In the weeks after 9/11 the IPTAR Clinical Center received a grant to fly in mental health professionals from Ireland, the Middle East, and South America to talk about the experience of doing psychoanalysis in the midst of existential terror. Hundreds of therapists practicing in New York came to “Terrorism and the Psychoanalytic Space” a conference that was held in shadow of the twin towers.
Two things have stayed in my mind about that conference. One was the sanguine tone of some of the presenters. It was as if Americans (you can fill in the inflection) were just catching up to something that the non-American psychoanalysts who came to speak to us had lived with all their lives. Of course gas masks and bomb shelters were part of everyday treatment. Of course an entire economy could crumble to nothing in a matter of days. Of course random acts of deadly violence were every day occurrences. Of course, in other words, the sacredness of the “analytic space” was permeable to a shared, uncertain, and often violent external reality. Emphasis there on the word shared. You American analysts, Lord John Alderdice told me that weekend over coffee, you thought you left the bad stuff in Europe when you left in the 1940s. You actually thought you could create an analytic space behind four walls that would be a safe world apart.
But wasn’t that, in some measure, the point? Development, transformation, and real change can’t happen outside of a safe, predictable boundary between outside and inside. Even the wall, permeable as it must be between consciousness and unconsciousness, is paradoxically a barrier that makes expanding consciousness possible. But I got his point.
The other thing Alderdice shared with me was his very dim view of ego psychology. For example, he said Americans can be way too interested in the constitutional and historical reasons that someone might see only pink when they look at, what anyone can plainly see, is a blue sky. Psychoanalysis is not about consensus. Psychoanalysis is simply an evolving method through which one person might better come to understand another person. The question is not, ‘what prevents a person from seeing an obviously blue sky?’ Rather, the question is ‘what is the color of the sky this person sees?’ The question is not: why pink? The question is: how pink?
I hesitate to write this . It’s psychoanalysis 101. It’s baby stuff. It is so much a part of how most of us work that it is embarrassing to think that there was a time when it wasn’t.
There are ways that this year has put me in mind of that year after September 11. In the wake of raised and then seriously dashed hopes and expectations, a new terror has surfaced. This new terror attacks the glue of secondary process: the continuity of structures built over time, the meaningfulness of words and the kind of inner balance which is essential to fully comprehend what another person sees and feels.
In his book Thank You for Being Late, Thomas Friedman describes how technology, globalization, and global warming are braided together and moving at exponential speed. There is no way for anyone to keep pace with the hurtling changes affecting our lives and our planet. The title of Friedman’s prophetic book occurred to him when he realized how much he appreciated the space of time he had to himself when someone showed up late for a meeting. Our individual challenge, Friedman wrote, is to find a way to “press a pause button and declare independence from the whirlwind.”
“Pausing and reflecting, rather than panicking and withdrawing is not a luxury or a distraction… it is a way of increasing the odds that you will better understand and engage productively with the world around you.” This is not new news to psychoanalysts. Pressing a pause button in order to create a space from which we can view a whirlwind of forces occurring in real time is the foundation of our work. Room 2.17 is the inaugural issue of IPTAR’s new newsletter. Like any analytic hour, we hope the creation of ROOM can help us pause in a space devoted to colorful analytic reflection. This is ROOM’s view: Strengthening the continuity of our analytic community by sharing meaning where we find it is analytic action. –
- Hattie Myers is a Training and Supervising psychoanalyst at IPTAR.