The God of Psychoanalysis

The God of Psychoanalysis

by Simon Yisrael Feuerman

A psychotherapist shares the agonies and ecstasies of being in psychoanalytic group therapy and asks: Is psychoanalysis a religion after all?
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In The Beginning...

Twenty-five years ago, I was part of a psychoanalytic group that met once a week. A dozen or so mostly Jewish and mostly well-to-do urbanites and their psychoanalyst would sit together in a large room on the ground floor of a pre-war apartment building on the Upper West Side and talk to each other for 90 minutes.
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Simon Yisrael FeuermanSimon Yisrael Feuerman, PsyD., LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and a psychotherapist and is director of the New Center for Advanced Psychotherapy Studies.
What a lovely piece. Of course you had a happy ending. I cannot quite say the same.I was in a similar group, where a group member was encouraged to declare his love for me. In the spirit of saying everything, he did. Flowery magical words. (and who knows what motivated these feelings or set the stage for them?) Events then unfolded and in the same spirit as you describe your analyst, I was also treated to a modeling of cold, brutal and unyielding. Five and a half years of pain may have been worth it for you, but I paid a price. True, I am a better person now, but the pain lingers. In the same spirit of your glorious ambivalence, I'm still not sure if it was worth it. I wonder, Dr. Feuerman, if you ever pause to consider how dangerous such "say everything" and provocative approaches can be. Things do not always end with a group sigh of satisfaction. In some instances such "techniques" may be too stimulating, damaging even, especially as delivered in such an aggressive and cavalier fashion. And though in the name of character maturity and making light not fun, not everyone receives it this way or can metabolize pain and aggression so well and morph consequentially into a butterfly. There is a relief in not having your burdens be taken so seriously, giving one permission to go easier on one's self, or confront one's resistances. I just wonder if there aren't sometimes softer ways to achieve the same result. Crashing through defenses, though not always the intention, sometimes produces a negative result. In worst case scenarios, such candor (cockiness?), well skilled and aimed at the unconscious as it sets out to be, can set off a series of life changing and deeply emotionally disturbing events, even for the most well adjusted, well analyzed and mature characters among us. Not everyone winds up making enormous progress with women, a new awareness of their desirability and a small empire like you did. And not everyone believes that the road to healing and progress is paved with aggression. Though one analyst I know says that some people have to kill or be killed in order to live. That you abided by the commandments of feeling and talking and not acting "most" of the time is indeed interesting, But what of the rest of the time? Where did that lead? Were everyone's emotional lives in tact? And even if no damaging action took place, did the feelings aroused in the group stay in the group? Are we to believe that feelings - old or new - stirred up in the group stay in the group room when one walks out the door? That only positive outcomes result? Are you implying that each issue is sorted through like laundry - cleaned, folded and put away. And kept tidy in the group room until next time, year after year? Or that group members and analysands don't translate or imitate what they see in the analyst to those in their "real" lives? Your Judd Hirsch in Armani analyst modeling that it was good to be bad means what exactly? Should we follow his path and act accordingly to those around us? Or just to our patients? Perhaps there is a difference between an analyst modeling humanity and owning his mistakes and foibles - with careful attention to the narcissistic transference - and modeling recklessness, instigation and harshness. Who knows, really, after all, what the fall out will be or how it will shape us. I'm not so sure that we should leave out modeling patience, tolerance, forgiveness and love, before years of pain go by. And perhaps if we took this path we would be less at risk for losing it, like your analyst did. Such an enjoyable article to read though. A particular bright spot for me is your idea that intermittent nourishing by the mother leads to intermittent nourishing of others. That brings into focus something I have long been wondering about. It's beautiful and true what you say, that one hates and loves and forgives and returns. You remind me why I am still a believer in modern psychoanalysis, long haul and all. I am just no longer a believer in some psychoanalysts.
Great article. I was frustrated because the article is ALMOST beautifully written. Unfortunately, the writing is disjointed in places and it is hard at times to tell what is actually happening. For example, here's a sentence: "While membership in the church of psychoanalysis had always been expensive (and worthwhile) it had become unmanageable." You have a while clause, but it's missing its second half, as in "While membership in the church of psychoanalysis had always been expensive (and worthwhile), it had NOW become unmanageable." A small thing, a comma and a now, but emphasis can really tighten up and polish writing. Another example - I am aware in the section titled "The Fall" that you are growing more dissatisfied, but then suddenly you refer to "the departure". I am left out of the decision to leave - I wanted to know more about the difficulties of making the decision or whether it was totally economically obvious. As a reader, I felt you left me in the lurch a couple of times with writing that was opaque. Try working with "The Elements of Style" by Strunk and White. Because you're almost a great writer.
As a pscyhotherapist not trained in psychoanalysis, I have many biases about the process. Only for the rich. Narcissitic naval gazing. No real change. Arrogant leaders who interpret from their own shit. lots of anger. I have much to learn
Dr. Feuerman--thank you for this beautiful article. You got right to the essence of modern psychoanalysis and the spiritual aspect of connecting and reconnecting. Your story helped me understand something about the pull of my own experience with modern psychoanalysis. Thanks again.
Janet A. Castellini, LCSW
Did you get written permission to write so specifically about your peers experiences in the group? The specificity gives me a queezy feeling. You did this once before in an article in New York Magazine. It makes me uncomfortable.
P. Shatsky
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