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The Sleeping Cure

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When I tell him why I’ve come, he thinks for a moment. Then he adds, “This event that you speak of. It happened to me. Twice.”

“You’re joking. Now I feel more like a journalist than a patient.”

“I prefer ‘analysand.’ ”

“Okay, then, analysand. Though that sounds so Freudian.”

“I hold nothing against Freud.”

“Really? Nothing?”

“No. He wasn’t a very good analyst, but he was a remarkable thinker.”

“He fell asleep on his patients. Excuse me, analysands. On Helene … ”

“Deutsch?”

“Thank you, yes, Helene Deutsch.”

“Was he facing her? Or behind?” he asks. Oddly suggestive, but it allows me to play the A student. “Behind. She knew he had fallen asleep because she saw his cigar drop to the carpet.”

He laughs, a light, high, and dry nicker. “Ah, that is wonderful.”

“So, about falling asleep …”

He smiles.

“Would you like to lie on the couch, and we can talk about it?”

“Seriously?”

“Yes!”

“In order to talk about your sleeping analysts, I have to lie on the couch?”

“I’m not going to blackmail you,” he says, but very coyly. I had thought the back of my head would never touch the miserable doily again. Yet here I am, staring at a Friedrich wall unit.

“One was my supervising analyst; one was my training analyst.” Having gotten me where he wants me, he digs right in. “Here is what happened: With my supervising analyst, I was talking along, and I was suddenly aware she was sleeping. And then she woke up, and this is what she said. She said, ‘What have I missed?’ My training analyst, meanwhile, fell asleep with some frequency. I’d just talk louder, and he’d wake up. I’d say, ‘Did you have a nice nap?’ And he would say, ‘Yes, thank you.’ ” How very tidy.

“Did you feel like there was something about what you were saying, or how you said it, that made them fall asleep?” I ask. “Possibly. How can you know those things for sure? It didn’t really bother me. It was part of the relationship, of getting to know each other over the years. He was the founder of modern psychoanalysis. This was a very honest person.”

I did what anyone would have done next: I ran home to Google “modern psychoanalysis founder.” I learned that in the fifties, a man named Hyman Spotnitz began shifting American analysis away from rigidly formulaic diagnoses and toward a more supple understanding of the individual transference. Against the authority of the analyst as a bearer of reality, to which the analysand need be reconciled, Spotnitz promoted the idea of two people, alone in a room, talking. (He expanded that by promoting “group therapy” in the sixties.) Spotnitz believed that neurosis, along with most forms of mental illness, originate in the pre-Oedipal, preverbal, even possibly prenatal stage of life. He believed in the transference, and also in the countertransference—that by joining in with and encouraging the patient’s fantasy of the analyst, the two people, alone in a room talking, could come to understand the shape and nature of the patient’s neurosis.

Hyman Spotnitz founded modern psychoanalysis. He was my analyst’s training analyst, and he fell asleep with some frequency. So this sympathy, this lack of judgment; it is classically Spotnitzian! It is all part of the method! Like the bus driver handing me a voucher, he’s encouraging me to transfer! Could it be that even the stories of his analysts falling asleep are only technique? This sympathy, only one more cunning induction to join? “It must have been hurtful,” my analyst continued during our meeting. “I was the fourth one. I don’t know, now that we’re talking about it, that it had anything to do with your conscious. I think it may have been with your unconscious. Analysts are trained to listen to the unconscious. In the analytic situation, we get back to preverbal times. One often can find words for something that didn’t have words. They often say, ‘Tell me what you don’t know.’ ”

The Friedrich air conditioner, an old warhorse, juddered painfully. If nothing else, I have mastered this repetition: of lying in an office, pondering psychoanalysis. I’ll tell you what I don’t know: I still don’t know whether I am being helped or fleeced like a little baby lamb. “We’re always working in this room,” he murmured, as the final minutes drained from the hour. “Both your unconscious and conscious, and my unconscious and conscious, are together in this room with us. This is a remarkable room, in one way. A lot goes on in here that wouldn’t go on anywhere else.”


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