The designation "psychoanalyst" is not protected by federal or state law: anyone, even an untrained person, may use the title. It is therefore important to know the practitioner's credentials before beginning treatment.
Graduate psychoanalysts trained under the auspices of the American Psychoanalytic Association have had very rigorous and extensive clinical education. Candidates accepted for training at an accredited psychoanalytic institute must meet high ethical, psychological, and professional standards. These candidates are either physicians who have completed a four-year residency program in psychiatry, psychologists or social workers who have completed a doctoral program in their fields or hold a clinical masters degree in a mental health field where such a degree is generally recognized as the highest clinical degree; all must have had extensive clinical experience. Outstandingly qualified scholar-researchers, educators, and selected other professionals may also be approved for psychoanalytic training. All accepted candidates, whatever their background, then begin at least four years of psychoanalytic training.
This training consists of three parts. Candidates attend classes in psychoanalytic theory and technique. They undergo a personal analysis. And they conduct the psychoanalysis of at least three patients under the close and extended supervision of experienced analysts. Candidates who plan to treat children attend further classes and, with supervision, analyze boys and girls ranging in age from toddlers to late adolescents.
Besides conducting psychoanalysis, most graduate analysts also practice intensive and brief psychotherapy, sometimes prescribing medication. Many treat couples, conduct family or group therapy sessions, and work with the aging.
Because psychoanalysts are provided with the most thorough education available in normal and pathological development, their training enhances the quality of all their therapeutic work. It also informs their community activities as teachers, supervisors, consultants, and researchers, in the many different settings - hospitals, medical schools, colleges, day-care centers - where analysts are found.