I’m a psychoanalyst. So it was with great interest that I read Daphne Merkin’s New York Times Magazine article about her forty-year history of psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Merkin is a terrific writer, a brave observer of her inner life, and a lively critic of the professional cultures devoted to studying and healing inner lives. She found the New York psychoanalytic culture reassuring, even if not always helpful. She says:
“…aside from the fact that the unconscious plays strange tricks and that the past stalks the present…..[there is] a certain language, a certain style of thinking that, in its capacity to reframe your life story, becomes—how should I put this?—addictive….Whether [it does] so rightly or wrongly is almost besides the point.”
For decades I’ve heard that it doesn’t matter what theory a therapist holds, what his or her formulation about the patient might be. What matters, the cliché goes, is simply the presence of an attentive relationship. Merkin’s variation on this theme is that her idealization of her analysts’ wisdom and the rhythms and imagery of a psychoanalytic conversation have been more comforting than anything she’s been offered in the way of interpretation and insight. The process, in other words, was more important than the content or outcome.