I have this hunch – or fantasy, really, since we’re speaking in the idiom – that Bill Clinton started seeing an analyst the moment he moved to New York. It isn’t based on a scrap of inside information, mind you, but it’s hard to imagine the alternative, which is that he didn’t. Does anyone move to New York without taking a stab at therapy? And if our compulsive, overachieving, self-disclosing, fatherless, unemployed, empty-nester ex-president isn’t the ideal candidate for analysis, then who is?
Odd: Troubled people go their whole lives without examining what ails them until they come to New York. The consequences of a traumatic death, an abusive parent, a rootless childhood, a closeted adolescence – all remain mysterious until they enter our complex ecosystem of mental-health professionals, whose couches form a corduroy trail from the West Village to Washington Heights. (Except for Massachusetts, New York State has the most psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers per capita in the country. And we spend the most on mental health, per capita, bar none.)
We all know that this city attracts striving, anguished misfits, but we’re less inclined to consider how it creates them, too; once parked on the couch, most analysands are surprised to discover that the city itself has become, if not a virtual character in their lives, then a sneaky enabler of conflict. “Freud founded psychoanalysis to think about the collision between man as a biological animal and civilization,” says Phillip Freeman, a psychiatrist who trains future analysts at the Boston Psychoanalytic Institute. “That collision is particularly abrupt in New York. In a place where stimulation is so high and anonymity is the baseline, where else would people more appreciate someone attending to their experiences and their search for meaning?”Perhaps we should talk about this.