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Know Thyself: The Role of Awareness in Psychotherapy

The Use of Awareness Practices in Psychotherapy Continued…

  • Modern psychotherapy began with psychoanalysis, the talk therapy originated by Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis helps people become aware of constantly emerging thoughts and memories. This includes awareness of thoughts and feelings toward an analyst who is minimally self-revealing. Disclosing our most private thoughts to an unknown analyst promotes a fantasy relationship and thus reveals the earliest personality characteristics shaped by interaction with parents.

    As it is currently practiced, psychoanalysis has been updated from Freud’s theories and is now informed by scientific observation of early child development.

    Psychoanalysts also interpret dreams to enhance awareness of the emotional context of experience that may otherwise escape observation. Carl Jung, an early psychiatrist and student of Freud, had a special talent for dreamwork. Like Freud, Jung recognized a universal symbolism in dreams that resembled ancient myths. He eventually found Freud’s theories too limiting, because he sensed a universal consciousness that affects people beyond the conditioning of child development. As a result, his dream interpretations are informed by religious symbolism and observations of the individual’s interactions with what he termed “the collective unconscious.” There are many approaches to analytic work, including post-Freudian and Jungian.

The choice of therapy depends on the individual’s needs. For instance, the psychoanalytic method is designed to bring strong, early feelings to the surface. Clients typically meet with their analysts more than once a week, and the process often takes several years. This requires significant investments of time and money and is not typically covered by health insurance. It is also best suited to those who need to start with therapy that focuses on enhancing the ability to regulate feelings and actions.

People who have trouble controlling addictions also can benefit from self-help groups that provide a community of support and healing. Groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous enhance awareness by working a 12-step process designed to break through denial with the help of a sponsor.

Most people enter psychotherapy to get help in better adapting to challenging life circumstances. They want to better understand themselves and their actions and improve their problem-solving skills. For rapid and cost-effective relief from dysfunctional moods and behaviors, they may first try the cognitive behavior therapies or solution-focused brief therapy. Problems with identity or self-esteem may not easily resolve with brief therapies that focus mostly on reactive thinking, feeling and actions. Long-standing depression and problems regulating actions also may require longer-term approaches.

“Integrative psychotherapy” combines various treatments. For instance, an exploration of cognitions can be supplemented by interpreting the origins of such thoughts in one’s family of origin to relieve self-blame. Someone seeking a deeper sense of inner peace may do dreamwork without undergoing the time and expense of psychoanalysis. In general, longer-term psychotherapies have been shown to be more effective than brief therapy.

Know Thyself: The Role of Awareness in Psychotherapy

Gary Seeman, Ph.D

Gary Seeman, Ph.D. is a psychologist in private practice in Corte Madera and San Francisco, CA. He works with adult individuals and couples, specializing in addictions, bereavement, creativity, life transitions, personal fulfillment, relationships and spirituality. He maintains a website at

APA Reference
Seeman, G. (2018). Know Thyself: The Role of Awareness in Psychotherapy. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Oct 2018 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Oct 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.