The Freedman Archives: Part II

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Personal Trainer

Hey, buddy. How's it going? Just give me the facts, man. I just want to know, in point of fact, how you're doing? Mind you, no bloody metaphors!
I don't mean to sound like Jerry Seinfeld (not that there's anything wrong with that!), but what's up with personal trainers? What is the psychology of the personal trainer and the people who hire them? I don't get it.
There's a guy in my building, a Newmanesque, portly fellow. I doubt he's a U.S. Postal Service employee, though. He lost some weight with the help of a personal trainer. The trainer used to come to my building a few times a week. Tubby and the trainer would work together in my apartment building's fitness center. Tubby would work out on the treadmill, the trainer standing at his side. The trainer would tell Tubby to increase the speed, slow down, or stop altogether and get started on another activity. Like Tubby couldn't do that on his own? He needs to pay somebody to tell him what to do? Could anyone please explain this to me?
I can't see paying some purported Sports Authority to tell me what to do. It's like, "Look man, I'm the Sports Authority. There's a right way to work out and a wrong way to work out. I'll teach you the right way. I'll show you what you've been doing wrong. I'll motivate you." Who needs that? I certainly don't.
I work out every day. Forty minutes. I work out strenuously. I sweat like a pig (actually pigs don't sweat, of course; they don't have sweat glands--it's a bloody metaphor). I'm in good shape; my blood pressure is consistently about 120 over 70. I never fail to work out. If I don't feel well, if I'm tired -- whatever -- I get my ass into the fitness room and I work out. I know that when I'm done working out, I'll feel better. That's my motivation. I take two days off--Saturday (Shabbat, as The Mad Monk would say) and Sunday.
I was reading in a recent issue of New York magazine that even Bob Morgenthau, the Manhattan D.A.--the tough-as-nails Manhattan D.A. for life (or for eternity, as it looks right now)--has a personal trainer come to his apartment once a week. Can you imagine that? Serial killers don't intimidate Morgenthau, but the guy's afraid of a treadmill!
I've been working out every day now, just about, since April 1986. I can remember I started working out every day while I was working at Hogan & Hartson. It was the week my supervisor, Sheryl Ferguson, went to Ixtapa, Mexico on vacation. She had a rotten time. But I enjoyed my workouts.
I can be incredibly lazy and unmotivated in many ways, in many areas of life. But, in other ways, I'm a highly self-motivated person.
Law School. My first year of law school was 1979-1980. I spent my first year of law school in Spokane, Washington at a third-tier law school. Too many alcoholic conferences in college with my old professors in my undergraduate days; my academic record was none too stellar. In any event, I spent my first year of law school three thousand miles from home, in Philadelphia. I had no friends, no family, no support of any kind. I didn't make any friends in law school. I was a hermit. The Hermit of Spokane. My mother died in the beginning of January 1980, the start of my second semester, first year. You know how rough the loss of mama can be for a "laughed-at mama's boy." So there I was. Three thousand miles from home. No family, no mama, no friends, no support. The pressures of law school. And, of course, I was struggling with severe mental illness.
I completed my first year in the top 15% of my class. The Chief Justice (Bob Strauss's poker buddy, Wild Bill Rehnquist) finished law school in the top 15%, too: impressive, huh? I just plugged along. My grades were good enough that Temple Law School in Philadelphia accepted me as a transfer student, second year. I transferred to Temple, where I got my law degree in May 1982. By the way, Temple accepts precious few transfer students. Ask Bob Reinstein, the dean at Temple Law. He'll tell you: "We accept only a handful of transfer students."
My point? I did that on my own, without emotional support, encouragement or persuasion. I was motivated to go to law school, on my own. I was motivated to complete law school, despite my tribulations, on my own. I didn't have, or need the help of, someone to motivate or encourage me.
Other examples. Last year, I had a few extra pounds. I wanted to lose weight. I settled on a diet routine and I followed it. I lost about 20 pounds.
I used to be a heavy cigarette smoker. At one point, back in 1993, I decided it was time to quit. I quit: no patches, no drugs, no motivational programs. I just quit. I haven't touched tobacco in eleven years.
I had a bit of a drinking problem a few years back. I was drinking a six-pack of beer every day. Robby can confirm that. You know Robby, at Cleveland Park Wine and Liquor? Anyway, I thought: "Man, this is getting out of control. In another few years, I'm not going to have a liver." I cut back on my own. No Alcoholics Anonymous. No motivational programs. No family member telling me I better quit. I made a decision, and I carried it out. That was it.
Back to my original point. Personal Trainers. What is the psychology of the person who needs another person to tell him to work out, or do anything for that matter? Don't ask me. I have no idea. The concept is totally alien to me. It seems to me that you can divide the world into two classes of people: self-motivated people who do things on their own and unmotivated people who need encouragement and actually benefit from encouragement. We live in a world of sheep and shepherds, as it were.
Be that as it may.
What I've come to see is that The Mad Monk, my psychologist, sees her role as being that of a personal trainer. She sees her role as being the person who will badger, coerce, encourage, persuade, and exhort me to do things the right way. "You need to work. You are employable. It's a sin in the Jewish religion not to work." (Am I even employable?) "You need to join a group. You could benefit from group therapy." (Didn't group therapy turn out to be a disaster for me?) "You need to publish your book. You need to work on your references, your bibliography and your table of contents." (Is my book even publishable?) "You need to get involved with people. That's the only way you'll make friends." (But do I even have a capacity to make and maintain friendships?)
Fundamentally, Dr. Bash functions as a personal trainer. She's trying to get me to do what I need to do to meet my goals. But she herself doesn't really help me in any way with the intrapsychic problems and limitations that impair my interpersonal functioning. In her mind her role is simply to motivate and encourage.
Do I need a "personal trainer?" Can I benefit from a "personal trainer?" Furthermore: What is the reaction of a self-motivated person to a personal trainer? I suspect it's not positive, to say the least. If a personal trainer tried to motivate me, my reaction would be: "Listen buddy, why don't you just back off. I don't need any of your f*****g advice. I'll do this the way I want to do it. If I need your help, I'll ask for it." How do you think Donald Trump would take to some interloper telling him how to run his business? Do you think Donald Trump listens to Tony Robbins' motivational tapes in his spare time? I don't think so.
My feeling is, I may screw up my life. But if I do screw up my life, I'll do it my way. I'm a self-motivated, self-destructive fool.
Returning to the metaphor of the overweight person. There are personal trainers and there are cosmetic surgeons, who do liposuctions, tummy tucks, and gastric bypasses. When I started to work with Dr. Bash, I thought I was getting a "cosmetic surgeon" who would do something. Actually do something. Turns our she's just a personal trainer. That's what supportive psychotherapy is. It's a motivational program. Unlike psychoanalysis. In analysis or psychodynamically-oriented psychotherapy the therapist does something. He provides an atmosphere for self-exploration and development of the self. Dr. Bash provides nothing in the way of a therapeutically-salutary environment. She does nothing but tell me what I need to do. But the bottom line is, I already know what I need to do.
I already know that sitting alone in my apartment is not going to help my social life. I know that the only way I can have any chance at all of making friends is to place myself in social situations. What kind of moron wouldn't already know that? So we have The Mad Monk telling me: "You need to get involved with people, you need to find a place where people congregate--such as a synagogue (reform, conservative or orthodox), a place where people speak Hebrew, a place where people eat food," and so forth. Like I don't already know that? The fat person knows he needs to lose weight. He knows that diet and exercise are the only way to do that on his own. But it's also recognized that some people can't lose weight with diet and exercise alone, and that hiring a personal trainer will not motivate some people who suffer from obesity. For some people, some intervention into internal functioning is required. Hence, the gastric bypass. Have I mixed too may metaphors here? Have I become lost in a maze of metaphors--contradictory metaphors? So be it!
At my last session with Dr. Bash, I presented to her what I call my "Statement of Principles." I read to her a series of statements about myself: "non-negotiable" points, as it were, about my psychological functioning. I wrote the statement in order to deal with the extreme frustration I experience with her week after week: the frustration of having to deal with her endless exhortations. "You need to do this, you need to do that."
This is what I told The Mad Monk.
1. I am totally isolated socially.
2. I experience my social isolation as extremely painful and distressing.
3. I have a lifelong history of social isolation, shallow social relations, or difficult social relations.
4. I like few people; I would prefer to be alone than socialize with people who I do not genuinely like.
5. I will not develop social relations simply by mingling with a random group of people. I am bashful, oversensitive, sincere, and melancholy. I require solitude, but I value friendship, which I consider a "sacred relation." See Arieti, S. "Creativity: The Magic Synthesis," at 345 (New York: Basic Books, 1976). How does a person with my personality qualities make friends by mingling in a random social setting?
6. I have severe personality problems.
7. My social needs, limitations, and capacities are determined by my intrapsychic personality problems.
8. Of all the therapists I have seen since 1990 (and I've seen many), I genuinely liked only two: Dr. Palombo and Dr. Sack, both psychoanalysts. Even in the case of these two individuals who I liked a great deal, I found it impossible to sustain a relationship. I quit my therapy with Dr. Palombo after one year; I saw Dr. Sack only three times because I thought he was communicating with Earl and Malcolm. In effect, I experience emotional distress even in the company of optimally empathic individuals. This is far more serious than simply "a lack of social skills."
9. I had very disturbed relations with several therapists; in 1996 a social worker tried to throw me out of her office (after I began to argue with her).
10. In 1989 I consulted my Employee Assistance Program provider (Sheppard Pratt). The social worker (who recorded her opinion that I was "a brilliant man" in her case file) made a psychiatric referral mindful of my personality needs. She referred me to Floyd Galler, a Harvard M.D. (and a personal friend of Dr. Palombo--Dr. Palombo and Dr. Galler did their psychiatric residencies at Harvard together). (The social worker's name was Kathleen Kelley.)
11. I experience my relationship with you, Dr. Bash, as a strain.
12. I like Brian. I would accept Brian as a friend (to whatever degree he would feel comfortable with me). (Definitely no touching or rubbing!)
13. I believe that Brian likes me a lot more than his manifest actions indicate.
14. I would accept other people as friends.
15. I do not know how to meet people who I could befriend, based on my specific needs, limitations, and capacities.
16. Re: therapy-- I have firmly held ideas about my personality that will not change through persuasion or exhortation. I view the mind as being far more than simply a collection of consciously-held ideas that can be changed through persuasion.
17. People who I would accept as friends are:
Eric H. Holder, Jr.; Glenn Fine; Craig W. Dye; Jesse Raben; Brian Brown; Ari (The Jewish Kid); Captain Brad Matthew Dolinsky; or other persons of like persuasion.
18. It may be that I do not have the psychological capacity to form and maintain social relations. The evidence, in my opinion, is inconclusive.
So much for my Statement of Principles. I had hoped that my statement would place my dialogue with Dr. Bash on a new, meaningful level.
But her response left me crestfallen. Big surprise! What do you think the first words out of her mouth were? "Did you ever think of joining the Rockville Jewish Community Center?" Now she has me traveling to Rockville to meet people. Aren't there people in Washington? My question is: Do they speak Hebrew in Rockville? Because if they don't speak Hebrew, what's the point? I thought: "This is it. This is utterly hopeless. Everything I just said went in one ear and out the other. The Mad Monk failed to address any of my concerns--all valid concerns--and fell back on the same old saw: "Interact with people, and you'll eventually make friends." How many times do I have to repeat this? "Interacting with people is a necessary condition to making friends. Interacting with people is not be a sufficient condition to making and maintaining friends. Intrapsychic factors can impair social functioning."
I've come to see that Dr. Bash confuses an inner sense of alienation with feelings of loneliness and isolation. A sense of alienation will impair social relations; affiliation with others will not overcome a sense of alienation, however. The notoriously alienated writer Franz Kafka was unable to overcome his existential sense of isolation even in the presence of his several close friends.
How have I decided to cope with The Mad Monk?
I made a commitment to myself. "I'll just talk about Brian. I'll do to her what she does to me. She drives me crazy with her impenetrability. I'll do the same to her." In fact, a few weeks ago I pointed out to her the symmetry in our behavior towards each other. "You know, Dr. Bash, you complain about my obsession with Brian. You tell me that Brian and I will never become friends and that I should stop talking as if Brian and I will become friends. Well, you do the same thing with me. I am not going to change simply in response to your attempts at persuasion--that's not what psychotherapy is about. And yet, week after week, you rely solely on persuasion, knowing that nothing's going to come of it. We are mirrors of each other. My behavior is a parody of your behavior." She didn't get that point either.
The Mad Monk glanced over at a calendar on the wall. "Look," she said, "it's almost September. Next month will be Rosh Hashanah. Why don't you call your sister. Rosh Hashanah would be a good opportunity to get together with your sister." (Keep in mind: according to Dr. Bash I'm not Jewish. But that's another story).
I haven't talked to my sister in eight years. As far as I know my sister may have moved to Hong Kong. I'll tell you this, Brian, I'm not flying to Hong Kong for Rosh Hashanah. Do they speak Hebrew in China? You have a sister, don't you, buddy? It's pure hell. I wish I had a brother. Don't you ever wish you had a brother?
I told Dr. Bash that I thought my sister got me fired from my job. "The things my sister told Malcolm and Earl got me fired from my job," I said. "Your sister (in point of fact) didn't get you fired from your job," replied The Mad Monk. Notice that Dr. Bash interprets my statement in terms of factual rightness and wrongness, instead of looking at the psychological implications of my statement. My statement indicates (as with Drs. Palombo and Sack) that I have paranoid ideations even in relation to optimally-empathic persons, here a sibling. Shouldn't Dr. Bash be giving some consideration to what that implies about my ability to relate to complete strangers at The Rockville Jewish Community Center? Dr. Bash seems incapable of putting the pieces of the Freedman puzzle together and seeing me as a unique person with distinct limitations and pathology. In her eyes I am a generic socially-isolated person who can benefit from interacting with others. What's the evidence that I can connect with other people?
In seeming exasperation Dr. Bash said: "Well, soon it will be September and all this will be over with. You should be assigned to a resident in September." I noted silently at this point: "Dr. Bash referred to the month of September in two different contexts: (1) getting together with my sister at Rosh Hashanah and (2) the fact that I will be transferred to another therapist in September." I wondered what that signified.
Dr. Bash said she viewed my "Statement of Principles" as a positive step. She said that months earlier I said that I didn't want to change, but now I recognize the importance of change. I disagree. I've always wanted friends. I've always wanted to change. But friends on my own terms; change on my own terms. Certainly, I am still adamantly opposed to submitting to Dr. Bash's exhortations. Believe me, I'm not traveling to Rockville! I fail to see how my statement indicates a desire to change. I'm mystified.
I wonder if Dr. Bash has any appreciation of the concept of triage. I don't think so. Murray Cohen (Fredric's brother) can explain. The bottom line is, maybe the odds are that I can't change. Maybe Dr. Bash is just making matters worse for me by encouraging me to do things that will not result in any positive outcome. Perhaps she simply arouses my frustration by raising my hopes. Certainly, her act of encouraging me to join group therapy, which had disastrous consequences, did nothing more than raise my expectations then frustrate them. I think Dr. Shaffer, my previous therapist, had the right idea. It was as if Dr. Shaffer's thinking was: "Right now he's not ready to change. I will provide an empathic environment for him where he can vent his feelings every week. When he's ready to change, he will change. I will not coerce him. It will not be healthy for him." My condition remained stable during the entirety of my treatment with Dr. Shaffer (1999 to 2003). I stopped seeing Dr. Shaffer in February 2003. Two months later, in April 2003, I started writing these letters to you, my empathic buddy. And the rest, as they say, is history. I was assessed for commitment to St. Elizabeths in March 2004, following the disastrous results of my entering group therapy consistent with The Mad Monk's recommendation; I was escorted from the library by the police in April 2004 following Dr. Bash's act of holding out the possibility of a real friendship between you and me ("Maybe you and Brian could go to lunch together," said The Mad Monk in March 2004).
Be that as it may.
The Mad Monk then tried her hand at psychotherapy. "When you contemplate the possibility of entering a social situation, what feelings do you have?" I thought for a moment, then responded: "Futility. I have a feeling that it will be futile. That nothing good will come of it. I have feelings of my hopes being raised by the possibility of meeting people I might like, but also I have the firm feeling that it's all futile--and I have a tormented feeling." Is that not an analytically cognizable statement?
You've heard of the line, buddy, "like a kid in a candy store?" My feeling about entering a social situation is -- "like a diabetic kid in a candy store." I feel simultaneously a craving but also a tormented feeling that it's all futile. Doesn't that mean something?
Almost grotesquely, Dr. Bash dismissed my response and offered the suggestion: "Do you feel fear, would you say you feel afraid to enter a social situation." I said (with a crushing feeling of frustration): "No. Futility." The Mad Monk replied: "I know, you said that before. But I want to get to the idea of fear." I said (holding back my anger): "Dr. Bash, you asked me a question. I gave a sincere and thoughtful answer. An answer that's worthy of further inquiry. You simply dismissed what I said, and interpolated your own agenda. (pause.) I JUST WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH BRIAN!" (As I said, I stave off madness with references to you, Brian.) "You see how you use Brian to avoid dealing with feelings you don't want to deal with," said The Mad Monk. Indeed! Actually, I felt like telling The Mad Monk at this point that she's an imbecile; but I thought of you, buddy, and I kept my cool.
I suppose I was wrong. I thought I felt futility. But according to Dr. Bash I felt fear. She must be right about what I'm feeling. She's the professional authority; I'm just a layman--a mentally disturbed layman at that. That reminds me of an anecdote about Goethe. There was a biographer of Goethe who, in the face of Goethe's claim that at a certain time he had dearly loved a certain lady, remarked in a footnote: "Here Goethe is mistaken." Even geniuses aren't always factually right, you know. But what about the issue of futility? Is there no psychological significance to a patient's report that the prospect of a social situation arouses feelings of futility? No doubt there are any number of possible psychological determinants of feelings of futility.
I'm just a layman, not a professional authority, but just off the top of my head I can cite one possible prototype in childhood for overwhelming feelings of futility in adulthood: feelings of futility as they relate to the prospect of social relations.
That possible prototype would center on the so-called rapprochement phase of development. Greenberg and Mitchell write: "The advent of rapprochement places a new set of demands on the toddler's mother. From her point of view the onset of this phase may appear to be a regressive development. The child who a few months before had appeared to be so independent, and so content in his independence, has become more needy, more anxious, more demanding. How should she respond? What she does will depend on her conscious and unconscious attitudes toward both symbiosis and separation. Some mothers welcome the opportunity to reimmerse the child in their own caretaking and in their own body, thereby stifling the drive toward separateness. Others reject the child's new dependency in the belief that 'he's a big boy now,' overlooking the legitimate needs of the subphase. [Margaret] Mahler stresses repeatedly that the mother's reaction at all subphases, and particularly during rapprochement, decisively influences the final outcome." Object Relations in Psychoanalyst Theory at 279.
Might not a mother's failure to respond to the child's phase-appropriate dependency needs--his legitimate needs for narcissistic nourishment--promote tormenting feelings of futility in the child about approaching mother for the gratification of his emotional needs? Might not such a child learn to take refuge in the "splendid isolation" of his own world of fantasy?
There is a tight fit between the implications of Mahler's ideas about rapprochement and the paraphrase of a statement of Shengold's that I offered in an earlier letter: "The emotional connecting necessary for embarking on social relations is initially more than soul-murdered people can bear. They learned as children that to be emotionally open, to want something passionately, was the beginning of frustrating torment. The deeply ingrained bad expectations are felt toward parents and all "grown-ups" [and are later felt toward the peer group and potential friends]." Shengold, Soul Murder at 312.
I told Dr. Bash that I had no respect for her professional opinions. "None at all?" she asked. "No, none," I said. "Well, if you don't want to accept the opinion of a professional . . . "
You know you're in deep s--- when the therapist starts pulling rank: "I'm the professional, you are just a layman. Who are you to reject my opinion?"
I very much need the acceptance and corroboration of people I respect. I want desperately to have ties to a knowledgeable therapist. These connections give me narcissistic nourishment, and when I don't get it, it's a terrible strain for me. I feel I'd rather write these letters in solitude to an imaginary friend than talk to Dr. Bash. Here, on the quiet page, I am master. Here I can express my thoughts. Here I don't have to concern myself with the rightness and wrongness of my ideas. I can simply express my thoughts and feelings, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of an intrusive Other.
By the way, Brian, I was thinking about how dubious Dr. Bash's ideas are concerning the weight of her opinions, and her dismissal of the contrary professional opinions I offer to her on the grounds that I probably "do not understand technical material."
Ask Bob Morgenthau or Bill Rehnquist about the following. Our legal system empowers jurors to make life and death decisions about the accused based on the assessment by jurors (all laymen) of contradictory expert testimony. Let's say that in a capital case, the jury votes to acquit on the grounds that they accept the testimony of defense experts and reject that of the prosecution. What action could the court or the prosecution have taken before trial to insure that the jurors might be able to assess expert testimony "correctly?" NONE AT ALL. Can the jurors be required to take psychological testing to determine their mental fitness? A resounding "No!" Can jurors be required to take IQ testing to determine whether they are intellectually fit to assess expert testimony? A resounding "No!"
This notion that Dr. Bash has that she's the expert and that I have to acquiesce in her professional opinion is nothing more than an expression of her own grandiosity and her conventional notions about authority. Further, Dr. Bash's notion that any conflict between her opinions and my references to technical material must be resolved by imputing a lack of understanding to me of technical material is more grandiosity. All she's saying is that she is always right. That is, no professional person could possibly publish any material that might conflict with her opinions. It must be I who misunderstands the published material. My advice? Go to a courthouse, lady. I remember Ellen once saying: "I've heard enough contradictory testimony by psychologists during my years on the bench to fill a thousand kreplach!" Simply because Dr. Bash is "the authority figure" in our relationship means nothing to me. My notions about authority are unconventional.
Now to my great discovery. This past week I thought of something about The Mad Monk that I never thought before. To me this insight explains a lot about my feelings of frustration in dealing with her.
Psychologists distinguish between what they call "divergent production" and "convergent production." Tests that permit only one right answer, such as a math test or the SATs, would be said to assess convergent production. Tests that are open ended, that permit the test subject to answer in any way--such as the Rorschach test--would be called tests of divergent production. In convergent production, the answers are assessed on the basis of "rightness" and "wrongness." In divergent production, on the other hand, the responses are neither right nor wrong; the responses are assessed in terms of meaning. That is, what does it mean that the test subject responded in a particular way.
"Convergers, who tend to specialize in the 'hard' sciences, or possibly in the classics, have the kind of intelligence which shows at its best in conventional intelligence tests of the kind in which there is only one correct answer to a question. They are less good at 'open-ended' tests in which a variety of answers are possible. In their spare time, convergers pursue mechanical or technical hobbies and show comparatively little interest in the lives of other people. They have conventional attitudes to authority, are emotionally inhibited, and seldom recall their dreams. Divergers, in contracts, choose the arts or biology [note that traditionally psychoanalysts have a background in medical science] as their preferred subjects. They are less good at conventional intelligence tests, better at open-ended tests where creative phantasy is demanded. Their spare-time activities are connected with people rather than with things [note that while I'm socially isolated, I write about people; the Unabomber, a socially-isolated mathematician, wrote about technology]. They have unconventional attitudes to authority, are emotionally uninhibited, and often recall their dreams." Storr, A., Solitude: A Return to the Self at 89-90. What I have observed about Dr. Bash is that she continually, if not invariably, assesses my statements in terms of rightness and wrongness--that is, as if my reports were convergent productions. And, of course, in Dr. Bash's assessment she's always right and I'm always wrong; she's the authority figure, in the conventional sense of things. In many, if not most, instances my statements call for an assessment of meaning; that is, my statements should be seen as neither right nor wrong, but rather as expressions that call for interpretation of meaning. A good example: Dr. Bash asked at an earlier session, "What would you like to do with Brian if he were your friend?" I said: "I'd like to maybe just sit on a park bench and shoot the breeze with him."
Dr. Bash interpreted my statement as convergent production, and looked for a way to assess my statement in terms of rightness or wrongness. "That's not [IN FACT] a friendship. What you are talking about is [IN FACT] an acquaintance. Do you have a dictionary at home? Look up the word 'friend' and look up the word 'acquaintance.' YOU'LL SEE I'M RIGHT."
"In point of fact," if I may be permitted to say that, my statement "I'd like to sit on a park bench and shoot the breeze with Brian" is a convergent production--an expression of my wishes, conflicts, and prohibitions as they relate to my notion of friendship, however warped that notion of friendship is. The statement calls for an interpretation of meaning, not an assessment of factual correctness. You don't say to a Rorschach test subject, "You say that looks like a horse, but most individuals--the jury of public opinion, as it were--say it looks like a butterfly. I'm sorry, you answered incorrectly. You need to change the way you view this inkblot." The Rorschach, as a test of divergent production, calls for an assessment of meaning not an evaluation of factual correctness. The divergent production of the Rorschach test subject is a non-factual universe of pure projection; yet that universe is psychoanalytically cognizable. Likewise, a patient's report in psychotherapy calls for an assessment of meaning. The psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson reports that during his training a senior analyst offered advice on how to work with a paranoid patient: "the universe she is taking you into is a [projective] paranoid universe. You must float along with that paranoia. Do not seek to stop it or even to understand it or you will break the spell." Final Analysis at 100.
What frustrates me is Dr. Bash's exquisite ability to rechannel or redirect my divergent productions into the appearance that they are in reality convergent productions that call for an assessment of factual correctness.
At the most recent consultation I said that I suffered from attachment problems. I simply do not connect with people. I attributed my feelings of futility about embarking on social relations to my possibly having experienced emotional loss or frustration in childhood.
I said that I was attracted to psychoanalyst William Niederland's notion that individuals who experienced significant emotional loss in childhood tended to react to even trivial social frustration or the prospect of social frustration as if they faced something overwhelming. "When did you suffer emotional loss in childhood," asked the Mad Monk. "Well," I said, "I mentioned that I lost an early attachment object (my maternal grandmother) when my family moved from my grandmother's house, where I had lived for the first six months of life." Dr. Bash proceeded to focus exclusively on factual issues:
1. Perhaps I misunderstood technical material that attributed importance, as a matter of fact, to the first six months of life.
2. I did not in fact lose my grandmother; she continued to visit me.
3. I do not in fact remember the first six months of life.
(A competing expert might testify that Dr. Bash ignores the fact that pre-verbal (pre-representational) experiences are significant--and will be expressed in therapy in the form of disturbed affect or "acting out" and not as verbal representations. When I told Dr. Bash that I got into an argument with a social worker in 1996 ("acting out" behavior that might have related back to my infantile experience) and that the social worker tried to throw me out of her office, Dr. Bash replied: "Maybe we should take a look at that. MAYBE I CAN TELL YOU WHAT YOU DID WRONG.").
And my concerns about attachment difficulties? What happened to my "feelings" about my attachment to significant people in my background, which is undeniably a significant issue for me? My feelings got lost in a maze of factual assessments by Dr. Bash. Perhaps I'm wrong about the importance of my relationship with my grandmother. That particular fact does not vitiate the importance of an attachment disturbance in my psychology. The problem is that anything I talk about will be assessed by Dr. Bash in terms of factual correctness.
Well, buddy, I'm facing a new week. Am I feeling futility or fear? Just the facts, man. Maybe I'm sensing futility. Or would I, in fact, be wrong? Maybe it's fear that I feel? I need you to tell me what I'm feeling, damn it! I can't feel my feelings correctly without your advice. Am I right or wrong?
Check you out next week, Brian. You've been a good sport!


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Friday, November 04, 2011  

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