Freud's therapy has been more influential than any other, and more influential than any other part of his theory. Here are some of the major points:
Relaxed atmosphere. The client must feel free to express anything. The therapy situation is in fact a unique social situation, one where you do not have to be afraid of social judgment or ostracism. In fact, in Freudian therapy, the therapist practically disappears. Add to that the physically relaxing couch, dim lights, sound-proof walls, and the stage is set.
Free association. The client may talk about anything at all. The theory is that, with relaxation, the unconscious conflicts will inevitably drift to the fore. It isn't far off to see a similarity between Freudian therapy and dreaming! However, in therapy, there is the therapist, who is trained to recognize certain clues to problems and their solutions that the client would overlook.
Resistance. One of these clues is resistance. When a client tries to change the topic, draws a complete blank, falls asleep, comes in late, or skips an appointment altogether, the therapist says "aha!" These resistances suggest that the client is nearing something in his free associations that he -- unconsciously, of course -- finds threatening.
Dream analysis. In sleep, we are somewhat less resistant to our unconscious and we will allow a few things, in symbolic form, of course, to come to awareness. These wishes from the id provide the therapist and client with more clues. Many forms of therapy make use of the client's dreams, but Freudian interpretation is distinct in the tendency to find sexual meanings.
Parapraxes. A parapraxis is a slip of the tongue, often called a Freudian slip. Freud felt that they were also clues to unconscious conflicts. Freud was also interested in the jokes his clients told. In fact, Freud felt that almost everything meant something almost all the time -- dialing a wrong number, making a wrong turn, misspelling a word, were serious objects of study for Freud. However, he himself noted, in response to a student who asked what his cigar might be a symbol for, that "sometimes a cigar is just a cigar." Or is it?
Other Freudians became interested in projective tests, such as the famous Rorschach or inkblot tests. The theory behind these test is that, when the stimulus is vague, the client fills it with his or her own unconscious themes. Again, these could provide the therapist with clues.
Transference, catharsis, and insight
Transference occurs when a client projects feelings toward the therapist that more legitimately belong with certain important others. Freud felt that transference was necessary in therapy in order to bring the repressed emotions that have been plaguing the client for so long, to the surface. You can't feel really angry, for example, without a real person to be angry at. The relationship between the client and the therapist, contrary to popular images, is very close in Freudian therapy, although it is understood that it can't get out of hand.
Catharsis is the sudden and dramatic outpouring of emotion that occurs when the trauma is resurrected. The box of tissues on the end table is not there for decoration.
Insight is being aware of the source of the emotion, of the original traumatic event. The major portion of the therapy is completed when catharsis and insight are experienced. What should have happened many years ago -- because you were too little to deal with it, or under too many conflicting pressures -- has now happened, and you are on your way to becoming a happier person.
Freud said that the goal of therapy is simply " to make the unconscious conscious."