Rent-A-Friend Vs. Psychoanalytic Listening
Posted by Dr. Vollmer on October 25, 2013
Rent-A-Friend, was how Professor L. described psychotherapy, letting us know, he did not have a lot of respect for the field. “The days of rent-a-friend are numbered,” he used to say, hoping we would all chuckle with delight and not squirm with discomfort, as many of us did. The squirming then did not make sense to me, but preparing for my class recently, I was able to piece together the components to that squirm. Salman Akhtar MD outlines the issue.
1. There is an entirely different sort of verbal material…in other words patients say things in therapy that they are too ashamed, or too scared to talk about with their friends.
2. The listening is for both conscious and unconscious aspects of the subject at hand.
3. The listening is done with the point of understanding on multiple levels, rather than merely providing support.
4. There is explicit consent that the listener can comment on deeper, and perhaps unsavory, motivations.
5. The mind of the analyst prepares for receptivity (I call this getting in the zone), in order to have what Freud described as “evenly hovering attention”.
When girlfriends go in a dressing room and one says “that does not look good on you,” there is love in that comment, which taken out of context would sound like a criticism. So too, with analytic discussions, “you were mean to your friend” may be unsupportive in a morning walk, but in a therapy room, that is a comment which inspires deep reflection. The courage to hold up that mirror, as the friend does in the dressing room, is the courage invested in a deeply meaningful relationship in which chances are taken in order to help the other go out into the world with consciousness and confidence. With all due respect to Professor L, who I love dearly for all that he gave me, the “rent-a-friend” comment was uncalled for, and demeaning to my other professors at the time, and now, to me, as well.