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Talking is a need, listening is an art: speech and analytical listening 

What is the purpose of psychotherapy? Do I need psychotherapy?  Let me try to answer

desenrolando os problemas

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive regarding psychotherapy is: "What is the purpose of psychotherapy?" Another widespread one is: "Do you think I need psychotherapy?" As I answer the former, I hope also to find a response for the latter, as they are closely linked.

Psychotherapy has suffered from many negative preconceptions—it has been considered a treatment for "crazy" people, for people unable to solve their problems. The word itself has always been burdened with pejorative and prejudiced connotations, which fortunately have been mainly overcome through education on the subject. I believe that the negative presumptions surrounding psychotherapy stem from its origins and its links with the development of treatments for schizophrenia, and still today it can be associated with the stigmatization of this mental disorder.

Nevertheless, it seems that the information people receive is often partial or biased, in order to induce people to seek or not seek psychotherapy. This decision can be taken by the person themselves, seeing as psychotherapy is not mandatory, as it was in the past. At one time, schizophrenics, or people who were suspected of being schizophrenics, would be sent away to hospitals, sometimes for many years (something that still occurs in many countries).

In some situations, there appears to be a consensus that people who have received psychiatric diagnoses about disorders such as compulsions, depression, bipolarity or psychosomatic disturbances should receive psychotherapy because several studies show that this can bring about many great benefits. However, there are several psychic sufferings that do not fall within the bounds of a medical or psychiatric diagnosis, but sufferers can significantly benefit from the psychotherapeutic process, and I would like to dedicate this article to these individuals.  


Psychotherapy is an intervention which considers the life of the individual in a broad manner, encompassing the cognitive and emotional aspects, as well as individual, familial, social and cultural factors of their personal experiences, in order to improve the individual's quality of life. In the early days of psychoanalysis, this was called "the talking cure" by the two main pioneers, Freud 1 and Jung 2 . Step by step, many other theories and techniques were incorporated into the psychotherapy process, such as the inclusion of the body by Wilhelm Reich 3 and Alexander 4 Lowen , the "psychodrama" of Moreno 5 , therapies that use art and music, and sandplay 6 , a technique developed by Dora Kalff in Switzerland, following the sand tray work of Margaret Lowenfeld, called the "World Technique". Sandplay therapy is based on Jungian theory.

One of the most significant contributions to psychology is undoubtedly the concept of the unconscious 7 , as well as the notions of archetypes and the collective unconscious, the basis of Jungian theory, together with the theory of the psychological complex 8 .

Thanks to the concept of the unconscious, we can understand that we are only aware of our attitudes, preferences and intentions up until a certain point, since our conscious mind can not access many of our experiences, and our subconscious or our unconscious mind greatly influence our choices and actions. This often comes as a surprise to us.

In an ideal world, everyone would be aware of the causes of his or her actions and emotions, but this is often not the case.

How many times do we get home, think back on our day, and realize that we don't know why we're angry, why we mistreated or were mistreated by somebody? Sometimes, we may have a headache following a conversation which seemed utterly ordinary at the time; however, this headache could be instigated by our unconscious perception of a passive-aggressive behaviour coming from the person we were talking to. Typically, we only understand the situation after stepping back and reflecting upon it. In some cases, our actions do not match our intentions: we regret things we said or did, but it is as if we have been possessed by an outside entity that guided our actions due to our unconscious negligence. In these situations, we are possessed by a "feeling-toned complex," which dominates us and interferes with our conscious will.

Psychotherapy uses psychological theories which help us become aware of the reasons which guide our actions and improve the consciousness of our motives and intentions. We increase our ability to choose, as well as our ability to better evaluate the consequences of our actions.

By increasing our consciousness, we become more responsible for our own destiny, since we have a healthier control of our attitudes, previously led by a limited "autopilot" attitude which lacks the knowledge and capacity to use all the available resources.

Psychotherapy instructs us to be more conscious and, consequently, in command of our actions and of our own lives.

Whenever our attitudes negatively surprise us, a complex loaded with unconscious emotions has been activated. According to Jung, traumatic situations, as well as frustrations, lack of affection, significant losses, disrespect, humiliation and similar negative experiences may form "feeling-toned complexes". These complexes become autonomous, "possessing" the subject as if he/she were somebody else entirely so that others do not recognize us, and sometimes we do not even recognize ourselves.

Often these complexes manifest themselves through symptoms such as those described above, in other occasions they can manifest themselves through indecision, through the difficulty to make commitments or develop satisfactory affective relationships, or even through compulsions of all kinds, such as compulsions for food, sex, games, shopping, or for social media. These complexes can also be responsible for psychosomatic diseases and may lead to depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, and so on.

Alternatively, these complexes can be manifested through a seemingly unreasonable sadness, dissatisfaction with work, difficulties in relationships or social isolation. We cannot forget one of the lesser recognized and evaluated feelings: the feeling that life has no meaning, which happens more often than we can imagine, not only with the elderly and with adults but also with children and adolescents.

According to Jung, the feeling that life is meaningless is a severe symptom, for a life without meaning is not a life worth living.

Today we have many successful young people who do not feel deserving of the success they have achieved, as if their capabilities are lacking so that even when they reach their goals, they feel like imposters of their own lives. Sad, isn't it? Other young adults are entirely lost, feeling like they don't fit in with the lives they're living, making many sacrifices to adapt to a world for which they have ambivalent feelings. A life dedicated to developing a well-adapted persona can become devoid of meaning, as it seems artificial and empty.

Psychotherapy can be useful in all of these cases, including when there is not specific suffering, but instead, a desire to go beyond, to discover what we are unwittingly lacking, to confront dissatisfaction, restlessness, and even a certain melancholy, a "je ne sais quoi"…

Psychotherapy can also be useful when we have a specific issue, such as fear of public speaking, choosing a vocation, deciding about whether to move to another city or country, changing career, leaving an unhappy marriage, deciding to have children or not. Any decision that drastically changes our lives can be taken with psychotherapeutic support.

All decisions that we do not feel prepared to take, as well as the decisions we regret, and that would like to undo, can be discussed in psychotherapy.

Psychotherapy is a dialogue where there is a qualified listener, and for this reason, it is different from talking to a friend or family member. The psychotherapist exerts the art of listening, the art he/ she has been trained for.


The psychotherapist listens to the unsaid, observes the action and also its absence. This qualified listener draws upon many hours of training, studies, and didactic analysis, which provides the patient with the opportunity to listen to themselves with the lowest possible interference - the interference of their complexes - that previously influenced the patient's life. When we become able to silence these complexes, we increase our capacity to make better and more informed decisions. In other words, silencing our complexes helps us to become less susceptible to our previously unconscious processes.

Besides, psychotherapy may help the individual to pursue personal achievement, which may not otherwise have come along in their career or their personal life.

Discovering your inner self, considered by many as something obscure and mysterious, can be very satisfactory!

End notes

1. Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis 
2. Carl Gustav Jung, the founder of analytical psychology, also known as depth psychology
3. Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst who included body-oriented therapy in psychotherapy 
4. Alexander Lowen studied with Wilhelm Reich and developed bioenergetic analysis.
5. Jacob Levy Moreno, the founder of a form of psychotherapy called psychodrama
6. Sandplay is a technique developed by Dora Kalff, which uses a sand tray as well as figurines that represent aspects of human figures, animals, mythology and nature, offering possible representations of the inner and outer world. 
7. The concept of the unconscious developed by Sigmund Freud is explored his Complete Psychological Works, translated into several languages.
8. The concepts of the collective unconscious, archetypes and the psychological complex were developed by Carl Gustav Jung, and are documented in his Collected Works, also translated into several languages.

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