Monthly Archives: April 2013

It Ain’t Necessarily So

Today I promised to begin to answer my question, “why a blog?”

I’ll start by addressing why I don’t feel (too) restrained by the reasons therapist don’t generally blog.  Let me start with

1.  You can’t talk about yourself.

and

3.  Your clients will probably end up reading your blog.

All psychoanalytic therapists are cautioned in their training not to reveal personal details,  to maintain themselves as a blank screen for the patient’s projections. But as many people (including analysts) have pointed out, the whole idea of a therapist as a blank screen is a bit of a myth.  You reveal all sorts about yourself in the way you dress, the words you use, your accent, what you pick up on and what you don’t (one of Ralph Greenson’s patients famously commented that Greenson only interpreted if he said something pro Republican, never pro Democrat), if something needs explaining to you (the latest play at the National, the most recent Iron Man blockbuster) and what doesn’t.

“Ahhh.. “ but a true psychoanalyst will say, “but none of that is personal details.” Which is nonsense, of course.

But for the moment, let’s accept it as fact. What about personal, personal details.  Like if you’re married, have children, who your parents were, etc.

By complete accident, I now have something to say about this.  Sitting comfortably?  This is a bit of a long (and personal) story.

Six years ago, I had a children’s book published by Orion Children’s Books. (Boobela and Worm, to save you looking it up on Amazon. The series is now mostly out of print.) The Orion publicist asked me for a blurb for publicity purposes.  I duly supplied it.  I didn’t know that Amazon has a direct feed from the Orion database.  The following appeared, almost immediately, on Amazon:

 “Joe Friedman was born in Chicago to deaf parents. He has written stories since he was seven and sold his first play at 13. He currently lives in north London and divides his time between writing and working as a psychotherapist. Boobela and Worm is his first book for children.”

The first I knew about this was when a patient said, “I didn’t know your parents were deaf…”

“Oh my god!!”  I thought, panicked. “How will this affect their transference?”

The patient later confessed that they’d googled me, and found this information in Amazon.  As soon as they were out of the room, I was on the phone to Orion to get them to undo the Amazon listing.  I wasn’t successful. It seems once something is out there on the internet, it’s there for good.  This description had already popped up on numerous book-related websites.

After a while, when I got used to the idea that there was all sorts of “personal details” out there I had no control of, I put up my own website to publicize my series of books (www.boobela.com).  As my target audience was children, I put up a photo of me riding a bike as a child, photos of my young daughter, and a cute (unposed) picture of our golden retriever sleeping with our bengal cat.

Those patients who googled me found the website. But it didn’t seem to affect them badly. Rather, it seemed to humanize me in their eyes.  It made them think I knew what I was talking about, and what they were talking about.

In fact, I recently had a patient come to me who said the reason they’d chosen to see me was that I was the only therapist they’d found who had a photo of themselves smiling!

(I know this probably says more about my profession than myself.)

All the above won’t make the case to a proper psychoanalyst.  Their objection to a client’s knowing these humanizing personal details would be that it would affect the patient’s negative transference – their ability to project their negative emotions towards past significant figures onto you the therapist.  This would deny the patient the important therapeutic experience of hating/loathing/despising you, and having you withstand this and help them understand it (unlike these significant others in their pasts, who reacted badly to being hated/loathed/despised).

I happen to agree with this, that if knowing that my parents were deaf (for example) would inhibit a patient from expressing hatred towards me, it would be a significant loss.  (Although I must say that my first supervisor, R.D. Laing, thought this was nonsense.  He said once that he thought a mild positive regard of the therapist was the best condition for the conduct of an analysis.)

But is it the case?  Would knowing humanizing personal details deprive your patients of the opportunity to hate you?  (It doesn’t seem to happen with teen age children…)

As it happens, I have some experience of this also.

I’m part of a charity called the Philadelphia Association.  It was originally founded by R.D. Laing and colleagues. One of its main aims was to provide asylum, or therapeutic communities, for people who were suffering emotional and mental distress.

These therapeutic communities involve a group of people in distress living together in an ordinary family household.  No staff live in, but a team of therapists (usually two) visit the house regularly.

I was one of the therapists involved with a long lasting PA community.  As I was there five times a week for meetings of an hour and a half, the residents inevitably came to know me pretty well.  In fact, as the house residents were considered part of the PA community at large, they were able to come to PA functions. There, they might meet my wife.

Of course, though the PA communities are therapeutic, they’re not psychoanalysis.  But it is still interesting to note that this setup, with residents knowing all kinds of details about my life, did not prevent negative transference.

In one notable instance, a resident, following a perhaps ill-advised interpretation on my part, hardly spoke to me for many months afterwards.  Every time I saw her (which was regularly) she glared at me with naked hate in her eyes.  Often, it seemed it was more than she could bear to look in my direction. I (and the other house therapists) tried to get her to think about what was going on between us, but for a long time, she preferred to hate me.

After roughly two years, the storm of negative transference passed. We’d both weathered it. Afterwards, I believe we came to understand what it signified.  The resident went on to leave the community, to work and to form a very successful relationship.  She’s still keeps in touch.

I recognize that one instance doesn’t disprove the theory, but at least I can argue that knowing some details about me won’t be harmful to my clients.  (In saying this, I am in no way justifying those therapists who burden clients with personal details – about their divorces, traumas from their childhood, etc. — during sessions.)  Rather, I am just questioning the received wisdom that therapy only works if a therapist is a “blank screen.”

Why I Shouldn’t Blog

There aren’t many blogs by psychotherapists.  (That’s why an obvious blog title like thetalkingtherapist is still available.)

Let me list a number of reasons why:

  1. You can’t talk about yourself.
  2. You can’t talk about your clients (i.e., your “work”)
  3. Your clients will probably end up reading your blog, so you have to write with that in mind.
  4. Potential clients might read your blog.
  5. Other therapists – perhaps the most schismatic and judgemental community in the world when not seeing clients – will read your blog.
  6. You don’t want to end up giving free advice.  (As Alan Sherman once sang,   “Good advice costs nothing and it’s worth the price…”)

In other words, it’s a barrel of worms.

If that isn’t enough, I’ll give you an example of something that makes sense to say in one context, but not in a blog.

“Everyone knows you need to be crazy to be a psychotherapist.  No sane person wants to spend hours, days and years with people who are suffering, in pain and often have family histories that make you despair of humanity.”

I often say this to people in supervision or  trainee therapists.

But it sounds different in a blog.

Am I having a joke at clients’ expense? (Not on.) Or at my own? (Allowable.)

Given all this, why am I here?

I’ll begin to answer in my next posting.

(But believe me, I’m not discounting the above – you have to be crazy to be a psychotherapist – as a reason.)