Wednesday, March 21, 2018


Sandra Buechler spoke on March 17, 2018 at the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society’s Speaker Program meeting.

An interesting paper (1993) of hers talks about the analyst’s emotions and whether, and when, to share them with the patient. Some of the benefits which may be gleaned by sharing the analyst’s feelings about the patient include:

they may evoke from the patient additional, illuminating data;
they may allow the patient to feel he or she has an impact;
they may de-mystify the interaction;
they may communicate the analyst’s dedication to the analytic process;
they may be taken as expressing a sense of caring, even if they are negative emotions;
they may generate new experiences: new emotions, and that emotions can be explored;
they may convey that the analyst can survive [Winnicott: survival];
they convey respect, acknowledging the patient’s responsibility for her/his impact on the analyst;
they may relieve the analyst of interference from unexpressed negative feelings;
they may acquaint the patient with her/his potential for affective interchanges;
they may acquaint the patient with the joy of mutual regulation rather than control imposed by the other;
they may allow the patient to vicariously experience forbidden affects which the analyst carries for both;
They may communicate to the patient the therapist's involvement;
the patient may be better able to explore intolerable feelings with an emotionally responsive person;
[and may foster authenticity and intersubjectivity, of which emotions are a part]

Buechler, S (1993). Clinical Applications of an Interpersonal View of the Emotions Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 29:219-236

Monday, March 19, 2018

Poetry and Psychoanalysis

It was the pleasure of the Tampa Bay Psychoanalytic Society to host on March 17, 2018 Sandra Beuchler, PhD at its monthly Speaker Program Meeting. In the intimate setting at 8:15 am of a 'Conversation with the Speaker'  Buechler shared "Poems that Inspire Clinical Work." She opened with an excerpt from "The Four Quartets," specifically "East Coker," by T.S. Elliott which eloquently captures the psychoanalytic process with its shared struggles:

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt 
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Relational ideas, a smattering

First year courses at TBIPS have finally reached their emphasis on theoretical contributions from relational authors and so I am pleased to present a few concepts that have so informed our way of being in relation to our patients. They include the paradigmatic shifts from intrapsychic to interpersonal and intersubjective, from one-person to two-person, from drive-conflict model to relational [Mitchell], and from a unified self to a multiplicity of selves (in health, held together by a sense of continuity, cohesion, and coherence) [Bromberg]. Also important has been the shift from the analyst as objective authority [Sullivan] and all-knowing blank screen to flawed subject inevitably implicated in the relational dyad [Levenson] and a co-creator of the patient's transference. The mind, the self emerges from the matrix of social relationships.

Relationships and their 'internalization' are primary motivators [Bowlby] and are the organizers of psychic life. Early experiences are encoded in the brain in such a way as to become the 'default' way of being with others. Until subsequent experiences (including psychoanalytic therapy) over time reconfigure neuronal dendritic branchings, we may reenact either side of earliest complementary ways of being. Infant research [Beebe and Lachmann] gifts us with three salient principles: ongoing affect regulation, timely and consistent repair of ruptures, and shared moments of heightened affect. Schore concludes that attachment is affect regulation. Schore also notes another major paradigm shift: from left brain (interpretation, insight, explicit,) to right brain (emotional, perceptive, procedural) where dissociated self states [Bromberg] are brought to the conversation through their enactment and what was once unformulated [Donnel Stern] and implicit can then be made explicit.

In the therapeutic space of the analytic third [Winnicott, Benjamin, Ogden], greater than the sum of its two participants, spontaneity, play, and co-creativity can take place. Negotiation of differing agendas from each participant foster an intersubjective [Benjamin] way of being together as each member of the dyad contributes her/his respective perspectival reality. Uncertainty, fluidity, and unpredictability are lived as analysts no longer take cover behind dogmatic theories and technique. This fluidity includes contributions from feminism, queer theory, gender studies, linguistics, social constructivism, and Hegelian dialectics as we let go of linear dynamics.

Friday, March 9, 2018

A View from the Other Side of the Couch

A Gift of Cuban Oregano
Psychotherapy is hard. I do not mean that it is hard because a patient must relive painful and often times repressed childhood memories. We all know that this is hard.
No, what I mean is that it is hard being a patient. Fulfilling the role of patient is hard.  Managing the emotional investment required to “co-create” an effective therapeutic relationship is taxing and, frankly, scary.  My role as a patient is to allow myself to form a potentially one-sided emotional bond with a person I don’t even know. I don’t really know who this person is that I am trusting with my most intimate thoughts and deepest fears.   I have to form an intense emotional bond with a person who, when it comes right down to it, is only there because I pay her. I don’t know who she is. I don’t know where she goes after work, I don’t know where she lives, I’ve never been to her house, I’ve never met her husband or kids, I’ve never talked to her outside her office.   And yet I trust her implicitly. I have to. How else is therapy possible unless you don’t throw caution to the wind, close your eyes, and blindly jump? And so I have. But this is emotionally challenging. It is hard. It can be draining.
The challenge is to honor the trust.  It is a challenge because it is a trust that can’t be tested and reaffirmed in ways that trust in other relationships can be.  I can’t call her up to see if she wants to chat. I can’t drop by her house for a visit. I can’t ask her to meet for coffee. I can’t do the things that in a normal relationship would be incremental tests of whether my emotional investment is reciprocated.  I have to trust. And to keep the therapy vital, I have to honor that trust.
This is the odd thing about a therapeutic relationship.  A patient (i.e., me) has to demonstrate his respect and caring and love for his therapist by not doing the things that you would do in any other kind of relationship.  In most relationships care is demonstrated by doing; in a therapeutic relationship it is demonstrated by not doing.  Herein lies the stress.  I am bursting with care and love for my therapist, but I can’t demonstrate it.  At best, I show respect by staying within the confines of the boundaries that therapeutic technique and professional ethics require.  Most demonstrations of caring are therefore somewhat invisible. I show up on time, I don’t cancel appointments, I pay my bill. In short, I demonstrate my caring by being a good patient.
But this is unsatisfying.  In all the great relationships in art and literature, none are based on such mundane demonstrations of affection.  Romeo and Juliet did not sacrifice themselves on the altar of arriving at scheduled appointments on time. Elizabeth Barrett Browning did not count paying bills on time amongst the ways she loved thee.  Pythias did not demonstrate his friendship with Damon by staying away.
Ultimately, patients have the need to offer tangible demonstrations.  Giving gifts is one way of doing this. But what kinds of gifts are appropriate for a therapeutic relationship?  Even deciding this can be stressful. I would like to give my therapist something to show my affection, but I want to show my respect by staying within the boundaries.  It can’t be too expensive or too romantic or too intimate or too anything. So what kind of gift is right for the relationship without it being so trivial it’s meaningless?
I decided on a small plant.
I have been growing a Cuban oregano plant on the window sill in my kitchen for a number of years.   When it grows too big for the little pot it’s growing in, I snip off the overhanging vine and stick the cutting into another pot.  In this way, I have come to have multiple pots crowding my window sill. It occurred to me that maybe one of these plants would be an OK gift.  It seemed appropriate. It was by no means an expensive gift. The little terracotta pot probably cost less than a few dollars, the Cuban oregano was propagated from a plant I already had and which I had an excess of.  From a purely economic perspective it didn’t seem valuable enough that it would create any uncomfortable expectation of reciprocity. It just seemed like a nice little gift. She has other plants in her office and it seemed like it would fit in.  Plus, it had the added benefit of being something that I had cared for and nurtured rather than some cheap gift I bought off the shelf. Whether she would perceive it or not, it had meaning to me.
But because it had meaning for me, I hesitated.  I deliberated on whether it really was appropriate and whether it was honoring the trust, or whether she would in fact see that it had meaning to me and therefore see it as an attempt to push boundaries.  Maybe, I feared, she would see it as an attempt to make the therapeutic relationship into something else. I worried that it would put her in the awkward situation of having to reject my gift and then having to work to put the relationship back on track.  I was worried about the emotional stress she would be forced to endure if this were the case. Consequently, I didn’t give her the Cuban oregano and simply took on the emotional stress of wanting to give it to her, but not doing so. I absorbed the stress and I fretted.
Finally, though, I decided to go ahead take the risk.  I reasoned that we—my therapist and I—have weathered “ruptures” in our therapeutic relationship before and have come out of them with an even stronger therapeutic alliance.  So even if the gift turned out to be inappropriate, it would be something we would discuss together and work through. It would simply be another therapeutic opportunity. In fact, I reasoned, to hold back now would not be honoring the trust.  Thinking about giving the gift was causing me emotional distress and emotional distress is precisely what therapy is all about. At this point, therefore, I was therapeutically obligated to take the gift to her. So I did.
She loved it.  She took it for exactly what it was—a gift of little economic value, but immense symbolic value.  It was a gift that symbolized my wish to express an emotion while simultaneously doing so without violating the boundaries of therapy.  With embarrassing clarity, she told me that she saw it is a part of me that I have left in her care to nurture and grow. I was pleased.
No, I was relieved. In fact, I was so relieved that she did not reject the gift that I failed to understand that she really did like it.  It took a number of days before it sunk in that she actually liked it and I had to wait until our next session to confirm that I had understood correctly.  Then it took a couple of more sessions to understand why I didn’t understand that she liked the gift. In the end, it was a therapeutic opportunity after all.  I gained insight into my anxieties, our therapeutic relationship, and my relationship to that relationship.
I’m not sure this has made being a patient any easier, though. I still want to honor the trust, I still want her to know I care, I still want to stay within the boundaries of a therapeutic relationship, and I still struggle to maintain the balance between these goals.  It can be a difficult emotional balance. I wonder if therapists know how difficult it is to be a patient. I wonder if my therapist knows. I wonder if I should tell her. I wonder if I should let her read this essay. I wonder how she would interpret it. What if she takes it the wrong way?
Psychotherapy is hard.

-Tom Ford

Friday, March 2, 2018

Film: Lady Bird

(spoiler alerts contained within this post)

Greta Gerwig’s (Frances Ha, To Rome with Love) directorial debut is captivating. Stephen Colbert, according to Entertainment magazine, presented Gerwig with the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in a comedy or musical, and called it “heartbreaking” and “heart opening.” Autobiographical in nature, it is a realistic coming of age story with painful, though probably not unusual, experiences of finding out your first love is gay, or losing your virginity to a guy who doesn’t really care about you, or discovering the longed for popular crowd is not all that appealing after all. (the

Most painful for me to watch is Ladybird (Saoirse Ronan)’s relationship with her mother (Laurie Metcalf, TV series Roseanne, Nora in A Doll’s House) and to be reminded of the terrible things parents say to their children: “You don’t think of anyone but yourself!” [We see daily in our offices the results of such disregard by parents of their children.] Metcalf plays a psychiatric nurse -- a professional choice which perhaps saved her from becoming “an abusive alcoholic” as her own mother was -- who repeatedly puts Ladybird down, yet she also alters her prom dress, rescues a homeless teen, shares in the joy of her colleagues’ parenthoods, and speaks in a frank manner answering questions about sex. [The contradictory experience of one’s mother and one’s ambivalence must be excruciatingly confusing for a child.]

Illustrating a dilemma common to both therapist and patient (that of accepting the other --or self-- just the way one is, while also holding out hope for a ‘better’ other/ self) Metcalf says, “I just want you to be the very best version of yourself that you can be.” And Ronan retorts, both in defiance and fear, “What if this is the best version?” Others describe Metcalf’s character as “fiercely loving” but I just saw her as mean, though understandable, mean as a result of her worries and frustrations.

Last year, another semi-autobiographical coming of age story, Moonlight, deservedly won the Oscar for Best Picture.  Saoirse Ronan (Brooklyn, Atonement) won Golden Globe for Best Actress in comedy or musical for her performance in Ladybird, playing the truculent teenager. [Ronan is 23 in real life -- so not so distant a past to conjure, whereas Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday or Tom Hanks in Big had to dig deeper to recall]. There are funny, Catholic school memories such as the admonishment by a nun separating boys and girls on the dance floor: “Six inches for the Holy Spirit,” inadvertently conjuring up the fabled average length of a penis while trying to keep the dancers chaste.

Ladybird’s dad (Tracy Letts), oblivious at the breakfast table, struggles with his own depression after having been laid off, but can be tender, bringing a candled cupcake to awaken Ladybird on her birthday. This film deals with delicate issues, secrets and their consequent shame, be it the stigma of depression in Father Levine or fear of the reactions of others should a gay teen come out of the closet. I recommend this film without reservation, but still think Three Billboards (Post Dec 12, 2017) deserves the Oscar, [with Lady Bird awarded Bronze, losing maybe by seven hundredths of a second].

After leaving the theater, I felt sad that mothers speak to their daughters that way, and also thought, in my professional experience, that -- the one unrealistic portion of the film, IMO-- daughters do not express gratitude so quickly or so easily. My older daughter loved this film -- it speaks to her generation -- and she thinks it should win Best Picture, but, I remember, she also forgave me my shortcomings very quickly.