If you’ve heard of psychoanalysis . . . or seen some of those New Yorker cartoons, you probably know that the iconic symbol for psychoanalysis is the couch. The two go together. Tangled, unfortunately, with disturbing stereotypes of a distracted analyst who prefers not to look, falls asleep, or sits silently behind – leaving you, all too alone, to come up with your own help.
What to do, then, if you walk into, let’s say, my analytic consulting room? Keep your eyes from trailing over to that offending object, as if the couch doesn’t exist; hoping I won’t bring it up? Or, if you are among the more forthright, let me know in no uncertain terms: “I will never lie on that thing, don’t even think about it.”
What is that thing – the couch? And, what is it for? Stereotypes are best dispelled. One stereotype is: I’m going to make you lie down on it. My work as an analyst is not to make you do anything, but, instead, to understand your feelings. There are many things in my office, including myself. All can provoke reactions, which are grist for us to learn about you. The couch, in that endeavor, is not excluded – nor is any concern you have about why I would consider using such a ‘relic.’ And, why would I?
The couch is a tool. Sometimes it’s hard to look at me. Gauging my reactions, or feeling my gaze as a demand, doesn’t leave you free to have your own thoughts. The couch can be a peaceful respite from such imagined pressures. Much has changed since Freud, but his instruction not to censor what comes to your mind still has its merit. Understandably, that is easier said than done.
When it’s not easy to be open with your thoughts, that very difficulty is an essential part of our work. Talking about it is one thing. But, lying in a supine position on the couch encourages something close to dreaming, giving nearer access to what is right below the surface in your mind.
Yet, the couch can feel too lonely. You might have a lot of concern about your relationship with me, due to failures or abandonments in your past. For you, looking at me might be the only evidence I am there. The act of keeping me in close visual range is what paves the way to proof that I am the least bit trustworthy. In such instances, the couch is a far off consideration.
Feelings must be respected, and everyone’s timing and needs are exclusively their own. Will every analysis, eventually, make use of the couch? I might say yes – because once the worries, distrust, and fears are worked on between us, the couch is often naturally open for a try. But, I really can’t, and won’t, take a single-minded position. The true answer is: I don’t know. Since the couch is a tool and not an expectation – whether, how, and when it is used is interwoven into the fabric of every individual analysis.