Recently, I was lying on my analyst’s couch, wishing I were wearing a wire. I didn’t tell her this. I was in a rebellious mood. But the fantasy was there, vividand insistent, lingering above my head like a giant dirigible.
What lurked beneath it was obvious. Isn’t it always? Clearly, I was pining for evidence – something, anything, that would show the sinister brilliance with which my analyst had twisted my long, dull confessions into a long, sturdy rope to keep me lashed to her couch. I’d been trying to break up with her for months. She was having none of it. Our conversation was running its usual vaudevillian course.
“I really, really think we should discontinue this.”
“Ofcourse you do. You started this whole process because you said you had trouble with commitment. This is a passive way of resolving your conflict.”
“Passive?” I nearly rolled over to look her in the eye. “If I wrote you a check this instant and leapt off this couch, would you call that passive? Wouldn’t that be a rather active, decisive moment in my treatment?”
“No.” Her voice was calm. She is always maddeningly calm. “But it’d be a solution to your ambivalence about coming here.”
She was right, of course. And wrong. I left that day in a terrible mood, formulating more persuasive rejoinders in my head, reenacting our singular, circular dialogue for friends.
Does it always come to this? That our shrinks become our jailers?
My desire to terminate psychoanalysis has, as my analyst so often likes to say, been multi-determined: by time, money, doubts about her efficacy, doubts about my analyzability, an emboldening sense of progress, a wistful sense of my own limitations, a realistic sense that all the hard work, scarily, begins now.
But a fear of commitment? Good Lord: I’ve been seeing this woman four times a week for nearly four years.
Thank God it’s August.
When Freud first started seeing patients, his analyses seldom lasted more than a year. The Rat Man he treated for roughly nine months; Dora he treated for roughly three. Little Hans, who feared horses, he saw on only one occasion – though he worked a good deal with his father; and Gustav Mahler, who was traumatized by his wife’s extramarital dalliances with Walter Gropius, he saw for just four hours. (Sadly, the composer was still unable to finish Symphony No. 10.)
But the point of psychoanalysis, at least in its early years, was to relieve suffering neurotics of their symptoms, not to effect full-scale characterological change. And this, Freud believed, could be achieved merely by coaxing a few sleeping demons from their tombs. “The early thinking,” explains Charles Tolk, training analyst at NYU Psychoanalytic Institute and chairman of its admissions committee, “was if you tell ‘em what’s in their unconscious – ‘Look, kiddo, you want to kill your father and sleep with your mother!’ – you’d done your job. Which made you more amusing at cocktail parties. But it didn’t help.”
It wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that the multiple-year analysis became standard procedure, transforming all of us willing participants into a horizontal fleet of couch potatoes. A pair of studies just completed by Joan B. Erle and Daniel A. Goldberg, both from the New York Psychoanalytic Institute and Society, found that the median length of a Manhattan psychoanalysis – “psychoanalysis” meaning four to five times a week on the couch – was five to six years, for populations starting in both the mid-seventies and the late eighties.
Five to six years. One wonders whether these patients would have fared just as well if they’d spent every morning doing lanyards.
At any rate, longer spells on the couch have obviously prompted the psychoanalytic profession to grapple with the question of termination – how to do it, when to do it, why. The topic has spawned curriculum changes at most training institutes and a whole new family of academic literature (including, satisfyingly enough, investigations into not just how patients do after termination but how analysts do – suggesting that some of them actually miss us when we’re gone). The latest thinking is that the “termination phase” of psychoanalysis should last six months to a year.
Don’t some people just sleep in one day and never return?
In fact, they do. Erle and Goldberg’s studies also note that roughly one third of their 253 participants terminated in an “unsatisfactory way,” which the authors later refer to in lay English: “quitting.”
August, as one might expect, is a common time for patients to get itchy, because the city’s mental-health professionals have hightailed it to the Cape, Tuscany, or wherever it is that the International Psychoanalytical Association is holding its biannual hoo-ha. I’ve been told – by psychiatrists, mostly – that many patients suffer from separation anxiety in August. Not me. I sleep in, work out, and exult in my bloated bank balance. Last week, I had the most electrifying fantasy, which visited me in the form of a single word: Nobu.
“A lot of analysts aim to have a termination take place during a summer holiday,” says Stephen K. Firestein, professor of clinical psychiatry at NYU and author of Termination in Psychoanalysis, which was rereleased this July. “But in the long run, that’s not the best way to do it. It seems to work out better if the termination takes place when the analyst is around, in case the patient has a difficult response.”
I tell him I doubt I’ll be one of those patients. He chuckles.
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
Which all sounds perfectly lovely. But let’s be honest: How often are we messy, layered creatures ever this tidy?
When I first started psychoanalysis in December 1997, I didn’t consider myself any sadder or more troubled than most of the people I knew. I suffered the usual plague of single-girl afflictions – melancholy, anger, low self-esteem – and, as an added bonus, a bizarre inability to visualize myself in a marriage, with my boyfriend of three-plus years or anyone else. But once-a-week therapy seemed palliative and bush-league; in my family, psychoanalysis is considered as normal and as natural as taking a swim.
Today … I’d say I’ve traveled some distance. I’m hardly a model of calm and inner clarity, but graded on a bell curve of neurotic people, I’d say I do pretty well. Of course, I’m still a rotten sleeper. I still make similar versions of old mistakes. And I’m still awfully self-critical. But are these reasons to keep spending thousands of dollars a year on psychoanalysis?
I asked Firestein this question. He said one of the main litmus tests for any patient who’s feeling this way is “to ask themselves: ‘Can I accept, for the balance of my life, to feel, act, and be the way I am this afternoon?’ “
Which is fair enough. But the question assumes that if the answer is no, the only possible solution is to remain in analysis. This is precisely the argument my roommate got from his therapist last month when he tried to terminate his thrice-weekly sessions, pleading poverty (a reasonable claim, considering the staggering size of his student loans and the fact that he’d just bounced his last check to her – oops). Her response was to catalogue, one by one, his problems and faults, demanding to know how he’d cope if he left.
“Do you realize what you’re implying?” I ask. “You’re implying that what we do for a living is just a form of acting out, and not a form of therapy itself.”
I thought that this was pretty manipulative. He agreed, and said something about it to her the next time he saw her. She came as close as she ever has to apologizing, apparently.
But money . .. ! Money is a very real issue for many of us who see therapists, whether it’s five times a week or one. Fortunately, our therapists are prepared to deal with our financial concerns. Very prepared. When my roommate told his therapist he was too poor to continue, for example, she responded that money was precisely the reason to continue – after all, didn’t he have trouble managing his finances? And how would he ever get to the root of this problem without exploring it?
“But then I’d be paying you $1,000 a month to discuss managing my money,” he moaned. “I just bounced a check to you. I don’t have $1,000 a month.”
But at least my roommate says his analysis is still helping him. Me, I’m not so sure. In 1937, when he was 80 years old and dying from cancer, Freud wrote perhaps his best-known essay on the limits of his art-science in “Analysis Terminable and Interminable.” It’s a surprisingly pessimistic monograph – doubtless discolored by his illness – in which he speaks with fierce candor about the traits that would render someone immune to his craft: the intractability of the id, the rigidity of our defense mechanisms, the constitutional strength of our instincts. And he goes on to express real skepticism about the power of analysis to inoculate us from new versions of old problems, suggesting that some neuroses lurk forever inside us, awaiting their triggers, like tiny allergies of the soul.
For a person in therapy, this paper is pretty terrifying. And so is one particular result of Erle and Goldberg’s studies: A full 33 percent of their participants were found, by their very own therapists, to be “unanalyzable” – at the end of their treatments. (On a more reassuring note, the studies also say that 71 percent of the participants experienced a “good to excellent benefit” from their time in analysis – though of course it was their psychiatrists making this assessment.)
Still, what does it say about a healing art when a substantial number of people don’t respond to it? And when its practitioners continue to practice it – and charge quite a lot for it – even when they’re obviously, at times, feeling the same pessimism about a patient’s prognosis as the patient him- or herself?
I ask Phillip Freeman, a psychoanalyst who just taught the spring course on termination at Boston Psychoanalytic Institute, whether he’s ever had a crisis of faith. “Like when Freud did?”he says, laughing. “How could you not? It’s a very dicey business, psychoanalysis. I mean, what would it mean if we were two people talking about the unconscious and its symbolism and its ambiguity and we didn’t fear that we had no idea what we were doing? Wouldn’t there be something wrong?”
’Maybe I need behavioral therapy,” I conjecture one idle day. I tell my analyst this because my insomnia – a problem that started during analysis, thanks very much – sometimes eases up if I simply pretend I’m my old, pre-sleepless self. “Wouldn’t it be worth trying drama therapy or something? So I could get into the character of being a good sleeper?”
My analyst sucks in her breath. “Don’t tell me,” she groans, “that The Sopranos has gotten to you too.”
The Sopranos? It hadn’t even occurred to me that Dr. Melfi’s efforts to send Tony into behavioral therapy in season three would have led to a citywide uprising of frustrated analysands.
“Um, I don’t think so. Why? Are other patients suggesting they go into behavioral therapy this week?”
“Let’s get back to your sleep troubles.”
A few weeks later, I phone Charles Tolk of NYU. “There’s a lot of Sopranos material that comes into the office during those Monday sessions,” he says. “Some patients seem to have wishes that you would please do for them what Dr. Melfiis doing for Tony. Or they’ll basically say, ‘We’ve been in therapy for months, and we still haven’t reconstructed the capocollo fantasy that’s the key to my neurosis.’”
I hang up, wondering whether I have been unduly influenced by HBO.
Funny: I seldom hear stories about people leaving therapy under mutually agreeable circumstances. No doubt, this is partly because the malcontents scream louder than the satisfied. But I think it’s also partly because analysts have a habit of dismissing all arguments for termination with a psychoanalytic explanation, creating a maddening, self-referential logic loop that completely obliterates the possibility of rational conversation. My friend Nina, for example, tells me about an unhelpful, unimpressive sixty something Freudian who insisted, on their final visit, that the reason she wanted to discontinue was because she couldn’t tolerate her attraction to him. “It was so implausible,” she sputters. “He was this fat old man.” She politely tried to explain to him that their arrangement simply wasn’t working; he countered that she was … resisting. “These people,” she ruefully declares, “are like well-managed swat teams. They bar every door.”
Ah, resistance. Freud wrote copiously, endlessly about this concept. In his introductory lectures, first published more than 80 years ago, he catalogues its many varieties – repeating the same stories over and over, recovering no new memories, putting psychoanalysis itself on trial – and that’s pretty much what I’m doing today. I thought it was because I’d reached the point of psychoanalytic poop-out – I’d become so boring I was boring myself. Apparently, I was mistaken. A plateau, according to Freud, is never just a plateau.
I understand the psychoanalytic value of resistance. The closer we get to our own hobgoblins, the more apt we are to run away from them. (Another friend once told me that whenever he touched on a particularly harrowing topic in therapy, he’d abruptly switchgears and start weighing aloud the virtues of different kinds of cell phones.)
The trouble is, shrinks often use the notion of resistance as an all-purpose cudgel to keep uscowering in place. (I mean really: If the subway breaks down and we’re ten minutes late, is it resistance? Or the incompetence of the MTA?) More important, the notion of resistance doesn’t allow for the possibility that we’re stymied in therapy because we really have gone as far as we can go – or that our analysts are no longer appropriate for us – which renders both psychoanalysis and our analysts impervious to criticism.
“Analysts are often trained to think about patient objections as a resistance,” acknowledges George Frank, a training analyst at the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis and a member of iptar, the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research. “As if their competence or appropriateness could never be an issue until the analyst says so.”
“There’s always a kernel of truth to the criticism,” adds Leon Hoffman, co-director of the Parent Child Center at the New York Psychoanalytic Society. “Your office is too messy or too neat. You take too many vacations or you’re always here. You make comments that are incorrect.”
What probably nags me most, though, is how resistance serves the economic self-interests of our therapists. Without it, I have no idea how they’d pay for their summer places in Wellfleet. Joshua Wolf Shenk, a friend who’s currently writing a book for Viking Press about Abraham Lincoln and depression, recently wrote me a memorable e-mail on this subject. As he descended further and further into an analytic slump, he grew angrier and angrier at his therapist for urging him to stay the course, which at the time was costing him $460 a week. “My therapist felt I should ‘tolerate’ the rage,” he wrote. “I felt he should go fuck himself.
“Of course,” Shenk continued, “I did feel rage at him, and he helped me see it and feel it – probably saving my life. But there came a time when I needed to act on my feelings.” So Josh lived out every indignant patient’s fantasy. He didn’t show up for a session, believing it was his only way to make himself heard. “If you go to therapy to argue that you should leave,” he points out, “you’ve already conceded you’re wrong.”
I wish I had the guts to do that. Instead, I just complain a lot – and privately suspect that my therapist is taking advantage of me. Because let’s face it: A psychoanalyst has no more financial incentive to tell you you’re finished with therapy than a car mechanic has to tell you there’s just one tiny thing wrong with your engine. (I often think of a cartoon I saw once, in which a bearded Ur-shrink stares at his patient and says something like: “You can’t terminate now. I haven’t finished paving my tennis court.”)
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.
I like the fact that she’s fluent in pop culture, that she tells me directly if she’s seen certain movies or plays (God, how that saves time), and that once, when I mentioned an office party at Marylou’s, she responded by noting (correctly), “Ah, yes – Jack Nicholson used to go there.”
I also sense that she’s very well adjusted. I cannot tell you how much this matters. As a listener, she’s unencumbered; very little of her own shit comes into that room.
But there are problems, as there are in all relationships. Occasionally, she disastrously misspeaks, Ginsu-ing the English language into a George W.-style julienne. For someone who writes, this can be very disconcerting. And I don’t think she’s terribly intellectual. She’s intelligent, definitely, and competent, certainly; she clearly has a lot of experience. But there are times when I feel like we’re both muddling together, racing in circles, missing the point.
To break this impasse, analysts will often recommend that you see another analyst, a meta-analyst, someone who can help you evaluate your relationship with your own analyst.
Yes, I know. It made me laugh, too.
“It’s a very dicey business. What would it mean if we were two people talking about the unconscious and didn’t fear we had no idea what we were doing?”
But I did it. I went to see the woman who recommended my therapist to me – whom I hadn’t seen myself because her practice was located in an inconvenient neighborhood.
It was a very strange experience.
After just three sessions, she told me in a confident, declarative sentence that I should stay with my current analyst.
Three sessions? Three sessions! I’ve spent months – years! – on the couch, wondering aloud whether to stay with various boyfriends, and my analyst has never uttered anything even remotely resembling an opinion on the subject. Yet this woman was willing to assess my relationship with my shrink – a relationship as complex as any other relationship in my life – in just 135 minutes?
It seemed like an appalling double standard to me. I tried to get my regular shrink to explain it. Her response was a strange mixture of metaphysics, genius, and nonsense.
“Well, relationships with boyfriends are relationships in real life,” she said.
My shrink wants to discuss this story again. She thinks I’m writing it because I don’t have any faith in psychoanalysis.
Well, duh, I say – possibly in those words.
We’re both quiet for a second. Usually, after such an outburst, she lets me go first. Not this time.
“That’s not what I mean. You’re pessimistic about a lot of things. You don’t think you’re ever going to get married. You think your boss is going to fire you. You think you’re going to have sleep problems for the rest of your life. I’d like to point out, you didn’t come out of the womb this way. So don’t you think your skepticism about psychoanalysis is connected to a more general feeling of hopelessness? And that we ought to be looking at why you feel this way?”
I say nothing.
“Somewhere along the way, I think you developed the conviction that you weren’t capable of changing.”
Then she brings up a story I’ve told her before, about something that happened to me when I was 6. It was an interesting connection. At the time I’d repeated that memory, I’d had no idea what it meant – it had just heaved to the surface, drenched with uncertain meaning, as I was lying there on the couch.
“I think,” she finishes, “that despair is at the root of a lot of this.”
I continue to say nothing. When I finally do, I realize I’m trying not to cry.
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?”
“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?”
“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.