Couch Time

Twenty minutes seemed like an eternity. That’s when the patient would walk through the door and lie down on the couch reserved for him, only for him, since everyone else sat across from me, a reality that depressed me. Maybe he would arrive late. Maybe the couch would remain empty, until tomorrow’s session, unless I lay down on it myself, which for a moment I thought of doing. These weren’t welcome possibilities, which for a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst-in-training like me, was an important observation. Surprises were at the heart of this work. This patient, or maybe I was thinking about myself, was full of too many surprises. Without realizing what I was doing, I put the coffee cup down that I hadn’t let go of since these surprising or unwelcome thoughts and images had arrived, and I became the patient on the couch, which in reality, as part of my training, I did in my own analyst’s office four times a week. If it hadn’t been for a cancelation, I would’ve been seated across from a client right now. It didn’t feel right that I called one person a patient and another a client. I knew why I did it, but that didn’t seem to matter. The patient was in a four-times-a-week psychoanalysis, while the client was in once-a-week psychoanalytic psychotherapy. Why didn’t I call both of them patients like many of my colleagues did? My patient on the couch was both eager and frightened to do the work, and I sensed that this attitude wasn’t only because he’d started less than twenty sessions ago. We had hundreds of fifty-minute psychoanalytic hours before us. He could quit before the end. The case needed to last two years. This was my life. Maybe he would continue coming for his couch time until both of us were ready for the grave. This fantasy felt real, and I stood up, found my coffee cup, and hoped that caffeine would help return me to the present. Perhaps all of this in my head was the present.  What else was it? I needed more couch time.

 

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