Not your great-grandfather’s psychoanalysis

By Amy Novotney

December 2017, Vol 48, No. 11,

Psychologists have modernized the approach to better serve patients and have conducted more research that validates its success

At age 7, Pratyusha Tummala-Narra emigrated from India to the United States with her family, leaving behind a country rife with political tensions. Her struggles to adjust to life as a racial and ethnic minority led her to pursue a PhD in psychology from Michigan State University. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a clinician, integrating psychoanalytic, multicultural and feminist perspectives into her practice, which focuses on helping immigrant and ethnic-minority clients deal with acculturation, discrimination and trauma. Her work draws on the ideas of the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, to explore how her clients’ thoughts and feelings that may lie outside awareness affect their social, cultural and political experiences.

As controversial as Freud may be, people often forget that he and his colleagues opened free clinics throughout Europe so that people of any class could have access to psychotherapy, says Tummala-Narra, who is also a professor of counseling, developmental and educational psychology at Boston College.

“When psychoanalysis came to the United States in the early 1900s, it developed into a form of treatment that seemed to only be accessible to the middle and upper-middle classes, which was never Freud’s intention,” she says. “He viewed psychodynamic therapy as a universal treatment for all people.”

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