Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Obama and Contemporary Therapy

Many times since his inauguration, President Barack Obama's approach and/or language has uncannily called to mind the philosophical leanings of contemporary psychoanalysis. He has talked about rupture and repair, and has held in tension disparate opinions (causing some early on to accuse him of being indecisive). Last night (March 28, 2011), ten days into the Libyan conflict, from National Defense University in Washington, D.C., President Obama addressed the nation about U.S. action in Libya. In his usual circumspection, he spoke both to those who want no U.S. action there and those who want action increased to the point of removing Moammar Gadhafi.

He explained clear goals and expectations (opposing violence against one's own people; advocating freedom to choose one's own government; a government responsive to the aspirations of its people) and extolled negotiation with other heads of state (the United Nations coalition) saying, "We should not be afraid to act, but the burden of action should not be America's alone." This comment of Obama's called to mind for me the psychoanalytic situation, where participation, the burden of knowing and uncertainty, the courage and the hope, belong neither to the analyst nor the patient alone. These are negotiated, apportioned according to the moment, and shared between two people who have no way to foresee the outcome.

As therapists, we welcome into our offices the longings of our patients, constructing together an increased breadth of possibility or freedom. So just as in the quote above I might have substituted 'the therapist's' for "America's", so in this later quote from Obama's address, I might substitute again 'the therapist' for "the United States": "Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States." Always proud to be a U.S. citizen, Obama makes it easier. Likewise, I have also been always proud to be a psychoanalyst.

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