Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Analytic Instrument

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on February 11, 2014



“Attuned to the harmonies-and the discords-of a session, Isakower was aware of momentary visual images, of fragments, of poetry or song, or an unbidden memory making an unexpected appearance.” Theodore Jacobs MD

Analytic listening, unlike friendship, involves tuning into the music of the hour, and thereby looking for themes and ideas about how to string the thoughts and feelings and affect together. “This set of mind involves a deliberate shift in the direction of reverie and daydreaming.” Theodore Jacobs MD says in his paper entitled “Listening, Dreaming, Sharing: On the Uses of the Analyst’s Inner Experience.” This instrument encourages, not just free association in the patient, but free association in the analyst, as well. AnneMarie, fifty-two, comes to mind. As she talks about her loneliness, her search for a husband, and her despair at finding one, I have the immediate image of being in a desert and feeling thirsty, mad at myself that I did not bring enough water into this desert. “I wonder if you are mad at yourself for not having a husband,” I say, based on the image that came to my mind. “Oh, you got that right, ” AnneMarie says with relief for being understood. This brief fictional vignette, which I will use in my class,  is a good example of how my thoughts helped me understand AnneMarie, since she was not talking about her anger and self-hatred, but rather she was talking about how she was down on her luck in the man department. Focusing on the anger took us down a productive path of how she makes her life so miserable because she has not come to accept her life choices, to date. This anger, we wonder together, might get in her way of finding a relationship, as, it is possible, that other people pick up on this self-hatred as well. The analytic instrument was helpful. Thinking and reverie are our guides to understanding, both of ourselves and those around us. The tool requires endless sharpening, and hence the learning never stops. I have an interesting job.

4 Responses to “Analytic Instrument”

  1. Jon said

    There are many ways to hear and there are many ways to listen. Similarly, there are many ways to think and many ways to understand. Finding the best “impedance match” is much more art than science in the science of psychotherapy. Not only do the tools need endless sharpening, but it appears that new tools should also be considered. Yes, there are many an interesting aspects to your job.

    • Yes, yes and yes. If we consider the analytic instrument as a listening tool, and yet, we are listening for the “music” we have to agree that this is the art of the work. As you know, the pressure to pretend this is a science is one of my biggest motivations for blogging. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    This was very interesting. I would suppose that unless you were a student of psychoanalytic thought, you would not be able to use the tool of free association of the analyst to understand AnneMarie. This makes those of you who have undergone such training superior to other therapists. While from this very short description of AnneMarie’s session with you, I wouldn’t have guessed that she was angry with herself for not accepting her life choices, but rather, she was angry with herself for not yet finding a husband. She clearly has accepted her life choice…that she wishes to find a husband, but for some reason, has not yet found “Mr. Right.” Perhaps as you described, other people pick up self-hatred in her demeanor, and that may be the reason that she hasn’t found him yet. But from where do you guess that she hasn’t yet accepted her life choice?

    • Yes, allowing the mind to experience reverie is a skill, honed by psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and a deep appreciation for the arts. Using this reverie as a hypothesis for the affect of the patient is a tool, which in the case of fictional AnneMarie turned out to be pivotal to our work. Feeling mad at myself for not bringing more water sprung up seemingly out of the blue, and unrelated to AnneMarie’s discourse, but as I threw the idea out that maybe she is angry at herself, she felt resonance and our work deepened. Thanks.

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