Steven Kuchuck

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Steven Kuchuck converses with NBiP about his newly edited book Clinical Implications of the Psychoanalyst’s Life Experience: When the Personal Becomes Professional (Routledge, 2013). It focuses on the impact of the analyst’s life experiences vis a vis their clinical mode and mien. The book, with 18 essays, (written by mostly relational or interpersonal analysts with the notable exception of the venerable Martin Bergmann) covers a lot of terrain. It is divided loosely into two parts, with the first section focusing on early life events and the second on later ones.  So we read about the impact of surviving Auschwitz and how it colors Anna Ornstein’s clinical demeanor. And how Susie Orbach, growing up in a family full of both fiery left-wing passions and a plethora of secrets, found herself in possession of a heightened desire to bring things hidden out into the light.  Eric Mendelsohn describes the end of his marriage and explores his work with patients during that time. Philip Ringstrom reviews certain familial themes regarding ecumenism and improvisation and iterates how they play out in his work as an analyst.  Galit Atlas explores her interest in the vicissitudes of sexuality as derived from many sources, prominent among them her Mizrahi outsiderness.  Noah Glassman and Steven Botticelli think through their becoming fathers together of a son and how their clinical listening was impacted.  Variety abounds.

Many of the essays are deeply autobiographical. The reader is given a moment to peek into the analyst’s oft’ hidden inner workings. As such, the book satisfies something perhaps prurient. But what is discussed in the interview largely concerns what this book is also symptomatic of; it is no mistake that many writing herein are self-described refugees from what they perceived to be a more austere classical training where what the analyst brought into the clinical encounter was to be redacted.  Additionally, the rigors of analytic work are myriad. In a culture that does not embrace the work of analysis, but rather sees fit to attack it, are analyst’s suffering from certain forms of deprivation? Certainly this book indicates a wish to be seen more fully. And the move towards analytic self-disclosure reaches a kind of apex in this publication. It is one thing to self-disclose to a patient in a session but this book can be read by all and sundry. So in the interview we also discuss the analyst’s needs and what stands in the way of their being met and how the psychoanalytic culture might begin to more frankly acknowledge their existence.  The need to be seen stands in stark contrast to the ideal of neutrality.  This book is reflective of the ever-swinging pendulum, and also the never-ending tension within 21st century psychoanalysis, regarding the now-perpetual lure of exploring the analyst’s subjectivity alongside the extreme importance of leaving room for the patient to elaborate, in an unimpeded way, fantasies, transferences and more.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Cheryl Lieberman, LCSW May 22, 2014 at 10:27 pm

Thanks for a fascinating interview! I read the book and found it to be an excellent collection of beautifully written papers which I have recommended to students and colleagues alike. It is refreshing (and even groundbreaking) to find an entire group of analysts who are not afraid to share their own internal experiences in print. Thanks to Kuchuck and all of the authors for the book, and to Tracy, thank you for a stimulating conversation.

Scott Bloom, LCSW May 22, 2014 at 8:12 pm

As a psychotherapist in the field for over 25 years, this book is an important welcome to analytic literature. What I found most interesting is the analysts revelations about themselves in the process of writing for this book. I could identify with the struggles and challenges the writers had, as in many cases: our patients mirror back to us struggles in unique and profound ways. Often not spoken of in analytic circles (possibly supervision) most of these chapters integrate various theories and how the dyadic relationship gets played out in the analytic field. I did think some of the chapters were more mature than others: not only in writing but with a deep understanding that if one chooses this field, then self analysis must continue. Other chapters I found a bit self-serving in that there wasn’t a consistent frame or connection to the material and for me, less beneficial. As with any good piece of work – it makes me think and challenges my own subjectivity. Kudos, Mr. Kuchuck

Esther Sperber May 21, 2014 at 10:16 am

I very much enjoyed reading this book which enables these analysts, whom we know from their professional writing, to share their personal stories in their very unique voice. Anna Orenstein’s insight about resilience and surviving the holocaust, Martin Bergmann’s reflections on old age and death, and Steven’s dilemma when he realized his client was going on a date with his close friend, will all stay with me.

Jordan Friedman May 17, 2014 at 11:09 am

This is a critical topic that is so well presented in this podcast–I can’t wait to read Steven Kuchuck’s book. Thanks to both of you for this interview.

Steven Kuchuck May 15, 2014 at 10:44 am

Thank you for posting, Ashley. It’s very moving to hear mention of your story and struggle about whether or not and how to “come out” and track the implications for you and your patients. I think you’re quite right that unlike classical Freudian theory, a (classical Kohution) self-psychology approach would not instruct you to be a so-called “blank screen” but as you mention, would expect more reserve and more absolute bracketing than some other theoretical orientations would advise useful or even possible. Although there is much about self-psychology that I find useful, in my view it’s not unusual for such an approach to result in negation of aspects of the therapist’s (and therefore inadvertently, patient’s) subjectivity and all the attendant negative consequences of that.

Thank you again for writing—both to us here, and your important book. I’m glad but not surprised to hear that publishing your book has been put to productive use with those patients who became aware of it, and overall good clinical use via your expanded sense of vigor.

Ashley Warner May 10, 2014 at 2:28 pm

As a therapist and psychoanalyst who just published a memoir about recovering from a rape 22 years ago (and self published, no less—I really went out on a limb), I so appreciate your contribution. (The Year After: A Memoir is available on Amazon and other online booksellers or via my website.)

I, too, agonized about the very issues you discuss. I fretted for decades, literally, about the personal impact the book I knew I’d write would have, and then for the past 13 years as a therapist. For me, my professional angst was/is in some ways puzzling because I was trained as a self psychologist. I don’t recall ever being admonished to be a “blank screen,” although it’s true there was an emphasis on the use of the analyst for the exclusive benefit of the patient. I suppose the notion of analyst reserve is deeply embedded in our shared psychoanalytic history.

As you point out, the decisions surrounding self-disclosure in or out of the consulting room certainly do deserve careful consideration no matter one’s theoretical bent. And of course, vigilant attention to the results of the disclosure. So far, I can report varied but positive and productive use of my “coming out” among my patients, and a expanded sense of vigor in myself.

Once again, I’m grateful for the thoughtful dialogue, and for the opportunity for expanded growth and understanding that your volume contributes to all aspects of the profession. I look forward to hearing from others.

Steven Kuchuck May 6, 2014 at 10:43 am

I very much appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Tracy about my book and I’m glad to hear from those of you who have been kind enough to leave comments. As I stress in my book and as Tracy and I discuss, the analyst’s subjectivity has long been a neglected topic in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, only fairly recently introduced and embraced as an important area of study by the interpersonalists, intersubjectivists, some contemporary Freudians, and especially, relational psychoanalysts. I quite agree with Carol in her description of Freud’s intention. He, Anna Freud and early followers—especially American ego psychologists– thought that neutrality, as achieved through the blank screen/reflecting mirror, the attitude of surgical detachment, etc. was the primary way of protecting the patient’s experience and avoiding contamination of the transference.

While I have no doubt that there are analysts from various theoretical walks of life who let “everything hang out” and although I’ve sometimes heard misunderstandings of relational and interpersonal theory that suggest this is good form , I know of absolutely no school of thought that would condone this as acceptable analytic technique. Unlike in Freud’s day, we now know that babies and children learn about their own minds by gaining access to their parents’ minds and later, patients might need similar access and opportunities for growth by accessing their therapists’ minds via very selective, occasional therapist self-disclosures. More or less depending on the particular analyst, patient, and dyad, this is a technique that most of use only sparingly.

There are additional recent contributions to contemporary psychoanalytic understanding that suggest inadvertent self-disclosures, the inevitable presence of the analyst’s subjectivity, and the analyst as unwitting (unconscious) participant in therapeutic impasses and enactments are all quite common, usually unavoidable, and often have the potential to become key components of the therapeutic action. These areas of study make up what I refer to as the analyst’s disclosures to him or herself. I and most of my fellow book contributors believe it is this internal exploration of the analyst’s unavoidable subjectivity (it’s in the room whether or not we want it to be)– usually more than deliberate self-disclosures to a patient– that can be harnessed as a very valuable diagnostic and therapeutic tool rather than something to be analyzed away and banished from the consultation room. In my chapter, for example, Hillary Grill’s, and others, we struggle with whether or not a disclosure to a patient will further the treatment, be in their, our, or both of our best interests, and in most though not all cases decide it’s the internal struggle rather than an overt disclosure that will have the greater likelihood of helping our patients.

As for allowing “transferences to unfold unhindered by the analyst’s needs” as Carol puts it, this might be a worthwhile goal but an idealized and in my view unattainable one in any absolute sense. In my experience, “unhindered by the analyst’s needs” sometimes means a squelching or denial of needs, thoughts, and affects that leads to missing clinical data, analyst acting out, or burnout. I’d like to suggest that we perhaps aim for some approximation of this but distinguish it from asymmetry and putting the patient first whenever possible, both of which I think are crucial, more attainable, and carry less risk for analyst denial or dissociation from subjective data, and are therefore less likely to lead to toxicity for either party.

Carol Worthington May 5, 2014 at 10:41 pm

I think Freud and some of his followers have been much misunderstood. My understanding is that he meant being as neutral as possible purely to not intrude into a patient’s experience of analysis – i.e. the patient’s needs come first. This has been wrongly interpreted to mean the analyst should be a blank screen. But sadly there are analysts who now take the extreme view that the analyst should let “everything hang out” and I don’t think this is ever in a patient’s best interests. The clever analyst – and I was lucky enough to have one – finds a balance between being a real person for the patient but always able to maintain enough analytic emotional distance to allow the transferences to unfold unhindered by the analyst’s needs.

Lynne Laub May 1, 2014 at 2:39 pm

I enjoyed listening to the clinical implications of a Psychoanlysts life- It is liberating to hear about using onesel as a therapeutic tool and the importance of recognizing the subjective elements of the work.

anonymous April 28, 2014 at 8:57 pm

I read Mr. Kuchuck’s book and much enjoyed it. I think it is a welcome addition to the psychoanalytic literature. As a psa patient, I have sampled several schools of psychoanalysis. One has to wonder why such an “edict,” i.e., for the analyst to disappear him/herself (who s/he is, which is impossible anyway in a treatment), is necessary for a patient to thrive and grow? It is not possible NOT “to be” when (growing) together – that is, the analyst/patient dyad is all about their subjectivities (and most interesting, the separate subjective derivatives and how they conflate), and how all that meets in mind. There seems to be in analytic training, a rooted need for analytic control – perhaps a reflection of a traumatized subjectivity entrenched in founding father Freud and his followers ? To be hidden certainly protects one’s privacy – not “showing too much” is a way that maintains much control.

In this line of work, one must conjure a certain emotional and personal/professional “distance” to help open up the analytic space. But when an analyst is in hiding who s/he “is” (not allowed to talk about his/her subjective self), projects a model of hiding as safe haven. To me, that is incredibly anti-psychoanalytic. In this modern age of social media (where perhaps courageous but also needy “complete idiots” inform and permission us about ourselves by revelation of their own self states), that is bad for business. In all ways, balance is everything. Psa teaches that one should be brave and not be afraid to Be. Seems to me, that edict is one that should go both ways between the partners in the analytic dyad.

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