I suppose I usually feel more charitable toward the psychoanalytic profession than that. But there's some data out there suggesting analysts are hungrier these days. A recent practice survey by the American Psychoanalytic Association says that the number of patients who've offered themselves up for psychoanalysis went down one percent per year between 1986 and 1996. The millions of Americans who are currently on Prozac or one of its cousins can't be helping, either.
And I'm continually astonished by the number of people -- single, articulate, upper-middle-class women especially -- who've told me about showing up for weekly therapy and being told they really ought to be coming in three, four, or five times as often. (According to the Annals of Improbable Research, one of the Web's more curious sites, the profession even has a term for such a person: a yavis, or young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, successful analysand.)
This prompted me to ask Firestein whether his colleagues ever say to a patient, You know, I've been treating you for nine years, and I'm not sure this is doing you any good.
"Uh, some," he says, after thinking it over. "Some may do so."
But is it common?
"I can't say," he says.
There are no cracks in my therapist's ceiling. Sometimes I wonder if she takes care to paint up there frequently, in order to avoid hearing people's tedious associations. (Oh, look! It's a bunny! Or is it a duck -- ?)
"Have you ever heard of a yavis?"
"YAH-vis," she corrects. I had pronounced it YEAH-vis.
I am stunned. "You know this term?"
"Yes. I believe: young, adult, verbal, intelligent, single."
"I thought it was young, attractive, verbal, intelligent, successful."
"Is it a commonly used term?"
"Not really . . . What is this about?"
"Nothing. I'm afraid you're only keeping me here because you want my money."
"You don't think I could fill your hour if you left?"
"Not really. It's a buyer's market."
"And you never fill my hours when I'm away. I'm always charged full price."
"Maybe that's because I prefer to do analysis. I can't just put someone in there for one week."
I am silent.
"Would it surprise you to hear that other people might want to come here?"
I still say nothing.
Everyone has doubts about their ana-lyst at one point or another. It's a natural concern to have once you've reached a plateau. Unfortunately, it's also a bit of an embarrassing concern -- so tedious, so narcissistic, so horribly New York: Don't I deserve better? Shouldn't I be trading up?
So here, a few words about the woman I've been seeing for nearly four years: She is warm. She has a sense of humor. She is supportive but does not coddle. There are times I am astonished by her insight and find her mind enliveningly quirky. There are times when I think I stump her, and she tries to conceal her confusion by repeating back to me what I've said or by spitting the usual handbook bromides -- which inevitably makes me feel like I'd be better off paying $280 a week to a parakeet. (Sqqquaaaawk! That's because you're mourning a loss.)
She seems particularly good at analyzing dreams. Then again, this may be because I'm a lazy dreamer, sometimes resorting to such unchallenging symbolism as bananas, tunnels, and the Chrysler Building going in and out of Shea.