefs about sleep.
  6. Benefit – Low Relapse Rates: Research suggests CBT has lower relapse rates than medication, particularly for depression and anxiety. You can read more about it in this study.

In the next section, we’ll compare these examples and their benefits with those of psychoanalysis.


Psychoanalysis is a therapeutic approach developed by Sigmund Freud in the late 19th century. It delves into an individual’s unconscious mind to uncover and address deep-seated issues. How does it work, and what are its key components? Let’s explore.

  1. Origins: Developed by Sigmund Freud, psychoanalysis aims to resolve mental health issues by uncovering unconscious thoughts, memories, and desires.
  2. The Unconscious Mind: Psychoanalysis posits that many of our thoughts and behaviors are driven by unconscious forces. These hidden elements are brought to light through techniques like free association and dream analysis.
  3. Therapeutic Relationship: The relationship between the analyst and the patient, known as transference, plays a critical role in psychoanalysis. It allows patients to explore unresolved conflicts and feelings.
  4. Long-Term Treatment: Psychoanalysis is typically a long-term treatment involving several weekly sessions over several years.
  5. Uses and Effectiveness: While less commonly used today, psychoanalysis can benefit individuals with longstanding, complex issues. For more information, check out this overview by the American Psychological Association.

In the following sections, we’ll compare psychoanalysis with CBT, helping you understand each therapy’s unique aspects and benefits.

Who developed psychoanalysis?

Psychoanalysis, a groundbreaking approach to mental health treatment, was developed by a key figure in psychology. But who exactly was behind this therapy? Let’s delve into the origins of psychoanalysis.

  1. Sigmund Freud: The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who developed this therapeutic approach in the late 19th century.
  2. Influential Theories: Freud introduced influential theories about the unconscious mind, dream interpretation, and the role of childhood experiences in shaping personality.
  3. Legacy: Despite controversy and criticism, Freud’s work has profoundly impacted psychology, influencing many subsequent therapeutic techniques and theories.
  4. Followers and Critics: Many of Freud’s students and followers, like Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, later developed their psychoanalytic theories, often diverging from Freud’s original ideas.
  5. Modern Psychoanalysis: Today, while it is less commonly practiced in its traditional form, it continues to inform many areas of psychology and mental health treatment.

History Of Psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis boasts a rich history that has significantly shaped the field of psychology. From its inception to its modern-day applications, let’s trace the fascinating journey of psychoanalysis.

  1. Late 19th Century: Sigmund Freud, an Austrian neurologist, developed the foundations of psychoanalysis towards the end of the 19th century.
  2. Early Concepts: Freud’s early work focused on the unconscious mind, dream analysis, and the role of childhood experiences in shaping behavior and personality.
  3. Expansion of Ideas: In the early 20th century, Freud expanded his theories to include concepts like the Oedipus complex, defense mechanisms, and the structure of the psyche (id, ego, superego).
  4. Freud’s Followers: Many of Freud’s students, including Carl Jung and Alfred Adler, developed their schools of psychoanalytic thought, often diverging from Freud’s original ideas.
  5. Modern Psychoanalysis: Today, while traditional psychoanalysis is less commonly practiced, its principles influence many other therapeutic approaches, including psychodynamic therapy.

In the next section, we’ll compare the history and evolution of psychoanalysis with that of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

Origins Of Behavior Therapy In Psychology

Behavior therapy, a key component of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), has its roots in the early 20th century. But how did it come about, and what were its foundational principles? Let’s delve into the origins of cognitive behavior therapy in psychology.

  1. Behaviorism: The origins of behavior therapy can be traced back to the behaviorist school of thought, which emerged in the early 20th century. Behaviorism focuses on observable behaviors and rejects the psychoanalytic emphasis on the unconscious mind.
  2. Key Figures: Key figures in behaviorism included Ivan Pavlov, who discovered classical conditioning, and B.F. Skinner developed the concept of operant conditioning.
  3. Systematic Desensitization: In the mid-20th century, psychologist Joseph Wolpe developed systematic desensitization, a behavior therapy technique for reducing fear and anxiety.
  4. Integration with Cognitive Approaches: In the 1960s and 1970s, behavior therapy began incorporating cognitive approaches, leading to the development of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  5. Modern Behavior Therapy: Today, behavior therapy is often integrated with cognitive techniques in CBT, and it continues to be a powerful tool for addressing a wide range of mental health issues.

In the subsequent sections, we’ll compare behavior therapy’s origins and principles with psychoanalysis.

How does psychodynamic talk therapy work?

Psychodynamic talk therapy, a derivative of psychoanalysis, is a common therapeutic approach emphasizing exploring unconscious processes and patterns. But how exactly does it work? Let’s delve into the intricacies of psychodynamic therapy.

  1. Unconscious Mind: Psychodynamic therapy focuses on uncovering unconscious thoughts, feelings, and experiences that influence current behavior and relationships.
  2. Therapeutic Relationship: The relationship between the therapist and client, known as transference, is crucial. It allows clients to explore unresolved issues and feelings.
  3. Insight and Self-Awareness: Through exploration and interpretation, clients gain insight and self-awareness, allowing for personal growth and change.
  4. Defense Mechanisms: A key element of psychodynamic therapy involves understanding and addressing defense mechanisms and unconscious strategies to manage conflict and stress.
  5. Long-Term Approach: While it can vary, psychodynamic therapy is usually long-term, allowing time for deep exploration.

Psychoanalysis techniques

Psychoanalysis is a therapy approach that uses specific techniques to uncover and address unconscious thoughts, negative emotions, memories, and desires. But what are these techniques? Let’s explore some of the key methods used in psychoanalysis.

  1. Free Association: In this technique, clients are encouraged to share thoughts, words, and images that come to mind without censorship or judgment. This can help reveal unconscious thoughts and feelings.
  2. Dream Analysis: Psychoanalysts view dreams as windows into the unconscious mind. Analyzing dream content can uncover hidden desires, fears, and conflicts.
  3. Transference Analysis: Transference occurs when a client projects feelings about significant people onto the therapist. Analyzing these projections can provide insight into unresolved issues.
  4. Interpretation: Psychoanalysts use interpretation to help clients understand unconscious conflicts, defenses, and symptoms.
  5. Working Through: This involves repeatedly examining an issue to gain a deeper understanding and to facilitate change.

Psychoanalysis examples and benefits

Psychoanalysis, an influential approach to mental health treatment, has been utilized in various forms and settings, offering numerous benefits. Let’s look at some examples of psychoanalysis in practice and the advantages it can bring.

  1. Dream Analysis: An individual troubled by recurring nightmares may use psychoanalysis to unravel hidden meanings and confront unresolved issues, leading to improved sleep and reduced anxiety.
  2. Free Association: A person struggling with inexplicable feelings of sadness might employ free association to uncover unconscious memories or emotions, fostering self-awareness and emotional healing.
  3. Long-Term Therapy: Psychoanalysis can provide deep, long-term changes for individuals with chronic mental health issues, improving their overall quality of life.
  4. Understanding Childhood Influences: Psychoanalysis can help people understand how childhood experiences continue to affect their adult lives, enabling them to break free from harmful patterns.
  5. Improved Relationships: Individuals can improve their relationships and interpersonal skills by understanding and resolving transference issues.

Dream Interpretation

Dream interpretation is a fundamental component of psychoanalysis, offering a window into the patient’s unconscious mind. But how does it work, and what benefits does it offer? Let’s delve into the fascinating world of dream interpretation.

  1. Latent Content: In psychoanalysis, dreams are believed to contain latent content or hidden meanings that represent unconscious desires, fears, or conflicts.
  2. Symbol Analysis: Symbols in dreams are interpreted to uncover these hidden meanings. For instance, water might symbolize emotions, while a house might represent the self.
  3. Manifest Content: This refers to the actual events of the dream, which are analyzed to understand the underlying latent content.
  4. Resolution of Unconscious Conflicts: Individuals can confront and resolve unconscious conflicts by interpreting dreams, leading to personal growth and improved mental health.
  5. Insight into Personal Issues: Dream interpretation can provide valuable insights into personal issues, helping individuals understand their feelings, behaviors, and relationships better.

Comparing CBT and Psychoanalysis

Outcomes of CBT vs Psychoanalysis

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Psychoanalysis are two therapeutic approaches that yield different outcomes based on their unique methodologies. But what can you expect from each? Let’s delve into the outcomes of these two therapies.

  1. Symptom Management: CBT is often more effective in providing immediate relief from symptoms of mental disorders like anxiety and depression. While not as immediate, psychoanalysis can result in profound changes in personality and self-perception.
  2. Long-Term Effects: Psychoanalysis can lead to long-term changes in personality and behavior. Conversely, CBT equips individuals with practical strategies to manage symptoms, resulting in long-term symptom reduction.
  3. Self-Awareness: Psychoanalysis often leads to increased self-awareness and understanding of unconscious processes. CBT increases awareness of distorted thinking patterns and their impact on behavior and emotions.
  4. Coping Strategies: CBT is known for teaching practical coping strategies for managing symptoms of mental disorders. Psychoanalysis focuses more on resolving underlying issues.
  5. Treatment Completion Rates: CBT often has higher completion rates due to its shorter duration and more structured approach. Psychoanalysis, being a longer-term therapy, may have lower completion rates.

Time Frame

The time frame of therapy is a crucial factor to consider when choosing between therapeutic approaches like Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). How long does each therapy typically last, and what factors influence this duration? Let’s delve into this aspect.

  1. Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a long-term therapy approach lasting several years, with sessions occurring multiple times a week.
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is typically a short-term therapy lasting from a few weeks to several months, with sessions occurring once a week.
  3. Factors Influencing Duration: The length of therapy can be influenced by various factors, including the individual’s needs, the nature and severity of the issue being treated, and the individual’s response to therapy.
  4. Progress Assessment: Regular assessments are part of both therapy approaches to gauge progress and adjust the treatment plan as needed.
  5. Post-Therapy Follow-ups: Both psychoanalysis and CBT may involve follow-up sessions after the completion of therapy to reinforce the skills learned and assess long-term outcomes.

Making the Choice

Choosing between Psychoanalysis and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be a complex decision, influenced by various factors such as personal needs, goals, and the nature of the issues. Let’s explore some key considerations when making this choice.

  1. Identify Your Needs: Understanding your own needs and therapy goals is crucial. CBT might better fit those seeking immediate symptom relief, while Psychoanalysis could be more suitable for those seeking deep personal change.
  2. Consider Time Commitment: Psychoanalysis often requires a longer time commitment than CBT. Consider your availability and willingness to commit to long-term therapy.
  3. Evaluate Your Beliefs: Reflect on whether you resonate more with the Psychoanalysis or CBT belief system. This can influence your engagement and satisfaction with therapy.
  4. Professional Guidance: Consult with a mental health professional. They can provide insights into which approach might be the most beneficial for your specific circumstances.
  5. Try Different Approaches: It’s okay to try different therapies and see what works best for you. Therapeutic compatibility is highly individual, and what works best for one person may not work well for another.

What Should I Choose: CBT or Psychoanalysis?

  1. Immediate Relief vs. Long-Term Change: CBT might be better for immediate symptom relief. However, if you’re looking for deep, long-term changes in personality and self-perception, Psychoanalysis could be more suitable.
  2. Time Commitment: Consider how much time you’re willing and able to commit to therapy. CBT is typically a shorter therapy, while Psychoanalysis requires a longer commitment.
  3. Personal Preference: Reflect on which approach resonates with you more. Do you prefer a structured, goal-oriented approach (CBT) or a more exploratory, insight-oriented approach (Psychoanalysis)?
  4. Consult a Professional: A mental health professional can provide valuable guidance in helping you choose the right therapeutic approach for your unique situation.
  5. Trial and Error: Remember, it’s okay to try both and see which one works best for you. Finding a therapy you feel comfortable with that effectively addresses your needs is the most important thing.

Psychoanalysis VS CBT Conclusion

Choosing between psychoanalysis and CBT depends on individual preferences, specific issues, and the desired pace of progress. Both therapies offer valuable tools for understanding and improving mental health. Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all in mental illness and health treatment. What matters most is finding the approach that resonates with you and your specific needs.

Do you have any questions about Psychoanalysis vs CBT? Please feel free to leave a comment below. Also, we’d love to hear from you if there’s a specific mental health service, app, or course you’d like our team to review next. Your input helps us provide our readers with the most relevant and helpful information.

If You’re In An Emergency

In a crisis, it’s crucial to remember that waiting for an online therapy session may not be the safest option. If immediate assistance is needed, please dial 911. This includes situations where you or someone else may be at risk of harm. If you’re contemplating self-harm, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and offers 24/7 support.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) also provides a National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357). This service, accessible year-round, around the clock, offers free and confidential assistance for individuals coping with mental or substance abuse disorders, helping them find treatment and gather necessary information.

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