Psychoanalysis > Papers

The Psychoanalyst's Image
in Literature and Movies

By Ana Drobot

Once we are interested in psychoanalysis, we will be curious to find out how a psychoanalysis session and a consulting room look like, how the psychoanalyst behaves towards his patients and vice versa. Except for the information from Freud's writings, we can see sequences from the psychoanalyst's work in literature or in movies. Of course, this does not mean that these representations are real. These are fictions, some are closer, and some are further away from reality.

In Barbara O'Brien's novel, Operators and Things, which presents the experience of a young woman who, at a certain point in her life, starts suffering from schizophrenia, the Freudian psychoanalyst is represented as a caricature, held up to ridicule; the Freudian theories are presented in the same manner (or at least the way in which the psychoanalyst applies them). He is surprised by the way in which the unconscious has always helped Barbara in her schizophrenia. He sees here the unconscious as a guide who helped Barbara until she entered treatment. He draws her attention to the rarity of her case; there are only a few people who manage to heal from schizophrenia, even if they are treated in a hospital, while Barbara recovered all by herself. There is just one thing that bothers him: namely, that the Operators where never preoccupied by sex. He seems to be disappointed. And because he is a Freudian, he thinks according to the theory which states that any problem of the psychic has as a source just one cause, namely an insufficient sexual life. A truly religious Freudian in his theories, Barbara thinks. He talks to her about her sexual life, which, according to him, is not rich enough and also provides her with an exact number of partners she should have had up to that point. Barbara thinks that even with such an impressive number of lovers she could have still had emotional problems. At the beginning, Barbara's mind is empty; she cannot answer the psychoanalyst's questions. She tells him she can only watch the ceiling, lying on the sofa and thinking only about this. From that moment on, the psychoanalyst, annoyed, will work with Barbara face to face. Then he suggests to her to write something. Barbara writes a novel at a speed that amazes her, and we find out that the psychoanalyst declared himself satisfied with the received material.

In Treatment was the source of inspiration for the Romanian series În deriva (Drifting), while in turn In Treatment had as a source of inspiration a Jewish series, Be Tipul. These series contain the same situations, characters, problems, behaviors that are adapted taking the cultural differences into account. For example, in the Jewish series, in contrast to the American series, the patient and the therapist sit closer to one another in the consulting room. The personal space is important for the Americans. The Americans are bothered by relatives who inform the patient about the professional abilities of the therapist, while for the Jews this is not a problem. Another difference consists in the way of addressing somebody. In the case of the movie In Treatment, we do not notice this (you having both the personal and the formal meaning) but in the case of Drifting, the therapist invites one of the patients to address him with you in a personal way in one of the first episodes.

Paul Weston, the therapist from In Treatment (and in the end the same character, with very small cultural differences, with the therapists from the Romanian and Jewish series) is represented as a man with many problems. He does not see the problems from his own family, as he is informed by his wife. She reproaches him of being more interested in his patients than in his own family. On top of the family problems he also has love feelings for a patient, Laura (Nora in the Drifting series), patient who eventually asks her therapist directly if he has any feelings for her, and he ends up confessing his love for her. These are the reasons why Paul restarts the sessions with his therapist Gina. At a certain point he will even discuss with her about the things that go bad with his patients. Generally speaking he is doing well with his patients, being aware of the meaning of every word and gesture. He gets emotionally involved in their problems, ending up by participating at the funeral of one of his patients, a pilot, about whom Paul believed he was not yet ready to go back to work. He has guilt feelings towards his patient and the patient's family. Paul has his consulting room at home; one of the rooms is especially reserved for this. In his sessions patients do not usually lie on the sofa. Sometimes they change their position, based on how they feel. For example, his patient, Sophie, coils up on the couch or makes a beam gym exercise demonstration on the back of the sofa while telling him how her training day went on. He always sits in his armchair, facing his patients. In one of the episodes he changes places with Sophie, she sits in his armchair and he sits on the sofa, then she asks him some questions; then everything goes back to normal.

In another session, Paul confesses to Sophie that he needs to find something to be fond of in every patient (the word used in English is to love; love has both meanings in English unlike in Romanian: to be fond of and to be in love with).

In some episodes we can see problems related to situations for which there is no clear resolution. For example, in Laura's case, all sort of unexpected situations come up. At a certain point, the bathroom from his consulting room is broken and Laura is told that she cannot use it. Laura shows her intention to use the normal bathroom, from Paul's home, not the one from the consulting room. He forbids her and she confronts him by asking if he did not learn in school how to handle such a situation or if he is afraid she could see his home, his personal space and maybe meet his wife. Another situation comes up when Laura meets one of Paul's patients, Alex, who actually mixed up the days when he had to come. Again Laura confronts Paul after she tells him she became friends with that patient and then she gives him details from their intimate life (as a reaction to her being rejected by Paul, as he analyses the case).

Another situation regarding personal space comes up when Alex brings into Paul's consulting room a coffee machine as a present (as a consequence of the fact that Paul offered him a cup of coffee he did not enjoy). Of course this gesture of Alex's is analyzed: Alex felt that space as a personal one, in which he could do anything that was forbidden to him in his own home, including drinking coffee.

Torments of the psychoanalyst who is in love with his patients can also be found in When Nietzsche Wept (a screening of the novel with the same title written by Irvin Yalom), where Dr. Breuer is very much in love with his patient Anna O. Or in A Dangerous Method, where Jung is in love with his patient Sabina Spielrein. Of course the patients are in love with their therapists as well. In When Nietzsche Wept, Lou Salomé asks Dr. Breuer to treat Nietzsche. The philosopher believes about himself that he is only physically ill; he was suffering from strong headaches. The true sufferance is actually caused by the fact that Lou refused his marriage proposal. He even starts having thoughts about killing himself. Lou suggests Breuer to treat Nietzsche using his new technique – the talking cure. However, she draws his attention not to let the patient understand that he is under a psychoanalytical treatment (otherwise he would not accept this). Breuer should make him believe he is only treating his physical symptoms. And at the same time he should gain Nietzsche's confidence by asking for his help in a personal problem about love.

Dr. Breuer has a similar problem: he needs to heal from his love for his patient Bertha. Nietzsche offers him all types of solutions, among which the suggestion that Dr. Breuer should imagine an un-idealized Bertha and a life full of problems next to her. He is eventually cured by Freud through hypnosis.

Breuer produces under the effect of hypnosis a fantasy in which he imagines what would happen if he left his family and would start a journey to find himself, following Bertha, who is in a clinic in another town, under the care of another doctor. His wife tells him that his departure will be forever, with no possibility to come back to his family, as she will not accept him back after this. He finds Bertha in the hospital's garden, while she confesses her love to another doctor, using the same words she said to him in reality. Furthermore, Breuer remains alone and has to work as a waiter, and in the coffee house where he works he meets Freud and Lou; being unable to face them, he runs away but he is recognized. Breuer wakes up from hypnosis with Freud's help and realizes that nothing from what seemed to be real actually happened. He is thus cured from his love for Bertha and gladly returns back to his family. Nietzsche is the one who shows Breuer that his patient Bertha has the same name as his mother.

In A Dangerous Method Jung treats Sabina Spielrein using Sigmund Freud's method and he has good results. Then we assist to the breaking up between Jung and Freud caused by the conflicts regarding the psychoanalytical theories as well as to Sabina's training in the psychoanalytical technique. Jung co-opts her to help him in his work. Sabina will also be his sweetheart for a while, fact which is disapproved by Freud.

In Freud (1962) we are presented with therapists close to real ones. Dr. Breuer and Sigmund Freud treat a patient, Cecily, who may be regarded as the equivalent of Anna O. Freud develops Dr. Breuer's method – the talking cure – in order to treat hysteria. Here only the patient falls in love with her therapists, but everything is treated in a scientific and professional manner. We assist to the creation of psychoanalysis, to the explanations regarding the development of theories, to sequences from Freud's self analysis, to his patients´ analysis, to the interpretation of some dreams, to the digging out of the past, to momentary healings, to doubts but also to solutions.

Freud and Breuer are passionate about their work and always fair. We can see how Freud manages to identify the resistances of his patient Cecily and helps to eliminate them and to make some of her symptoms disappear. For example, Cecily will be able to see again when, helped by Freud's questions, she manages to remember correctly that she was asked to identify her father's body in a brothel, not in a hospital. Freud will explain to Cecily what happens with her, what the Oedipus´ complex is, what those memories are - memories which are in fact only fantasies. We see how Freud gives up hypnosis, how he treats Cecily using psychoanalysis, by sitting in an armchair behind the patient who is lying on the sofa.

These are just a few examples of characters who are therapists/psychoanalysts. What we notice is that these characters, just like the real Freud, never take notes during their sessions.

Even if some of the psychoanalysts' representations are not viable, we can still compare them with real life psychoanalysts and their exigencies, in order to see where some imputable mistakes can lead and why they must be avoided.


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