I'm putting together this resource as I embark on my journey to train as a psychoanalyst in the United States. My hope is that this page would become the resource which I wish I could have had when I first started to research this path.
Some background on me: I live in California, and my aim is to train with the Lacanian School of Psychoanalysis in Berkeley, CA. However, I'm a few years away from being able to apply to their analyst training program.
I'm currently completing a master's degree at The University of Wales Trinity St. David in order to get more competitive for doctoral programs. Once I'm enrolled in a doctoral program, I'll be able to apply to the analyst training program at the Lacanian school. Ultimately, this will lead to research analyst license in the state of CA (see the California section below), which will allow me to practice as a psychoanalyst on a part-time basis while doing teaching and research.
This page was born from my own research, including searching the internet and talking with colleagues. It's possible that I've gotten some things wrong or missed things, so please take this as a starting point for your own research, and be sure to verify with others what you hear me saying. Nonetheless, I hope this is helpful!
Okay, but what actually is psychoanalysis?
"Psychoanalysis is essentially a cure through love" – Sigmund Freud
There are many definitions of psychoanalysis, but at its most simple – psychoanalysis is a method of healing which assumes the existence of unconscious processes in the human mind, and aims to work through the repressed conflicts of the unconscious by bringing them into speech.
The patient speaks whatever comes to their mind in order to weaken their inhibitions and to dredge up whatever unconscious material is operating within their psychic system. While the patient speaks, the analyst listens with the aim of noticing the gaps, breaks, and callbacks in the patient's speech. Ultimately, the analyst serve as the other towards whom the patient begins to re-enact these unconscious conflicts in order to work through them in the clinic (called 'transference').
Historically, psychoanalysis predates the modern practice of psychotherapy and counseling. In fact, it was psychoanalysis which first pioneered this "talking cure" wherein patients speak about their dreams, their feelings, and their experiences in order to begin to encounter them and heal through that encounter.
Where much of the debate about psychoanalysis comes is in its historical twists and turns (How closely must one adhere to Freud and his methods? is the Oedipus complex sexist) and in its particular theories about the psyche (what is the unconscious? how do we work with the ego? what are the importance of dreams?) On these (and more), psychoanalysts have broken into different camps. Some maintain an uneasy alliance, while others have been excised from the community.
Here is a recent video I recorded with two colleagues where we discussed some of the features that make psychoanalysis unique in comparison to other forms of psychotherapy practiced today:
Do I need a license to practice psychoanalysis in the US?
Yes, you do need a license to practice psychoanalysis in the US, although, as best as I can tell, there are TWO primary ways you can obtain this licensure. Both routes require you to train at a psychoanalytic institute (see the list below), but they differ based on whether you must become a licensed mental health professional or not.
The only licensure which actually matters at the legal level is state licensure. There are many psychoanalytic professional organizations (which I talk about more below), but membership with or certification through these organizations is not a legal requirement to call one's self a psychoanalyst or to perform psychoanalysis.
The American Board of Psychoanalysis (ABPsa) provides a second-order and voluntary certification process which adds a layer of certification beyond the completion of a training program or licensure to practice psychoanalysis in one's state or territory.
The American Board of Psychoanalysis require that:
Professional Organizations in Psychoanalysis
Many psychoanalysts join the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsA) which is one of the largest professional organizations uniting American psychoanalysts.
However, the APsA simply a professional organization, and thus membership does not confer any level of licensure or certification. Further, the American Psychoanalytic Association is not the only professional organization in the United States for psychoanalysts to join.
You can also join the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis, or the Confederation of Independent Psychoanalytic Societies.
Many states and cities also have their own local societies and institutes where you can engage with colleagues in your immediate area. These are especially good for students and early-career clinicians to meet people in their region (I am on the board of my local psychoanalytic society). Many of them are small and convivial, so you will likely find many opportunities to both learn and lead.
You can find many of these societies through the APsA website, but I've found that internet searches turn up others which are not listed. [At some point, I'll probably put together an up to date Google Earth map of the location of all the societies and institutes, with some labeled attributes.]
Finally, you can find professional organizations for the application of psychoanalytic principles within a particular sub-field, such as the American Association of Psychoanalysis in Clinical Social Work or the Center for Christianity and Psychoanalysis, to name two of such groups.
How can I train as a psychoanalyst if I am already a psychologist, psychiatrist, or mental health professional?
The first way to practice psychoanalysis in the United States is to obtain state licensure in one of the mental health professions – counseling, social work, psychology, psychiatry – and then to complete an analyst training program at a state-approved psychoanalytic training institute.
There are many ways to become a licensed mental health professional, although each of these licenses are regulated at the state level. Many states have some variation of a license for social workers, mental health counselors, or marriage and family therapists. These master's level roles differ from psychologists, who have a PhD or PsyD, and psychologists are different from psychiatrists, who have an MD.
All of the professionals enumerated above are permitted to perform psychotherapy, but only psychologists can administer psychological testing, and only psychiatrists can prescribe medication (except in a few states where a psychologist can take special training to be licensed to prescribe medication).
Once you have obtained a valid license as a mental health professional in your state – which basically means that you can legally advertise yourself as performing psychotherapy – you are ready to apply to a training program at a state-approved psychoanalytic institute.
There are a number of accrediting bodies which accredit psychoanalytic institutes, including the American Psychoanalytic Association (list here), the National Association for the Advancement of Psychoanalysis (list here), and the American Board for Accreditation in Psychoanalysis (list here).
Can I train as a psychoanalyst if I don't have a degree in counseling, social work, or psychology?
There is another path which some states provide to obtain licensure to practice psychoanalysis. Currently, I've only been able to confirm that California offers this route, but I've heard rumors that New York and Texas provides something similar, and I'm doing research to uncover the rules around this in other states. Stay posted for more.
This second pathway requires simply that (1) have or are pursuing a terminal degree in one's field (typically a PhD) and (2) is engaged in some sort of full-time teaching and research capacity. In California (which I know best), these requirements can be a bit vague, ranging from having a job at a state-accredited institution of higher learning all the way to "spending significant time producing research" (which seems to include some sort of independent scholar type?). However, the catch with these is usually that you can't perform psychoanalysis for pay for more than 1/3 of your total working hours. So, there are some restrictions on how much you can practice, such that it cannot be your full time job.
Are there different types of psychoanalysts? Will that affect my licensure?
There are different schools of psychoanalysts, although this doesn't really affect your licensure. To the general public, you will simply be a psychoanalyst.
Your specific orientation of psychoanalysis will influence a number of things though. For instance, the institute you choose to train at, as well as the type of training you will receive at that institute, and which professional bodies you will gain access to. Some institutes are more eclectic in their approach, while some are more focused on a particular orientation. You should research a particular training program's orientation ahead of time as you discern where to study.
- You'll find some straightforwardly Freudian schools like the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute.
- You'll also find 'Object Relations' schools such as the Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute, which follow after the British tradition of psychoanalysis.
- You'll encounter schools which follow the theories of Jacques Lacan, such as the Lacanian School in Berkeley, although these are rarer the US.
- You'll also find various institutes where you can train as an analyst in the Jungian (also called the Depth, Archetypal or Analytic) orientation.
There are other orientations as well, and I'm working on documenting the history of these figures and their theories over at my podcast Psycho-Babble on Substack (coming soon!).
Are there downsides to choosing a particular psychoanalytic orientation?
Despite being devoted students of the human mind, and people deeply interested in the pathologies of both individuals and groups, psychoanalysts can be a surprisingly divisive bunch. Please be aware that training at certain institutes can brand you a certain way, or that picking a specific psychoanalytic orientation can make you unwelcome amongst certain groups.
In particular, choosing a Lacanian or Jungian orientation can affect how others view you, as well as your ability to be a member in certain societies, as some groups might not recognize these orientations or their schools. Choose wisely, and talk to those around you. If you don't want to lock yourself in, you can always look for the more eclectic institutes (peruse their curriculum on their website before applying) in order to pick and choose from a breadth of theorists.
What does the licensing process look like in each state in the US?
Link to licensing requirements in California
To become a psychoanalyst in the state of Colorado, you must first become a licensed clinician – Requirements here: https://apps2.colorado.gov/DORA/licensing/Lookup/DownloadRoster.aspx
Train at an accredited psychoanalytic institute: List here
- Denver Institute of Psychoanalysis is located in Colorado. Find out more about their training programs here. Accredited by the APsA
- Colorado Center for Modern Psychoanalytic Studies is located in Colorado. Find out more about their training programs here. Accredited by NAAP.
As far as I can tell, Colorado does not currently offer a non-clinical path to becoming a psychoanalyst.
Vermont - How to get licensed as a psychoanalyst in Vermont
Summary of the requirements to attain licensure as a psychoanalyst in Vermont:
- To be eligible for certification as a psychoanalyst, an applicant shall satisfy the following requirements:
- Have earned a master’s degree.
- Have earned a graduate certificate or doctoral degree in psychoanalysis from a free-standing psychoanalytic institute that is chartered by a state or foreign government and accredited by a national psychoanalytic association.
- A student who is in training at a free-standing state or foreign government chartered psychoanalytic institute may practice as a psychoanalyst-in-training until issuance of State certification as long as that person is meeting the requirements for supervised practice of the institute at which that person is training.
Vermont has two psychoanalytic institutes currently – (1) Vermont Association of Psychoanalytic Studies, which is a local chapter of Division 39 of the American Psychological Association, and (2) the Vermont Psychoanalytic Study Group.
How much money can a psychoanalyst make?
With only so much time in the day and only so many days in our lives, is psychoanalysis compensated well enough to warrant the education and time investment?
We live in a capitalist society where we have to earn money to purchase necessities. Our time is precious, so I don't think it's gauche or cynical to talk about money when it comes to the caring professions, such as psychoanalysis.
Most psychoanalysts work for themselves in a private practice where they procure and see their own patients, although some work in institutional or clinical settings. An analyst who has additional licensure in a mental health field can often work a part or full time job as part of a hospital or out-patient context, and then see a few patients on the side. The work can be flexible in this respect.
When undergoing an analysis, a patient will typically be on the couch anywhere from 3-5 times a week. What an analyst charges per hour session depends on where they live and the local market. One can usually charge in the range of $125-$150 in most suburban areas, and I've even heard of some charging upwards of $175+ in very large or international cities like New York City.
I do not have any experience trying to get insurance to pay for psychoanalysis, but I suspect that it's extremely difficult. One difficulty is that psychoanalysis does not provide a formal diagnosis in the sense that insurance expects. Further, an analysis will often go on for years, which is much much longer than insurance will be willing to pay for. Insurance will prefer that your patients see a therapist, receive a diagnosis from the DSM, and then go for approximately 8-12 sessions until they show enough improvement to warrant breaking off the treatment.
An analyst can do their patients a favor though by producing a "super-bill" (a large lump sum bill for all their services rendered) which patients can much more easily submit to their insurance provider for reimbursement. I know analysts who do this for their patients, and their patients are able to receive some funds from insurance.
However, returning to the question of an analyst's income, here is some quick back of the napkin math for you... Imagine you have 5 patients who you are seeing 4 times a week, for a total of 20 hours a week, and you charge a rate of $150 an hour. This would net you $12,000 or $144,000 a year, before taxes and business costs.
At these sort of rates, you could also afford to do a sliding scale, or even provide an affordable analysis for someone whose financial situation would normally make an analysis prohibitive. Also, it's customary to provide analysts in training with their analysis at a reduced rate. In this way, you can use the revenue from your wealthier clients to finance working with middle and lower class patients who are often neglected in psychoanalysis, as well as support analysts in training.
Keep in mind that, like any job where you work for yourself, work can be inconsistent – you may find it difficult to locate or retain clients. Perhaps they might skip sessions or break off their analysis prematurely. The money is by no means guaranteed. When you're in private practice, you work for yourself, which means you don't have a safety net to catch you when you fall. This can be scary, but also rewarding, depending on your personality and motivation. Regardless, the possibility to earn good money is there, and this money can be made on a flexible basis.
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