Mutual Struggle

I forgot that he was stuttering. He’s my patient, my client, in this psychoanalytic psychotherapy that has lasted more months than I can count at the moment. Perhaps the blue sky outside helped me to forget. This Monday session was the first of two for us this week. I imagined him announcing that our Thursday session would be his last. He’s done with this. This last sentence frightened me. What was happening to me? I had a good weekend, a great one, which ended yesterday with an unforgettable seaplane flight from the San Juan Islands to Seattle, and the December sunshine fooled me into believing, for a moment, that it was summer and seventy degrees outside. The twenty-nine year-old seated across from me continued to stutter, as if he were speaking a foreign language. A foreign language to whom, I wondered. Maybe everything in his mind felt foreign, threatening, as if he were trapped in enemy territory. I’m a stutterer, though not often anymore, or maybe more often than I wish to admit. Maybe my own inner experience during the session felt as if it were happening in another mental universe. Our experiences in this room are connected. We were having this experience together. It was a mutual one. His struggle to pronounce words overcame my forgetfulness. We’ve worked together for a year. His sexuality is one of the things he struggles with. Listening to him, it felt like a life and death struggle, which might explain my forgetfulness. This struggle, in the here and now, overwhelmed me. Fortunately, this overwhelming feeling came, then left. I survived. The experience of this fifty-minute hour neared its end. He was no longer stuttering. Every word that left his mouth felt alive.

 

Reality on the Clock

She’s left me two phone messages. I was busy yesterday. Today is almost over. My last patient of the day arrives soon. The phone is in my hand. I glance at the number written on a scrap of paper. Maybe unconsciously I wrote the wrong number down. Something prevents me from calling her. There’s no reason why I shouldn’t call her right now. I have reading to do. Paperwork awaits me on my desk. Which of the two messages troubles me? I should’ve waited before listening to her first message. It came at a bad time. Work has been more difficult than usual for a week or two. As a psychotherapist, my state of mind is important in whatever difficulties I experience. A significant person in my life has been away for a week, although my supervisor remains a mental presence, similar to my own psychoanalyst, whose couch I still speak on. But I need more than my supervisor’s mental presence this week. This last sentence doesn’t feel right. Mental presence is everything for a psychotherapist and for a psychoanalyst. So is reality. Maybe much of what I’ve written here is fantasy. What am I avoiding in myself? To start with, I’m avoiding my own words, images in my mind, my fantasies. In other words, I’m avoiding my inner world. I call her. We speak for longer than I would like. She asks me too many questions. I’m supposed to ask her questions. I’m disoriented. Something primitive is happening between us. I wish I knew what. What do I mean by primitive? She and I are trying to understand each other. Maybe I’m trying to misunderstand her. I don’t want to deal with more words and images. This must be a fantasy. Reality awaits me. I can read it on the clock. My last patient of the day arrives in a few minutes. I’m still on the phone. We agree to meet for an initial interview. I’m anxious. She’s probably anxious too. An image of my supervisor comes to me, and I realize what I’ve been avoiding: my own desire. I want to work with her. I feel it.

 

Truthful Words

This is supposed to be what it’s all about. I’ve trained for this moment, right now. The patient speaks. I listen. What he says and how I listen are separate matters. The word separate feels misleading. His words and my listening aren’t separate from each other. This downtown second floor office, with a view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, witnesses both our verbal and nonverbal communications. His commitment to this work keeps me going. My own words surprise me. I’m a psychoanalyst. I’m training to be one. I’m also a patient in psychoanalysis. It’s the heart of my training. Nothing is more important than this, this work, in this room, with this patient. I wish I weren’t the only one who believed it. Where did that come from? Psychoanalysis is dying. It’s not dead. This treatment is proof of it. My patient and I meet like this four times a week. We’re in search of the truth. Or I tell myself that. I must stop speaking to myself. The patient is speaking, to me.