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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

My psychoanalyst’s twisted final session

Once a legend in his field, he was clearly losing his grip. Still, why did he have such a hold on me?

Published by Salon.com

It was with some trepidation that I called Dr. M.

I had read his articles in various psychoanalytic journals and heard his name tossed around at conferences and institutes. He was one of the princes of psychoanalysis and supervision, a member of the old school. He knew people who had been analyzed by Freud and was a colleague of some of the last century’s bad/good boys of psychoanalysis – Hyman Spotnitz, Lou Ormont, Ethel Clevans, Phyllis Meadow.

Nineteen years I had been with a previous analyst and supervisor with whom I had an irreparable break. Nineteen years may sound like a long time for most people, but in the rarefied world of New York psychoanalysis, 19 years is merely a beginning.

Finally, I had made the phone call. And now I was at Dr. M’s Upper West Side office for my interview. I had built a practice that was already sizable, but would I rate for his famous supervision group?

I had arrived about 10 minutes early and expected to read in the waiting room until the appointed hour. By tradition, an analyst will open his door precisely at the right time, neither early nor late.
To my surprise, he came out 10 minutes before our appointment time. Anticipating a silent rebuke I quickly said, “I apologize for coming early.”

“I apologize for seeing you early,” he said. “Come in.”

He had a shock of white hair. He was handsome. Looking at him in that dimly lit hallway in the late spring of 2009, I was taken aback. Why, he must be 90 years old, at least. (He was 89.) His body sent my body a message: I am dying. But at the very same time the vigor in his booming voice said something else entirely. It took hold of me. I was confused: While on the one hand he looked as though he might be nearing the end of his life — the office was dusty, his pants were hiked up too high, subtle but telltale signs of a man losing touch — his voice said, “Beginnings!” New life.

He talked, I talked. I talked, he talked. We had a rhythm. He seemed to be building an enthusiastic lather about having me as his newborn as though he were a man of 30 being given a baby to hold outside the delivery room. There was, you could say, a kind of love in the air.
And it made me somewhat uneasy. In fact, I was quite certain that I had made a mistake. I wanted to run away fast. I did not want to be in this man’s group. Perhaps I feared that I would have to face his death and my own here. I wanted to go to a group that promised me everlasting life. I did not want a dying analyst. I was looking for potency, vitality, virility. I had quite a bit myself, but sought it in others too.

As if magically sensing my turmoil, he stood up. “Enough for today,” he barked. “I would like you to join my group, but say in about nine months. Not before.”

I was astonished. Was he a master, I thought, one of these wonder-worker analysts who can read the mind and even ride like a bronco, two wildly opposing winds of thought in a man? Such things were possible in my world. I had great faith in analysts and their mad magic, their alchemy, their abilities to turn lead into gold and ambivalence and even death into life.

The rest of this interesting story is here.