Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Mutual Pleasure

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 8, 2013


Christopher Bollas PhD argues that we, psychoanalysts, do not celebrate our love of our patients, enough. The pleasure in mental exploration, both for the patient, and his guide, his therapist, is, at times, a joyful experience of mining the brain. Yep, this is the subject of my next class, the pain and pleasure of helping people with self-discovery, since the excitement of new ideas goes in parallel with witnessing pain and suffering. Perhaps that is why so few of my colleagues retire. Rachel, twenty-two, feels hurt and betrayed by her parents, but she is also enamored by her ability to describe, to narrate, her retrospective analysis of her childhood. Similarly, I feel for her despairing feelings, but I share in her joy in finding words to describe her internal world. Her “true self” as Winnicott would say is bubbling up, in a way which expands her internal landscape. With her pain and her  narration, she feels more “whole” by her account. The clarity she gains from describing her perceptions goes a long way to building her self-esteem, or so she tells me. The work is not just fulfilling, it is pleasurable in these moments.

4 Responses to “Mutual Pleasure”

  1. Jon said

    The feeling of a psychoanalyst’s joy in aiding in self discovery that you describe is similar to the joy of a teacher. For a teacher, it is the subject taught that is enhanced in the student’s mind. In that, the student’s mind itself is expanded. However, for the psychoanalyst, it is the working of “student’s” (i.e. patient’s) mind – or, more truly, psyche – itself that is enhanced. Thus, the psychoanalyst can be seen to be working on another plane from the teacher.

    There is an analogy to the fundamental work of the great 20th century mathematician Kurt Gödel (said to be the greatest logician since Aristotle). Way oversimplified, Gödel took a mathematical look to comprehend what could be comprehended mathematically. For his PhD thesis, he was able to show that the simple predicated calculus was complete. That is, for any system of “p implies q” with just operations of “and, or, not” all statements can be proved true or false. However, in part of his masterwork, he went on to show that if a system was complicated enough to include arithmetic, there are statements that cannot be proven true or false within that system. In some ways, this was the destruction of an almost 2, 000 year dream first codified by Euclid.

    The human mind is far, far more complicated than an arithmetic system. As such, there will be many undecidable questions for the psychoanalyst and patient to explore. There is indeed much pleasure in that exploration for both participants. However, it is now a Friday night, and I have other pleasures awaiting me to explore….

  2. Shelly said

    I get that when your patient “sees” what it is you had been trying to show him/her all along so that he/she can prevent the repetition of hurtful behaviors in their lives. But I’m interested in finding out how the therapist feels when the patient is resistant or fails to see the error of their ways? Besides frustration and sadness, how else can you present your theories so that they “see?”

    • Yes, Shelly, what you aptly describe as frustration and sadness, I add on by saying, that is the struggle in the work. This struggle also represents a deep commitment, as it is a struggle, indeed. Through this deep commitment comes a sense of a ‘holding environment’ as Winnicott would say, and in that environment, there continues to be hope for deeper reflection and thought which might lead to a change in old ways of seeing things. Thanks.

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