Difficult times – what part can psychotherapy play?

What are we to make of these difficult times? Nothing stays the same. The hatred of the Other, global warming, wars, poverty, famine etc. We are living in challenging times. Feelings of anxiety, panic, depression and at times numbness is not uncommon.  


As therapists, clients come to us for many reasons, but predominately because they feel stuck. It is hard to see how therapy can help at times. For some who are not experienced with therapy, it may feel like an additional expense that has not much to show for itself.

Psychoanalytic therapy (which is my training) in itself has been through changes and it is trying to reinvent itself to be more applicable to changing times. Most of the historic reference over the last 70 years has been in the language invented by Freud and his students. Some therapists find themselves obliged to follow the language and application of these historic figures. This can leave the therapy unauthentic. 

So what is this psychoanalytic psychotherapy?

Winnicott explains that the ‘mother-infant’ relationship is a model of psychoanalysis. What we are offering as psychotherapists is some sort of reparation. A second chance at repairing some early relationship difficulties that continue to affect the individual in adult life. 

What the mother does naturally is to nurture her infant in a state of not-knowing. The psychotherapist through her provision of a professional setting based on trust and respect is there to help the client ‘reveal himself to himself’.  This is rather powerful as by working with the unconscious process the psychotherapist reveals some hidden self of the client that he would have repressed. 

As a psychotherapist, we go through rigorous training, learning about human development and general mental development. Concepts such as unconscious, resistance, defences, and transference. These concepts are tools to help us do the work. In this way, there is a science to psychotherapy but it is also very much an art.

Psychoanalysis is not in the art of diagnosing and labelling as in psychiatry but invented as a dynamic process which is opposed to a static state of mind. 

As humans, we are not static beings. 

With more knowledge about the self, one can make more informed decisions. Psychoanalysis can be the cure for survival. 

As therapists, we enter this profession because of our love of people, our desire to contain anxieties and pain and help our clients find ways forward.

What cure looks like often are those moments when as Winnicott explains is found in that place when the client surprises himself’. The value of psychoanalysis treatment is what the person gets out of it. What one gets out of it is further made possible by a willingness to partake.  

Ultimately, the discovery of what life could be about for an individual requires collaboration with another. 

This collaboration process has been likened to play. Playing according to Winnicott is the only real reality that mattered. When children play, they’re engaged, adult play is restricted due to years of censorship of the true self.   

In playing, which can be thought about in the process of free association (the process by which the client says whatever comes into her mind), one can imagine and inevitably discover what life they want to live. The reality, is that we put the brakes on our pleasure. What psychoanalysis does, is help the client find out where their real enjoyment lie. 

A patient is not cured by free association, he is cured when he can free-associate

– Ferenzi


Winnicott, D.W. (1971) Playing and Reality. London: Penguin, 1980, p.1l7.

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Watford, Hertfordshire, WD17
Written by Abi Canepa-Anson, Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
Watford, Hertfordshire, WD17

Abi Canepa-Anson works as a psychotherapist in private practice offering therapy and supervision. She is an advocate for issues of diversity and inclusion and taught on postgraduate training on Difference and Diversity. Abi holds a Masters in the Psychodynamics of Human Development and in her spare time enjoys art.

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