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Space to Reflect on What Is (Revised)

I write these thoughts during these very scary and uncertain times.  As one patient put it, times that feel very different than any that have come before.  I’m mindful of this as I write about space and about how psychotherapy and psychoanalysis carve out a space, a place, to inhabit in order to reflect and to feel.  That is what we do, my patients and me.  It is a unique space.  Meditation provides a means by which to notice what thoughts, feelings and sensations arise.  But the psychotherapeutic encounter is different in that it is founded on a relationship: while the focus is mostly on the patient, both participants are engaged in noticing what is true for both of them at that given moment.  That is the essential question we pursue: What is true?  What do I feel? What am I thinking about?  What bothers me?  Sometimes we examine some of the major events, joyful as well as traumatic, in a person’s life.  At other times, equally significant I think, we (as a favorite poet of mine, William Blake, put it) examine the particulars.  So often I’m amazed about what my patients and I talk about.  A patient’s history of birthday parties; a dream; an interaction with a parent, child, or random stranger on the bus today. Sometimes the questions startle and reveal much about the person, her history, her present life.  How did what your brother said affect you?  What did it mean to have a paper route as a young boy?  What impact did your parent’s job loss have on you as a child?   I think about how the psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer called psychoanalysis “a method that enables two people to have the most interesting conversation in the world, hour by hour, for years, and to relinquish it with regret…”

Given the current insecurity that so many feel about so much that is unpredictable, unknown, the break-neck speed of change, and pressure to do, be productive, and do more, it is therapeutic just to have this space in which to slow down, breathe, and attend to what is there.  It’s so easy to lose touch given the demands and pressures. But it is healing to tune into oneself, through the engagement with another human being, to even the smallest, most random thoughts or feelings.  In this political climate, doing so I believe is a political act – it insists in the sovereignty of the human being and in the sanctity of a safe space.

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