The Job and What's Involved

Psychoanalysts work with patients to examine and explore unconscious feelings, emotion and fantasies. These may be causing symptoms and problems that are troubling the patient. Experiences in early life, even experiences during birth, affect people's thought patterns and behavioural patterns. These can be rooted deep in the subconscious and may cause severe problems for some people.

People from all walks of life and of all ages seek the help of psychoanalysts for a variety of reasons. It may be for a very specific reason, such as depression, anxiety, a phobia or obsessive behaviour. Sometimes they feel worried or depressed in a more general way, for example, feeling aimless or dissatisfied at work or unable to form satisfactory relationships.


  • Work on a one-to-one basis with patients to help them uncover the thought and behavioural patterns buried in their unconscious.
  • Listen very carefully to the patients and observe them, trying to understand the emotional states behind what they are communicating verbally and non-verbally.
  • Encourage patients to identify and understand these emotional states.
  • Help patients to start dealing with their problems.

Psychoanalysts usually see each patient four or five times a week. They do not take notes during the session, but generally write down their observations after the patient has left. Each session lasts around 50 minutes. They aim to create a safe, structured environment in which patients can talk freely.

Treatment is usually a long and painstaking process and psychoanalysts have to build a strong relationship with each patient. To some extent, they have to put themselves in their patient's shoes, while still remaining professional and non-judgemental.

Most psychoanalysts work in private practice, so the number of hours they work each week depends on how many patients they treat. Their working times may include evenings and weekends. Many work part time and some combine their psychoanalytical work with work in other areas.

Psychoanalysts meet patients in an office that is comfortable, quiet and free from interruptions. Often, the patient lies on a couch and the psychoanalyst sits on a chair slightly behind them.

A newly-qualified psychoanalyst may start on around £40,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 300 qualified psychoanalysts currently working throughout the UK. Most of them are based in or near London. Most psychoanalysts work in private practice and are self-employed.

Many combine their psychoanalytic work with part-time work in other areas. Examples include work in psychiatric hospitals and units, child guidance clinics, specialist schools, consultation centres and prisons.

Education and Training

Psychoanalysis is almost always a second career. Entrants are often experienced in other fields, such as psychology, psychiatry, counselling or social work.

To qualify as a psychoanalyst, candidates must complete a qualified training course. The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy lists a whole section of psychoanalytic training as does the College of Psychoanalysts-UK.

Applicants for psychoanalysis training must have a first degree or an equivalent qualification. Entry to a first degree is usually with at least two A levels and five GCSE's (A*-C). Alternative qualifications may be accepted for entry to a first degree, either on their own or in combination with A levels. They include relevant BTEC Nationals and Higher Nationals, the International Baccalaureate and Access qualifications. Exact entry requirements vary between degree courses, so candidates must check carefully.

Applicants for training must pass a preliminary interview and two or three personal interviews before a decision is made as to whether they have been accepted.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is part time and may be fitted around work commitments. It takes at least four years to qualify. Trainees have to pay for their training analysis, registration fees and course fees.

There are three parts to the training course:

Personal psychoanalysis with an approved training analyst throughout the whole of the training period. This consists of a 50-minute session with the Institute of Psychoanalysis for five days a week (Monday to Friday). With the BPA there are at least four sessions a week.

Theoretical and clinical seminars. These start after the student has completed one year of personal psychoanalysis. The first year is mainly devoted to introductory seminars, the study of Freud's writings and psychoanalytic theories of human development. From the second year onwards, a variety of topics are covered, including different psychoanalytic schools of thought and the theoretical understanding and clinical treatment of various types of disturbance.

Psychoanalysis of two patients under the supervision of a qualified psychoanalyst. They see training patients for 50 minutes each day from Monday to Friday (the Institute of Psychoanalysis) or for four days a week (BPA). They usually start work with the first patient in year two of training and with the second patient after a further year. The first case must be continued for two years and the second patient for one year.

Although the training programme is based in London, it is still accessible to applicants living elsewhere. Entrants' personal psychoanalysis may take place outside London. Most of the Institute of Psychoanalysis's training events are provided by audio or video link from London. The Institute's students must attend some seminars in London, as well as some weekend seminars in London and Oxford.

On successful completion of training, students are eligible to become associate members of the British Psychoanalytical Society or the British Psychoanalytic Association. They also become members of the International Psychoanalytical Association, and eligible for registration with the British Psychoanalytic Council.

All psychoanalysts have to do continuing professional development (CPD) to extend their knowledge and understanding. Activities may include attending lectures and taking part in workshops organised by the Centre for the Advancement of Psychoanalytic Studies, at the Institute of Psychoanalysis.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A psychoanalyst should:

  • Be an excellent listener.
  • Have good observation skills.
  • Be able to work very closely with people who may be suffering from severe emotional problems.
  • Be prepared to work through some intense and unpleasant emotions and experiences with patients.
  • Have compassion, but enough detachment to cope with emotional stress.
  • Be open-minded and non-judgemental.
  • Have patience, as it may take a long time to achieve results.
  • Be self-aware and prepared to undergo analysis as part of the training.
  • Have good business and administration skills if self-employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

Psychoanalysts may choose to do further study and specialise in a particular area of work, such as child and adolescent psychoanalysis.

Experienced psychoanalysts may move into a teaching role, training new entrants to the profession.

Get Further Information

British Psychoanalytic Council, West Hill House,
6 Swains Lane, London N6 6QS
Tel: 020 7267 3626

The British Psychoanalytical Society and
the Institute of Psychoanalysis,
Byron House, 112a Shirland Road, Maida Vale,
London W9 2EQ
Tel: 020 7563 5000

International Psychoanalytical Association (IPA),
Broomhills, Woodside Lane,
London N12 8UD
Tel: 020 8446 8324

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