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Sorry, Your Time Is Not Up

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I've discovered that shrinks don't like to talk much about termination. But if pressed, a number will acknowledge it isn't always given its proper due at psychoanalytic institutes. Only in the past quarter-century, in fact, did it become a part of their curricula at all, and usually not in the form of a full-blown course.

After finishing his studies at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis, for example, George Frank says, "I became aware I didn't have any training in it, and that I needed to give myself some. It was a real missing piece."

He starts thumbing through the 2000 bulletin of his alma mater, and then IPTAR's. "Classical Technique . . . Dreams . . .Non-interpretative Factors in Analysis . . . Gender Issues . . . Counter transference Issues . . . Application of the Classical Technique to the Nonclassical Patient . . . I'm sorry. No course in termination."

Part of the reason for this is practical: If all psychoanalytic institutes were to keep their students around long enough to shepherd them through their first terminations, these students would be in training forever -- and they already are in training forever, with four years of curriculum work, several years of supervised analyses, and God-knows-how-many years of personal analysis to slog through.

Nevertheless, the American Psychoanalytic Association still refuses to certify anyone who hasn't completed a supervised termination.

"We've opposed the requirement for about 30 years," says Edward Nersessian, the head of the education committee at New York Psychoanalytic Institute, the city's oldest and hoariest training ground. "We feel it puts undue pressure on the analyst. It may lead some people to do a premature termination, just to get certified."

New York Psychoanalytic does, however, require that all of its students go back into supervision while they're terminating their first patients, even if they've already graduated. "From time to time, we've also had a course on termination," continues Nersessian. "Though I couldn't swear we have one now."

It's the middle of July, just a couple of weeks until the time I've resolved to terminate. Once again, I amlying on the couch, flip-flopping my feet and inspecting my therapist's bookshelf to see whether she has moved anything. (Wasn't Female Perversions on the top shelf yesterday?) We are having our usual friendly tussle.

Her: "I think your obsession with my intelligence is a form of resistance."

Me: "Of course you do. Here we go again -- "

"No, let me finish. I think it's getting in the way of positive feelings you have for me, which you don't want to have right now, because that would mean you'd have to stay here."

"Isn't this a little self-serving? Don't I have a right to be concerned about your intelligence, given how much I pay you?"

"Absolutely. But do you really think I don't have the experience and intelligence to do this?"

"Sometimes."

"Would you really have stayed here so long if you thought that way?"

I cannot answer this.

"Sometimes we race around in so many circles in here . . ."

"You do that in relationships, too, you know. I've seen you do this now. Twice."

I cannot answer this either. The fact is, she's right.

Okay. So let's assume that our relationships with our analysts do, after a while, start to mirror the other relationships in our lives. Let's assume we start to engage in similar patterns of behavior -- needling them in the same way, idealizing them in the same way, loving them in the same way, hating them in the same way.

In this light, I can see exactly why my analyst was alarmed, six weeks ago, when I told her I wanted to write a story about our little stalemate. Clearly, she recognized the real fantasy lurking beneath this project. It wasn't lapsed Catholics I wanted to talk to; it was different priests.

What I wanted, in other words, was to have the psychoanalytic equivalent of an extramarital affair. After all, the very act of reporting is a way to relieve the tedium and ambivalence of therapeutic monogamy -- I'd be sampling the minds of other analysts, comparing their opinions and intellect to that of my own. Heck, I'd even be visiting a new one, just to see what it was like with someone else.

Which is exactly the sort of thing a person who dreads commitment would do.

"It's nearly August," she tells me on a recent morning. "I assume you'd still like to terminate in August?"

"Yes . . ."

"Uh-huh. So that means we'd have worked together for how long?"

I count on my fingers. "Three years and eight months."

"Three years and eight months." She says it slowly, deliberately, and waits. "Three years and eight months."

At first I have no idea what she's driving at. Then I see it.

Three years and eight months. The same length as the longest relationship of my life. The same length as the relationship that made me seek out psychoanalysis in the first place.

Jesus. Is this what they mean by transference?

I am dumbstruck, furious, intoxicated. My mind starts to swim. I stare at the door.

"I don't suppose this could simply be a coincidence."

"What do you think?"

My head still aches. My brain's roaring. But I make a decision, finally, right then and there.

I will terminate psychoanalysis. In six months to a year.

I know, I know. I can't believe me either. If I'm this much of a wimp, I probably deserve to remain in analysis, right?

Maybe. Then again, maybe it's proof that it's finally starting to work.


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