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Sorry, Your Time Is Not Up


"Somebody once characterized analysis as a contest between the couch and the door," he says. "Obviously, you'll only continue if the couch wins out."

For now, the couch is still winning. But the door's putting up a pretty valiant fight. As I stare up at the ceiling, jiggling my leg, I announce to my analyst that I want to write a piece in August about our struggle.

She starts to laugh.

"Talk about passive aggression! I won't even be here! Do you feel like it's safer to criticize me when I'm far away?"

"I'm sure you'll manage to find a copy of the magazine in Wellfleet."

She chooses not to pursue my fantasy about her vacationing in Wellfleet. "Well, that's certainly one way of acting out."

"You say that like it's a bad thing."

"This is your resistance speaking. You should be working out your conflicts about analysis here. In this room. On this couch."

"Isn't that like telling a confused Catholic to try to work out her conflicts with a priest? Shouldn't she check in with a lapsed Catholic or two?"

"Why not wait until after analysis?" she asks after a moment. "I have no trouble if you wait until after."

"That'd defeat the whole point. The story is: You won't let me leave."

Silence. I stare at my shoes. I need new shoes.

"Lots of people work out their conflicts through their work," I point out. "Philip Roth. Woody Allen --

"Agh, Woody Allen. Woody Allen. Look at where it's gotten him. He's been inpsychoanalysis for how many years . . . ?"

"He might have been worse without it."

"That's true."

I am getting angry. This woman is denying me custody of my own neuroses.

"Do you realize what you're implying?" I ask. "You're implying that what we do for a living -- writing or litigating or putting braces on people's teeth or whatever -- is just a form of acting out, and not a form of therapy itself."

"Uh-huh . . ."

"This," I declare, with what I believe is devastating logic, "is a very problematic value."

She is silent.

"How would you like it if I did that to you?" she suddenly asks.

Whoa. Is this what we're talking about? Her feelings? In retrospect, this seemed like an extraordinary moment, because it exposed the true limits of the psychoanalytic conceit, which demands that the therapist be unreadable, undefaceable, unharmable. This has to be very hard. My analyst was saying as much. She was implying that such a story might hurt or humiliate her.

I feel like a jerk.

"But you do talk about me, don't you? To your colleagues, to whoever trained you . . . ?"

"The printed word is different."

"But won't you write about me one day? Don't all you people write papers about your patients?"

"You'll be disguised."

"Okay. So you'll be anonymous."

We drop the discussion then but take it up a few sessions later. To my amazement, she relents, telling me to go ahead, write it -- I probably have a point.

I am lucky, I think, to have an analyst this open-minded.

All analysts can give you their ideal termination scenario. "Oh, there are external criteria," says Harold Blum, executive director of the Sigmund Freud Archives. "People feel better: They no longer have terrible insomnia; they no longer have tension headaches; and they have, as Freud said, the ability to work, love, and play. Then there's the internal criteria: People have a greater capacity to work productively in treatment; they have a much wider insight into their feelings, fantasies, conflicts, and problems; and they have an ability to tolerate separations -- from their analyst and other significant others in their lives."

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