Sunday, April 2, 2023
It has come to this: I am training to become a psychoanalyst. As you recommend, concurrent with my coursework and cases under supervision, I am engaged in a training analysis.
This all started, on some surface at least, nearly twenty years ago. My friend, Martha, talked freely about her beloved Dr. Massey. “My analyst,” she would say, as if he were all her own. It was as if he could have been, how intimate their relationship seemed to have become over the years they had worked together: four times a week, and Martha, reclined on a couch.
Who does that … I would wonder, my mind stimulated as Martha spoke so assuredly of her treatment. I was intrigued. I’d first found a counselor when I was in college and had seen him once a week for a year or so. During the Martha-era ten years later, I worked once a week with a psychodynamically-trained therapist. Her approach began to make a difference for me.
When that therapist and I met for the last time, about a week before I moved to Baltimore, I asked her opinion of psychoanalysis. (Martha had thought it would be really good for me.) In a tone that surprised me, my therapist said, “I think there’s a lot to be gained from having your feet on the floor!” It felt like a reprimand. How dare I think of an analysis.
Nonetheless, I brought up the idea again, another ten years later. This time, with the analytically trained therapist I worked with once and twice a week for years. He had published a psychoanalytic text and taught at the Washington School, but wasn’t an analyst. I wondered what he thought about analysis. He related a bit about his own brief treatment in analysis, including the admonition, “I found using the couch disorienting and very lonely.” That didn’t sound good; I felt disheartened.
When I finished my counseling degree in 2014, I was interested in the possibility of working with a WBCP analyst in supervision. It was in their office that I first actually beheld … the couch. Ethereal and feminine, a mohair blanket lay gently on top. Its fine threads melted into the couch’s hues of creams and pinks. Then suddenly, the couch’s allure became a siren’s call. Like argonauts, bodies gorily crashed on the couch’s flat surface, its sharp corners, its stout, square legs. A cliff laid in wait, meant for destruction, if not, miserable death.
Honestly, that couch felt like an artifact of another world, an object that had floated down from some mythical space and somehow landed in an office in DC. Maybe the analyst read the expression on my face; yes, probably that, among various other signals I was sending. They suggested I wait a few years before starting training. They thought I might find it “confusing.”
Confused, but also hurt and offended, I returned to my therapist. Who wants to sign-up for yet more education? Two masters’ degrees seemed like plenty, not to mention realities like finances and commuting and reading and writing and thinking and talking and years and years. Well-defended, I waited another few years before approaching things-analytic again.
Knowing that I liked to write, my therapist suggested New Directions. They had participated in this analytic writing program years prior and thought I might enjoy it. I tried it, but struggled to find a place (not so much my voice, but a place) in what felt like a 65+ club for analysts writing memoirs in retirement. Mostly. I wasn’t an analyst and I struggled with belonging.
Not feeling super-confident but still willing, I listened to another analytic supervisor’s suggestion that I try the WBCP Fellowship. (That supervisor had a couch, too, my second. It was Scandinavian, and black. Although they weren’t suggesting I get on the couch, I did, once, when I borrowed the office for an afternoon …). This supervisor suggested only that I consider a year-long, once a month program that I might find helpful in my practice.
Similar to my New Directions experience, in the Fellowship I seemed to collide with a bunch of people differently credentialed than I am. So many seemed to have “D’s” after their names: MD’s, PsyD’s, PhD’s. I seemed to collide as well with an approach saturated in modern conflict theory and defense analysis. Things I knew nothing about. My analytic therapist drank from the waters of Klein, Bion, Winnicott, Mahler, and others, and that’s the approach I knew and valued. No offense, Sigmund, but I wasn’t sure I had much use for you.
Furthermore, Sigmund, it’s not like pretty much anyone other than my analytic supervisor seemed to encourage me toward further training - and that supervisor was Jungian! Knowing my background in theology, they encouraged me toward an Institute that integrated spirituality and psychoanalysis. But I really wasn’t interested in that path. I’m not on your Future of an Illusion bandwagon, but I didn’t feel like I needed further development in the universe of spirituality and religion. And these Washington people I’d encountered, like you, seemed to want nothing to do with Jung. In a Freudian word (or two), eventually I said, Fuck it.
I applied for the Psychoanalytic Studies Program, never envisioning myself as an analyst and still strenuously opposed to years of training. Two years would do it, thank you very much.
And then the pandemic happened, and all of life went very interior. I continued in therapy and supervision, classes changed to an online format, and I was no longer tortured by a commute or deprived of precious time. I felt available to immerse myself more and more deeply in a process of education that was increasingly feeling like a process of formation. I didn’t want to foreclose it. I decided to apply for candidacy, and somehow suspend or continue to work through feelings about more and more education and financial sacrifice and … the couch.
A friend of mine from New Directions (I did manage to make a friend) reached-out to me to ask about my writing for an online analytic publication she’d created. Our conversation found its way to the topic of analysis as mine was then underway. And so we discussed … the couch.
“I am nowhere near getting on the couch,” I said, unable to force together two seemingly incompatible ideas. Using the couch would be an integral part of analysis, one way or another, and yet my resistance was strong. “Oh, I didn’t use the couch for two years in my analysis,” my friend announced. “Oh,” I said, mirroring … and yet also beginning to allow myself to yearn.
My analyst, of course, brought it up here and there. The couch. For the first time, I heard the whole couch situation beginning to be framed as something I could give myself, allow myself. Like it was some kind of special gift, almost especially for and about only me. Perhaps it - perhaps I - could be trusted. My analyst and I had only ever met online, so the invitation to meet in person likewise floated for months in and out of the collective space between us.
And the space in me.
On Thursday, February 16, 2023, I got in my car to drive to their office for the first time. The one with … the couch. I knew I had options, I didn’t or wouldn’t have to use the couch … but there it would be. I’d had a sneak peak the week before when my analyst shifted to the side and unblocked the camera’s view across the room. There it was … the couch. Theirs. Mine?
Half-giddy with what I guess was excitement, I crossed the threshold of the office door. My nerves and I all but stumbled into the room. I scoped-out all of the furniture options, stood and wondered what to do with myself. My analyst let me know they were going to go ahead and sit down. I felt enormously self-conscious.
I literally almost knocked over a side table as I finally let myself careen into … the couch.
I might as well have done a back flip quadruple axel in the spirit of, well, “a certain ceremonial.” It was not unlike the ceremony of kissing for the first time or sex with a new partner: awkward, exhilarating, new. (And yes, Sigmund, I’ll grant your position, unconscious matters of sexuality are a thing, but that will be for another, different paper someday.) For now, for the last ten weeks or so, I’ve been using … the couch. And, of course, talking quite a bit about it.
I like it. I’m enamored, actually. I’ve associated my way through reclining in a cruel childhood dentist’s chair, to the deep kindness of my hair stylist who massages my scalp as I recline into the shampoo bowl, to memories of slumber parties in sleeping bags, looking up at the ceiling or the stars and talking into long hours of the night. I can’t quite bring myself to say thank you, Sigmund, but I’ve developed a certain fondness. I’m interested in the conversation.
Sarah Diehl, MDiv, MS, LCPC
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