Cat Pierro

The Beginning of a Beautiful Psychoanalytic Relationship


Session 1

I arrive late and out of breath, and I still have a form to fill out. The form asks, “Why are you here?” I scribble, “various.”

I meet my therapist, who leads me to small room with an analytic couch. To my dismay, he gestures to an armchair and suggests I have a seat.

Why am I here?

I tell him I’ve never had a therapist before and I don’t know what to expect. I mention that Lisa, at her first session with a new therapist, said, “Let’s talk more generally next time. Today, you’re going to help me write an email.”

Somehow I expect him to laugh. Maybe even to tell me, “That’s not how psychoanalysis works, you know.” Instead he looks questioning.

I say, “I’m obviously not looking for something quite like that…”

He says, “Okay, so not someone to help you write emails…?”

—almost as though he is trying to learn what I want from him, so that he can then give it to me.

I keep talking. I have two reasons for being here. One is so I can talk about X, the other is I’ve been academically interested in psychoanalysis for quite some time. That’s what I want to tell him, anyway—but the attempt to state X is harder than I imagined it would be. I am anxiously aware of how little time we have. There’s a lot of backstory to gloss over, and he doesn’t paraphrase, ask questions, or otherwise show me if he understands anything I’m saying. Of course he doesn’t. His understanding would reassure me, and I’m not here to be reassured. I just have to decide for myself whether and how to move forward from each mistake I utter. I have the sensation of being alone in a room that’s recording what I say.

We’re out of time, so we schedule another session. As I’m leaving, he asks, “Was that about what you were hoping for?”

I am taken aback.

“I told you I didn’t know what to expect,” I say, “And I still don’t know what to expect.”

He looks surprised, but he takes it.

I leave regretting my choice of words. “I expected to still not know what to expect,” I want to clarify. “I was hoping for that.” I find myself about to walk back in and tell him so—forgetting, briefly, that now that the clock has stopped ticking, I am no longer allowed to impute to him the desire to hear what I have to say. My near-blunder gives me a sudden thrill.

True, he seemed more nervous than I would have thought proper. But I judge it to be a good sign that I am still talking to him in my head after the session is over.

I text Jon, “I went to therapy. It worked!”

* * *

Marie finds herself obsessively tracking her therapist’s clothing. She explains to me that it’s one of few clues she has to her therapist’s life outside of therapy. When her therapist was pregnant, Marie wrote to an advice columnist asking whether a baby gift would be appropriate, and the columnist printed a response to the effect that talking it out would be better appreciated than a onesie. Marie disregarded the advice.

Session 2

We talk about the price of future sessions. He is of the opinion that one should spend a whole session discussing this and incorporate it into the therapeutic process. I’m game, but once we settle on a number, I begin to feel the weight of the inequality of the discussion that led to that number.

“We’ve been talking about money like it’s my issue,” I say. “That puts me in a vulnerable position… I mean… Couldn’t it be a way for you to cheat me out of money?”

He asks me whether I tend to associate money with cheating. I am annoyed that he’s talking as though he thinks I’ve never before considered the fact that money is weird. He tells me that the amount of money people are willing to spend is a barrier worth exploring. I tell him it’s not the particular barrier I’m here to talk about.

Soon enough, one of his questions about what money means to me makes me think of X, and I start to cry.

* * *

“ ‘So you associate money with cheating’ makes me shiver,” Jon texts. “That’s like when Hallie’s therapist tried to convince her that asking her Rich Dad for more therapy money was part of overcoming her daddy issues.”

Later, I tell Matthew I’m convinced that Hallie and I have the same therapist. “No,” Matthew says. “You just both have analysts. That’s what analysts do.”

Session 3

I arrive with a color-coded diagram for him that I made in the waiting room. The diagram consists primarily of names, plus some boxes, arrows, and titles. This frees me to talk about X without having to worry quite as much about backstory.

I am lying on the couch for the first time. I tell him that the other day, I attempted to write about X but just typed and deleted the sentence “This is a nightmare” over and over again. I tell him that I can’t imagine becoming OK with X, digesting X, moving on from X. Perhaps pushing X out of my mind, but not incorporating X into a narrative.

I feel I’m getting the hang of this therapy thing.

Midway through the session, I get up to go the bathroom.

“Why did you go to the bathroom right then?” he asks when I return. “Was it because you were moving on from something?”

* * *

I ask Hallie how important it is to think my therapist is smarter than me. It’s not, right? He just has to be there to create a certain kind of space?

My prior reading about psychoanalysis has given me the tools to be perennially optimistic about my therapy sessions. Any variety of discomfort I feel could potentially be the voice of my unconscious. It’s obvious that anger or fear directed at the therapist might be the trace of something deeper, a feeling that’s really about my father, a trauma manifesting itself in a context where it can be worked through—but (my optimism declares) perhaps even boredom or dismissiveness can be productive as well.

Hallie hesitates. She seems to agree that feelings about the therapist’s inadequacy can be part of the process. But, she starts to say, “If you don’t feel that curiosity…”

I interrupt, “Oh, I certainly feel that curiosity.”

Session 4

My curiosity has vanished. Where did it go?

I am telling him more and more about X. Or, I should say, I am talking more and more about X; I have no idea if he’s listening. I can’t see him from my position on the analytic couch. For all I know, he could be texting. It doesn’t matter, I think to myself—he’s just there to create a space. I keep talking…

* * *

I am hanging out with Emily when she gets a call from an unknown number. Through the phone I hear a woman’s voice say, “I thought you were amazing.” Emily laughs, sets up another meeting, hangs up, and tells me she likes this therapist; she’s “chatty.”

* * *

In-between sessions, I go to the dentist. The dentist tells me my X-rays are beautiful. He asks how old I am. 31. I look younger. That’s a good thing. My teeth look young too. I have beautiful teeth.

Session 5

I lie back and say, “I was wondering if you have any questions.”

He asks why I ask, so of course I start talking. I tell him I’m not doing a good job of not avoiding my thoughts. I tell him that some things I managed to repress during our last session returned to consciousness afterward in a painful way.

I tell him that I usually talk for 90% of the time and him for 10%, but that, during our last session, I talked for 99% of the time. I tell him it seemed like a bad sign that I didn’t care if he was texting or not.

He asks me if I felt abandoned when I thought he might be texting.

I give him my whole theory of how psychoanalysis is supposed to work. I’m supposed to be made uncomfortable by something I say that stirs up my own insecurity. He’s supposed to provide the source of the discomfort via my sense that he’s judging me, but I’m supposed to provide the content of the discomfort so that my own particular insecurities come to the fore. If he were to talk too much, I wouldn’t be dealing with my insecurities but rather his judgments of me. If he were to talk too little, I wouldn’t fear his judgment and would let myself off the hook.

He asks whether I have felt judged at any other time in my life.

I’m annoyed by the simple breadth of his questions, but at least I am having fun again.

It’s our last session of the month. Time to pay.

“I have a checkbook,” I tell him. “What do I do with it?”

“Well, you have my name,” he says.

I do indeed. “How much do I owe you?”

We manage to figure it out together.

“It’s funny,” I tell him, “Up to now I’ve known exactly how many sessions we’ve had. Just now I lost count for the very first time. Should I write anything in the memo?”

“That’s not needed,” he says. “That’s just for your records, I believe.”

I smile. “Is the memo for the person writing the check rather than the person receiving? I’ve never been sure.”

But why did I say that? There I go again, thinking he wants more words from me, when actually I’m continuing the session after time is up…

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