Analytic psychotherapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) are both talking therapies whose objective is to reduce emotional distress and painful symptoms but they’re very different.  Please note that I don’t offer CBT.

Unconscious versus conscious

The main distinction is that analytic psychotherapy aims to uncover why someone is feeling or behaving as they are and works deeply with the unconscious mind to do that and to bring about change. CBT doesn’t ask why in the same way and aims to consciously alter a person’s unhelpful thoughts, perceptions and behaviour in order to change how they feel and behave. Analytic therapy explores the past as well as the present while CBT deals largely with the present in relation to symptoms.

Structure versus spontaneity

CBT is more focused on precise goals than psychotherapy which works towards more holistic change. CBT will usually have more structured sessions and will give homework to do, agreed with the client. In analytic psychotherapy, the client will create the agenda themselves by talking spontaneously about whatever comes into their minds. As they speak, the therapist will be observing unconscious patterns in and behind what they say and responding to what’s said with ‘interpretations’.

The relationship with the therapist

Both therapies rely on a sound relationship between client and therapist, but in analytic therapy there will be a focus, among other things, on the interactions within that relationship.


CBT will usually be time-limited and briefer than psychotherapy – anywhere between six weeks and six months. Psychotherapy will often be more open-ended. It’s usual to expect to expect to work in therapy for a year or more depending on the nature of the issues, although improvements may start to be noticed after only a few months.

What do you need and want?

If you’re struggling with a behaviour that’s seriously impairing your life – for example an addiction, unmanageable anger, the effects of a crippling phobia or very disruptive obsessive-compulsive actions – it’s advisable in the first instance to deal with the external symptoms with a therapy such as CBT. If that can be achieved, you may wish to explore the underlying problem with a view to a deeper change, in which case analytic psychotherapy might be beneficial.

In other circumstances, different factors may affect your decision from the outset. For example, which approach – analytic psychotherapy or CBT – generally attracts you? Are you interested in exploring parts of yourself that may be out of conscious awareness? What are the financial and time considerations in your life? Do you want to stay in the present or also look at your past?