Hannah Curtis

is a senior psychoanalytic psychotherapist with over 20 years experience in private practice. She is the author of 'Everyday Life and the Unconscious Mind' in which she discusses the ways in which the unconscious mind is at work in ordinary everyday interactions and relationships.

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Image by Jake Curtis

Hannah Curtis began her career in the 1970’s as a child care social worker. She worked for several years in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services before leaving to train as a psychotherapist in the 1980’s. At the same time she was a key player in a small team of mental health professionals who set up the first counselling and psychotherapy centre in Colchester Essex, the Stockwell Centre. In 1995 she opened her private practice which continues to the present day.

She taught in the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex for 5 years between 2010 and 2015 and it was this teaching that inspired her first book ‘Everyday Life and the Unconscious Mind.’

She now concentrates her time on her clinical practice and writing. She is currently working on a book that addresses the emotional and psychological aspects of overeating and the relationship to food.

She lives and works in Colchester, Essex.

What is it?

Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy aims to uncover the unconscious processes that give rise to the emotional and relationship difficulties in the life of the person seeking therapy, the patient. The context for this endeavour is the relationship that develops between the psychotherapist and the patient, which is an unusual and somewhat strange one. It is framed by firm boundaries of time and place and is strictly limited to the professional context. These boundaries create a safe space in which some very unsafe feelings, thoughts and ideas can be explored and thought through together. Such exploration makes for a uniquely intimate relationship, but one that does not go beyond the professional context. This is what makes it unusual, because the psychotherapist is not a part of the patient’s life, and yet the work that is done in the consulting room can have a huge impact upon the patient’s life. The focus of the work is the patient’s internal and unconscious mind, but the psychotherapist uses all her senses, her own thoughts, feelings and intuition, along with her theoretical learning, to try to understand what is being conveyed by the patient at all levels of mental functioning.

The patient is invited to speak freely about whatever comes to mind, the assumption being that this will convey what it is that the psychotherapist needs to attend to. The psychotherapist uses her thinking to help the patient to develop their own understanding of what they are needing to communicate that is not immediately available to awareness.

What often happens is that the patient begins to use the sessions to explore their difficulties and this frees them to function in a more effective and satisfying way in their daily life. It can seem to friends and family that they have become much better and sometimes people are puzzled that someone continues in therapy when they do not seem to need it anymore. But actually the person is better because their psychotherapist is holding an awareness of what they struggle with, and holding the space for them to work on their difficulties, so the patient can contain themselves between sessions in a way that they had not been able to do prior to taking up psychotherapy.

This is a task that can only move at the pace that is right for the patient so psychoanalytic psychotherapy is not one that is time limited, but continues until the patient feels ready to work towards ending the therapy and moving on from the relationship, taking with them the emotional development that has been forged in the psychotherapy relationship.

My Training

A central tenet of my own and all psychoanalytic training is a personal analysis. It is considered, and I agree that the psychotherapist must have a thorough going personal analysis of their own if they are to develop the professional capacity to make themselves emotionally and intellectually available to their patients at a profoundly meaningful level. I believe that the patient needs to be able to really trust that the psychotherapist’s mind is fully available to them for the duration of the session and that this is not hindered by the psychotherapists’ own unresolved conflicts and difficulties. This is my aim and is enshrined in my training which involved many years of 3 and 4 times per week personal analysis as a basic requirement.

In addition to this the training used and followed on from the work of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and many eminent psychoanalytic thinkers since him such as Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott and Wilfred Bion. The concepts that I learned when I trained are outlined in my book ‘Everyday Life and the Unconscious Mind.’

The Framework

The ongoing sessions are for 50 minutes and may be once, twice or three times weekly, depending on what is possible and what seems best. Sessions always start and finish on time.

Usually in psychoanalytic psychotherapy, the patient lies on the couch. This facilitates a more reflective inward looking atmosphere and relieves the pressure to keep a conversation going. I sit in a chair behind the couch. The couch is not used for the initial consultation.

Missed or cancelled sessions are chargeable except when I cancel. I usually take 10 -12 weeks holiday per year. Fees are invoiced on a monthly basis and payment is by cheque or bank transfer.

Fees and Availability

My psychotherapy practice is very full, but if you want to contact me you can complete the email form and I will respond. If I am able to offer you an initial consultation I will charge you a flat fee of £75 for a 1hr 15min meeting. If I cannot offer you a psychotherapy space immediately I do hold a waiting list or I may be able to suggest a colleague in this locality.

Everyday Life and the Unconscious Mind is my first book. It was inspired by the students that I taught in the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies at the University of Essex. I taught on an innovative degree course that was aimed at mature students who worked in care homes, residential establishments for young people in care, in schools as learning assistants or in drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. Our students were doing some of the most important and difficult jobs in our society today.

However whilst most of them had had training in such things as restraint procedures or safe guarding laws, or company policies, none of them had had any training in how to begin to think about unconscious feelings and behaviour, or about the interactions between themselves and a child or service user.

I realised that whilst there are many very good books on the market that considered unconscious processes in the counselling or therapy relationship, there were none that really introduced such concepts in other settings or types of relationship. I realised that I would have to write it myself and this is what I did.

I hope at some point to write a 2nd volume that will introduce some of the concepts that were not in line with the aims of the first volume, concepts such as narcissism, and the Oedipus complex.

I am also planning to write a book that will address the current obesity crisis from a psychological perspective. I want to discuss how psychoanalysis can help us to think about our relationship to food and why it can be so difficult to choose to eat well with health and well being in mind. It is my aim to talk, particularly to women, about what food means to them, in order to discover the emotional care of our relationship to food. Why do so many of us find it so difficult to really take good care of ourselves in this respect.