My husband had been working with a modern psychoanalyst for several months. I had noticed a significant change in him. He had developed a deeper view into other people’s characters, he could see and predict things that I was completely missing. He invited me into one of his sessions. At the end of this friendly first meeting, I decided that I wanted to meet with her on my own. I said, “I would like to set up a time to talk with you, but I only have time on Friday and you probably don’t work on Fridays.” She laughed at my resistance stating, “Oh Elizabeth, what wishful thinking.” This was the start of a long, sometimes difficult, yet profoundly transformational relationship.
The Moderns have been ahead of their time for many decades. Spotnitz understood the importance of interrupting procedural patterns with direct communications to the unconscious well before we had the neuroscience to support this approach. Instead of using shaming interpretations that speak more to the cortex, or even engaging in meta communications that express a therapist’s sincere engagement in the therapeutic alliance, Spotnitz’s approach relied upon understanding the emotional induction into the client’s psyche and crafting well timed limbic communications that were purposefully designed to interrupt patterns from the past. Spotnitz learned early on that being nice was not as helpful as working with a client’s aggression. When working with a Modern, it doesn’t often feel good. Rather the Modern transference evokes anything from the past and present that might be difficult to say, acknowledge, and face about oneself.
My analyst is not nice. After close to two decades together, she has more warmth, but for significant stretches of time, she came across as cold, quiet, and withholding. The quieter she became, the more regressed I was, planting a maternal transference into the silence, delving into old, uncomfortable states of rejection, pain, and aggression. If I answered a question with “I don’t know”, she would yell at me, “I don’t know means go to hell!” I learned to guess. To keep talking even when I felt that I did not know what to say, or had nothing more to say. Anything that gets in the way of me talking and learning to say new things is explored for more understanding.
Through understanding my historical feelings of shame, humiliation, aggression and loneliness in this analytical relationship, my character began to change. While I still have many faults and always will, I’m less defended. I work to understand, rather than judge. I’m willing to get mucky with my husband, my son, my friends, and my clients for the purpose of working things out in new ways, rewriting the old stories so that I’m not stuck in a perpetual, unconscious replay of the past. My analysis has helped me tolerate difficult states of mind and cultivate new emotional responses, while gleaning compassionate insights into why I have done what I’ve done and why I do what I do.
My analyst has a fierce toughness that she has imparted in me. Her resilience has given me a core self that feels capable of withstanding the hardships as they come. I’m less afraid and timid, I’m less shaming and judgmental, and I’m happier, more comfortable and tremendously grateful to her. She took on my fragile ego and through many hours of talking gave me the container to explore my voice and my desires. Analysis has helped my husband and I create a loving autonomous marriage that could have easily crumbled from our destructive, unconscious impulses. My analyst has helped me become a less punitive, more loving mother who reflects on my son’s most honest feedback and encourages him to have his own voice. My analytic work has helped me listen to and encourage my clients to live the new lives that they desire. Talking is the cure, lots of talking.
Elizabeth Olson runs the Collective for Psychological Wellness.
Writing about therapeutic relationships