Confessions of the Psychoanalyzed Posted on 28 Aug 09:41 , 0 comments
By Vivi Rathbone.
The New York Times recently published a fascinating article about the popularity of psychotherapy in Argentina, drawing light to this flourishing phenomenon. The article provoked some interesting dialogue, and I couldn’t help but wonder if these authors have had any first hand experience with psychotherapy, given their misconceptions about it’s process, the function and purpose.
I have first hand experience with Argentine psychotherapy, and I suppose the time has come to share some insights on this #trending topic.
I listen to classical music and admire the 1960’s oil painting of an abstracted floral still-life that hangs on the wall in the waiting room. My psychoanalyst opens the door to his office, and peers out. He must be about seventy five years old, given the deep wrinkles under his eyes and penchant for telling me that: “the devil knows more from being old, than he does from being the devil, but anyway, I’m not the devil. And I’m not an old man, but I do have much experience.”
We greet each other with an air kiss on the right cheek and he says ‘Glad to see you, Vivi’ as I make my way to the flat leather couch, and lay down on my back. I push the small pillow to the side because I like to lie flat on my back and look up at the textured wallpaper and diptych oil painting that hangs above the couch. Sometimes I curl up in fetal position, sometimes my arm hangs over the edge of the sofa. Other times I wrap my arms in self embrace, grabbing opposite shoulders. It depends on my mood, and my analyst takes note of my body language, because the physical state, including symptoms, energy levels and appearance are all directly related to the state of the psyche.
He turns the key to the door and locks it. “It is a Freudian symbol.” He told me once. The locked door designates this room as a safe place, where my thoughts can be expressed without fear of being discovered by the rest of the world. He sits on his leather recliner, positioned at the head of my comfortable sofa. I cannot see him during the session. This is intentional, because not having to consider to the facial reactions of the listener makes free-association easier.
And so begins another session of psychoanalysis. I’ve been a participant in this outdated ritual for over a year. I am open about my experience with psychoanalysis despite the strong stigma against therapy in The United States. Argentina seems to posses no stigma about spending several hours a week with a psychoanalyst. Au contraire, in Buenos Aires, having a psychoanalyst is cool.
If one considers the process psychoanalysis: having an objective listener to analyze one’s life, help one assess true identity and remove any blockages that are hindering one from reaching that identity in it’s most successful and fulfilled form, is cool. Who wouldn’t want that?
I am not shy to admit that I’ve been a patient, because my life has been a testimony to it’s effectiveness. I started psychoanalysis when I was suicidally depressed in the summer of 2010. On my 24th birthday I woke up crying and didn’t get out of bed for a week. I had suffered from depression before, but something about the instability and chaos of my Argentine life put me over the edge. I was suffering from immense guilt induced by my choice to live six thousand miles away from my family, without any valid justification to stay. I didn’t want to go home, but I didn’t want to stay in bed either. I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I told my then-boyfriend that I wanted to die, which made him angry and he abandoned me, but not before expressing concern to my friends and family, who intervened and I was referred to a psychoanalyst.
I didn’t know at the time that I had one of the best in town. I just knew that I was depressed, and psychoanalysis got me out of bed three days a week. Yes, three days a week. Traditional psychoanalysis is conducted five days a week.
“Am I not crazy enough for five weekly sessions?” I asked my analyst after he insisted that I come three times a week. I thought once a week would be enough.
“No Vivi, psychoanalysis is not for crazy people.” My analyst explained. “Crazy people have lost connection with reality and would not benefit from analysis. Analysis requires capacity for deep introspection and intelligence on behalf of the patient and a mutual affection between the analyst and patient. You selected me as your doctor, but I had to accept you as a patient.”
I didn’t know the difference between psychiatrist or psychologist or psychoanalyst until I referred to my analyst as a psicologo and he corrected me. Psychoanalysts are considered by the Woody Allen crowd to be the highest of all psychotherapists. Very few of these true Freudians remain today, and much of this talent appears to be centered in Buenos Aires.
I recall the first time I went to the office of my psychoanalyst. He was old, and serious, but kind and a good listener. We commenced with my diagnosis. He asked me how I was feeling and then he asked me to draw some pictures, which he studied. He had the couch-side manner of an MD. For the following two weeks he asked me to tell him the story of my entire life.
After all that, we were ready to begin the process of psychoanalysis. I laid on my back, in awkward silence and my analyst told me to speak. About what? About anything. ‘Free association’ he called it. I was supposed to say whatever came to my mind. I found this to be the most difficult task I had ever been assigned, so I just laid there and tried to out-silence him. It was awkward and ineffective, so eventually I started talking. Thus began the mysterious psychoanalytical process, which I am unable to explain as anything else but a tribute to Plato’s ancient adage: “Know Thyself”.
My psychoanalyst explained the goal of psychoanalysis was not to cure my trivial emotional status, but rather to help me achieve my true identity. Psychoanalysis is not about making the patient feel better, or even good, but my symptoms ceased anyway. The chronic stomach ache I’d been unable to cure despite multiple trips to the hospital disappeared. My cyclo-rhythmic depressive tendencies lessened in severity and frequency. Stranger than that, lifelong allergies disappeared. My job performance improved and I started to earn more money. My constant state of anxiety desisted. I made more and better friends and maintained more significant friendships. My relationship with my parents improved immensely. I ended a bad romantic relationship. I accepted my true identity as a writer and dedicated myself to it. I started to see my life objectively and rejoiced in expressing gratitude for the unfathomable gifts that life/God had provided.
I began to know and see myself. I began the process of visualizing the life I wanted to live, and worked towards creating that reality instead of living a reactionary life. I became aware of my gifts and my shortcomings and learned how to play to my strengths and work to improve my weaknesses. My analyst doesn’t like the word ‘happy’ to measure success, but I feel happy. I feel fulfilled. I feel inspired. This isn’t to say that things are perfect, I am still the most flawed human being that I know. I have bad days, I struggle and I make mistakes. Still, I cannot deny the positive changes and progress that I have experienced since I began seeing a psychoanalyst.
So, as the New York Times posed, do Argentines need therapy? Is the popularity of psychology a reflection of Argentina’s history and culture, or is it a comment on human existence? Doesn’t everyone want to talk to someone?
The uninformed might presume that the lingering Freudianism of Argentine therapy means that the self-indulgent populus loves to weep, complain and wallow, while a pseudo-intellectual tells men that they are in love with their mother, and women that they have penis envy. The uninformed might presume that therapy is about being deeply in touch with ‘emotions’. These are all partially valid presumptions that hint towards an explanation for the passionately emotional machista aspects of Argentine culture.
What is an emotion anyway? An emotion is nothing more than a psychosomatic reaction to a thought. A simplified example: If I am about to take an exam and I think that I am going to fail, I will emote fear and dread. If I think that I am going to pass, I will feel confident or hopeful. My thoughts on how I will do on the exam may be related to how well I know the material, or how much I studied, or they may be based on how I’ve done on tests in the past, or the importance that I assign this test in my life. My pre-test emotion is nothing more than a reaction to my thoughts. To change or control this emotion is as simple as changing the thought that drives it.
The connection between thoughts, emotion and reality is where the psychoanalyst becomes useful. By making the patient aware of their thoughts, identity, blockages and patterns, the analyst empowers the patient to take control by making the changes necessary to achieve the desired results. The analyst doesn’t tell one what to think, but rather makes known how one is thinking. By making the patient aware of thought processes, the analyst provides catalyst for change, growth and healing within the psyche. Healing the mind heals everything else.
Healing the mind is the only part of human existence in need of healing, because the outer, external world is a mirrored reflection the internal world of the mind. Decartes affirms human existence with his ‘Je pense donc je suis’, and I would like to assert thatyou are what you think. If you are positive, loving, and fulfilled internally, this reality will be manifested externally in your life. If your thoughts are negative, hateful or fearful, you will perceive life as negative and the world will seem full of hate and fear. Of course all humans are some combination of good and bad, love and hate, right and wrong. We are all imperfect, but this is no excuse to accept an unsatisfactory reality, when one has the choice to make changes for the better. One has a choice as to how to view the events that transpire in life, and in that way, to further shape reality.
I’m oversimplifying, but I’m not a psychoanalyst, nor a philosopher, nor anyone with the answers, just a writer sharing a thought.
The truth is, psychoanalysis isn’t for everyone. Not everyone needs it, although I venture that most people stand to gain from it. Psychoanalysis undoes the blockages leftover from past scars, disposes of old ways of thinking that no longer serve and empowers the patient by making aware choices, thoughts, and identity. At least this has been my experience.
Perhaps Argentina’s wide acceptance of therapy on an individual level could ultimately empower the country to make a change in their unfortunate political and economic patterns on a national level. The only way to change the world is for each of us individuals to first make manifest the change within ourselves.
So do Argentines need therapy? Yes. The entire world could use a little therapy.