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Induction and transference in psychoanalysis: the unconscious is fascinating!

My analyst is trained in modern psychoanalysis, which is very similar to traditional analysis, or what you think of when you think of Freud. But this guy, Hyman Spotnitz, came along and basically said he thought everyone could be analyzed, even schizophrenics, whereas Freud did not think analysis was applicable to everyone. Spotnitz’s basic goal was to get the client to “say everything”. (This is part of the reason my analyst is so awesome – I can email her ’til her inbox won’t hold anymore and she’s cool with it, because I am putting thoughts and feelings into words – discharging energy in a productive way.)

Anyway, my analyst knows that I want to be an analyst (I think she may be a little put off by this idea, but perhaps that is transference), and so she is letting me borrow her analyst books. The first one she gave me is Modern Psychoanalysis of the Schizophrenic Patient by Spotnitz, also known as “The Red Book”. I’d been reading along, googling the many things I don’t understand, writing my analyst emails about this theory or that technique. Then I came across what felt like a recipe for a “cooperative analysand”, as Spotnitz called it. It felt so creepy and manipulative. And then I thought, why not my analyst? If she was trained in this discipline, isn’t she also playing mind games with me? What the fuck is this analysis shit, anyway?

What it came down to was transference. With a history of stalking and sexual abuse from my grandfather, I was assuming my analyst had creepy attributes and was trying to manipulate me into doing what she wanted. It kind of blew up in our relationship but we were eventually able to identify that what was going on was actually transference. My analyst isn’t being, and has never been, inappropriate with me. And now we’re both aware that if those feelings surface again, we will know what we’re dealing with.

Transference is an interesting phenomenon, certainly, but I find induction to be even more fascinating. Induction is a big part of modern analysis because the analyst is trained to use the emotions induced in them by the client as a tool to understand the client’s life as well as for interventions. I’m not quite sure how it works, and it seems a little weird, but my analyst said she’s seen it a million times, and it’s really the result of the unconscious. Small things like body language and probably mirror neurons conjure up countertransference feelings in the analyst. If the analyst is well-trained, he or she will identify that they are being induced and will use that as part of their work with the client.

I recently went away for a long weekend to attend a wedding out of state, meaning that I wasn’t physically with my analyst on Thursday or Friday. We did talk on the phone, but the feeling of connection was weak at best. After all, I sit next to her every session, so this change was pretty drastic for me. Then, of course, we did not talk at all on the weekend, and I started shutting down. I stopped feeling, which was great, and I emailed my analyst and said that maybe I shouldn’t be doing therapy – I was doing fine without it.

What I really wanted, though, was more connection. I walked into her office on Monday desperately wanting a hug, but not being aware of it. Growing up in a household where hugs were pretty much unacceptable, not being able to shake off my need for connection, and not understanding what I was feeling or what was going on, I was stuck. I wouldn’t sit next to my analyst, I was frozen on the floor – and she played right into it. The more I wanted connection but stopped myself from seeking it, the more distant my analyst became. I worked up the courage to sit next to her, and she was emotionally distant. She was completely unlike herself. It was a mess.

This went on for a few more days until I understood what had actually happened. After telling my analyst, she informed me that she was likely induced to be my mother. My mom is awkward around physical contact and I spent much of my childhood wishing for connection. Instead, I received the message that this desire was unacceptable. This same scenario was reenacted with my analyst, because I induced her to behave the way in which my mom did. Weird? Yeah. And really hard to sort out. Both the client and the analyst have to be aware of what’s going on and willing to work things through – I definitely considered leaving the relationship. But! It’s important to trust the process. The unconscious is fascinating.

Touch in therapy is uncommon. Touch in psychoanalysis is rare, and rarer still is it discussed. But, it has had a profound impact on my analysis and I feel that it is important to talk about.

My analyst has been sitting with me for five weeks. We sit on the floor, backs up against the dead-cow couch, side by side, arms touching. Since it is summer, I sometimes have the privilege of directly feeling her skin, if she is wearing short sleeves. I always wear short sleeves.

We sit like that the entire session. I always ask before sitting on the floor – I do not want to violate her space. I can usually tell what kind of mood she’s in from our close proximity. When I get upset with her, I move away slightly. On a few occasions, I have become so exhausted from the material that I have laid my head on her shoulder. We have hugged twice. She has held me, and put her head against my own. I usually keep my hair down so I can hide behind it, eyes closed, so I can feel her. Feeling her allows me to not feel like a helium balloon, looking down on the world below and wondering how to get back. Touching her is so basic and primitive, and also provides so much depth and richness, that I have difficulty articulating the effect it is having. Or maybe that’s just the goddamn alexithymia.

I have a difficult time with the fact that we do it, though. While there is nothing sexual about it and it is not a secret – my husband knows, my analyst’s supervisor knows – it feels slightly taboo. Part of this may be because touch in psychoanalysis, especially in this manner, would probably have Freud rolling over in his grave. But I think the biggest reason for me is because we did not touch each other in my family.

It was always the message from my parents that bodies are dirty, in a sexual way, no matter what you do with them. Of course, you can engage in varying degrees of disgustingness – sex is dirtier than everything, probably except for masturbation, but breastfeeding, childbirth, puberty, hugging, and sharing food off of your plate are all dirty. Yet, as I’m discovering with my daughter, safe, non-sexual touch can be a wonderful way to connect and has all sorts of physical and psychological benefits. There is nothing like kissing the smooth skin of a baby’s belly, or smelling the back of their neck, or tracing their tiny shoulder blades.

So, even though I know, intellectually, that touch with my analyst is also safe and non-sexual and feels good and it is okay to feel good that way, it still feels… clandestine. As I explained to my analyst, it is like your parents not letting you eat dinner and then sneaking to the refrigerator when they’re sleeping. There’s nothing wrong with eating, but it feels like you’re doing something bad, anyway. My analyst didn’t miss a beat. “You’re starving,” she said.

Alexithymia.

Since I started therapy almost three years ago, I have often had difficulty feeling feelings or naming them. My therapist would ask what I was feeling and I would answer honestly, “I don’t know”. She would ask if I could guess, and I could never guess. I felt like I was being difficult or obstinate, but I really could not put a name to these things. I told her it felt like a neurological blindspot; your eyes look at something straight on but because of your optic nerve, you don’t actually see what you’re looking at, even though you know something is there. When I am asked questions about what I’m feeling, I know there is a feeling there but I literally can have no idea what it is or what it’s called. And now I have a name for it.

The analytic relationship has still been challenging. I find sitting across the room from my analyst to either be under or overstimulating. I often feel dead and like I’m meeting someone for an interview.

I mentioned this to my analyst about three weeks ago, and I gradually came to realize that I wanted her to sit next to me, which, as I’ve mentioned, she denied. She initially seemed like she would be willing, but then she consulted with her colleagues and changed her mind. She cited the “rules” of analysis; she talked about how it’s better to talk about what I want, etc. Her supervisor gave me articles and books to read. We’ve been sitting on the floor, still apart, in effort to reduce the feeling of formality.

Nothing is working. I can’t feel her. I want to let her in my space, in my world, and it’s not working.

Her supervisor’s reading material was offensive because he seemed to think that it was that I didn’t want to talk. On the contrary, sitting next to my analyst would, in my mind, reduce my anxiety enough so that I could talk. But reading his recommendations wasn’t a total loss. He suggested that I read The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain by Louis Cozolino. I did read it, and it talked about how mild to moderate stress was important for the possibility of change as allowed by the neuroplasticity of the brain, etc. etc. Nothing new. But Cozolino also mentioned alexithymia, and said that it was an inability to put words to feelings.

I did a ton of research. I read Fonagy and McDougall and Taylor and Orbach. I took an online test. I scored high. I emailed my analyst. It was a Sunday, but she responded with interest.

This past week has been a whirlwind of research and discussion. Alexithymia is a character trait in which people may have anywhere from mild to severe difficulty articulating feelings or having empathy for the feelings of others (I do not think the latter characteristic matches me, thankfully). People may have a distinct lack of dreams or fantasies, or have very logical dreams. This is me. They may have difficulty with social relationships. Also me. I find that I am able to maintain maybe about three relationships at any one time; additional relationships overwhelm or exhaust me and I regrettably break them off or significantly draw back.

Alexithymia is not an actual diagnosis and so it is only a trait. My “diagnosis” (though I do not believe in diagnoses) is borderline, with this alexithymia thing now tagged on. Interestingly, both BPD and alexithymia are marked by a lack of ability to mentalize. Mentalization can be improved with oxytocin. And what produces oxytocin? Physical contact. Like sitting next to your analyst.

I’ve proposed this again to my analyst, now with about ten research papers, ranging from evidence-based treatments to psychoanalytic vignettes, to back up what I know I need. I emailed lead researchers in the field asking for their assistance. (They have been so nice and helpful!) My analyst said yesterday that she has a “draft in mind” about signing some permission slip thing if she were to sit next to me. I am very hopeful. She has gotten my hopes up twice before and then let them down, but she is also aware that she has done this so I’m hoping she is not repeating her behaviour. If she is, then I’ve found yet another therapist I cannot work with.

But, even if that’s the case, I now have a name for the blindspot. Now I just have to find someone who will help me get rid of it.