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.
Anxiety & Optimism
Without asking our permission life has a way of juxtaposing anxiety & optimism. Making a choice between the two now confronts America & the world. In my formulation the election of Donald Trump represents, for many, a rise in their anxiety quotient. Optimism seems embodied, more than ever, in this year’s observation of the Martin Luther King holiday.
Borrowing from Greg Moses’, Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence, we can learn MLK’s process of owning nonviolent direct action as a way of protecting our democratic institutions. Petitions and demonstrations are the public manifestations of nonviolent direct action. More significant and therefore more difficult will be the task of accepting the philosophical & psychic adaptations to make nonviolence one’s life choice.
MLK experienced religious, personal, and intellectual support for his nonviolence. His youth as son of, perhaps, the single most influential black clergyman of the time demonstrated the value of working to change your most vocal/vicious opponent into a possible ally. Growing up in the south, it was necessary for MLK, on a daily basis, to adopt a nonviolent method of maintaining his identity and confidence. His study of systematic theology at Boston University aided him in creating and codifying the ideology of nonviolence. For many civil rights activists nonviolence was a tactic, a strategy. For MLK nonviolence was a life sustaining philosophy. Moses posits that nonviolence is a coherent philosophical component of liberation politics. This writer endorses the difficulty of internalizing nonviolence but also supports its use in this period of political unknowns and anxieties.
Life’s pendulum swings along a continuum of optimism and anxiety. It will be up to progressives to maximize the optimistic arc. MLK often said, “that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice.” Perhaps, that attitude can provide us with psychic grounding in the days ahead.
Harry Reed is a poet living in Boulder. He is a a former professor of history with 82 years of experience being human.
Here are some of his poems.
Nobody becomes a therapist without some history of psychological distress. I come from a fractured family that lacked strong community ties. For me writing and composing this newsletter is a way to work towards building community by exploring the relationships I have come across while cultivating a psychotherapy practice in Boulder. I would like to give attention to the people and groups that I have met and continue to meet along the way. Many of you already know each other, and many do not. My hope is that this newsletter becomes a space for local therapists to connect with and support each other.
This section of the newsletter will feature individuals that offer therapeutic perspectives. For this first newsletter the spotlight is on me, the creator of this forum.
I have been in therapy as a client, since I was 16. I became a therapist through being a client. My first career was as a professional visual artist, a sculptor. I have a lot of familiarity with the creative process. As an artist I moved to New York, where I began psychoanalysis (as a client) and discovered group therapy (as a client). After years of analysis and being a group member I decided to switch careers, got married, gave birth to two kids, eventually moved to Boulder, and enrolled in the Transpersonal Counseling Program at Naropa University which I graduated from in 2013.
I began my professional training as a therapist at the Center for Modern Psychoanalysis in New York. Modern Psychoanalysis is my theoretical foundation as a therapist, the first professional language that I learned. Like any first language it has become elemental in how I conceptualize my role as a therapist. I identified as an artist before becoming a therapist and that shaped my attitude towards theories and communities. As an artist you are expected to develop your own way of looking at the world. In Art History you are taught about movements, how one way of seeing can dominate and then splinter into several ways of seeing, recollect and then go to seed and get re-interpreted over and over again. In the art world it is taken for granted that no two artists see exactly alike, differences are valued over similarities and rebellion is encouraged. The idea that one theory dominates? Frankly, in the art world that would make things boring. Part of what makes the community of the art world exciting is the multitude of perspectives and getting to watch how particular artists interact and develop over time.
In the art world there are galleries, museums and other venues where artists can go to see what other artists are up to. That’s how I view this newsletter: as a place to discover what others are up to and to provide resources for further education and peer support. I see my role as a curator with an insatiable curiosity about how people become therapists and I am dedicated to representing a multitude of therapeutic perspectives and cultivating a community that encourages dialogue.
To read more by Elizabeth click on her name to go to her blog.