Dr. Peterson speaks about Psychoanalysis and why Freud used the couch and it seemed to be misunderstood by him.
“Many of those who seek therapy desire and need a closer, more personal relationship (although that has its dangers). That is in part why I have opted in my practice for the conversation, instead of the Freudian method- as have most clinical psychologist (pp. 243).”
Dr. Peterson (2018), as a clinical psychologist, uses face to face therapy where he is very careful to listen to his client’s and does his best to not lead the conversation and not be the, “redeeming hero or the dues ex machina, not in someone else’s story (pp. 240).” This is the minimum requirement for a competent mental health worker which is not regularly met.
Freud made mandatory two things for a successful analysis. That the client uses the couch to free associate and that the analyst be analyzed themselves.
When an analysand (client) uses the couch the analysand can learn to talk. The analysand learns to free associate so they can say anything. Saying anything is a healing process with a well enough analyzed analyst and a terrible process with an analyst who doesn’t listen or who is not emotionally present.
When an analysand free associates and says everything, the analyst is there to listen without theory or their own emotional baggage in mind. If an analyst is having trouble with their spouse and is about to divorce, it is the responsibility of the analyst to not bring that into a analysand’s session if they are having trouble in their relationships. This is what Psychoanalyst call counter-transference.
If the analyst starts giving advice to an analysand that is leading the analysand to divorce and this is coming from the feelings the analyst has for their own spouse, the analyst has failed in their counter-transference feelings and put their own baggage on the analysand’s life. This is why the couch is used. It’s not just for the analysand, but also for the analyst.
The analyst uses the couch to be able to process such events and psychic demands. The analysand using the couch slows down speech and creates space for deeper listening, thinking and understanding. This becomes much more difficult to do when you’re face to face. There are many more demands and distractions, unconscious and conscious, when looking at another person which makes premature-speech happen too often which is destructive towards the analysand’s life.
Also, while the analyst is sitting out of view of the analysand and the analysand is lying on the couch, the analyst can feel the feelings of the analysand. This is called transference. The feelings of the analysand are transferred to the analyst. This isn’t a special magical skill only analyst have. Ever just walked by someone and just knew if they were in a garbage mood? Their feeling are radiating so strongly that you feel it. Analyst are trained to pay attention and use that in their analysis.
Going back to the example above of the analyst speaking out of turn because of their hate for their spouse and making the analysis about their own life and not the life of their analysand. What a well-trained analyst would do here is to understand their own feelings about their spouse currently. Then sift out the difference between their personal feelings (this is called the subjective counter-transference since it does not come from the analysand) and the feelings of the analysand (the hateful feelings the analysand has for their spouse).
This is no easy tasks and it is advantageous to have the use of the couch here. The analyst has the opportunity to sit with these feelings and doesn’t have to say anything. A great supervisor I have regularly explains that you should be silent if you have doubt. There is no rush to figure things out that moment. And if there is a feeling of being rushed, explore that.
So, the analyst has processed their own and the analysand’s hateful feelings towards the spouse, this is where the analyst will ask an “object orientated question” about that feeling. It is called an object orientated question because it keeps the subject of the question in the external and away from the analysand. A question that has the analysand as the subject will be called a “ego orientated question” because you are touching on the ego of a person (making the question about them).
So, the well analyzed analyst will ask the analysand who is angry at their spouse an exploratory object orientated question such as, “What’s going on with all these feelings about Kristy (the spouse)?” An exploratory ego orientated question would be, “Why are you so mad with Kristy?” This one is leading and can cause censorship of speech and limits the analysand’s feelings to just anger which defeats the purpose of the analysis, free association to create free speech so they analysand can feel everything.
This is what is happening at a conscious level in the analysis which is about 8% of it all.
The unconscious part of an analysis is where the work is done. The ego and object orientated questions over long periods of time facilitate true talking and listening. The analysand eliminates the kind of speech that resists speaking about what they really want and need to (such as complaining about politics in a repetitive manner) and learn to speak about the things they know nothing about. They start to speak from their unconscious.
This is where the analyst’s unconscious meets the unconscious of the analysand and where the couch becomes pivotal. The analyst, when the analysand starts speaking about the conflicts and troubles they have, enters into the unconscious space of the analysand. Some analysand’s are in a serious and torturous Hell and the analyst will go there with them. Some analysand’s are in a delusional utopia, and analyst will go there with them also. It doesn’t matter where the analysand lives in their psyche, we go.
In speech, the analysand brings the analyst in all the dark and light parts of their minds. We both go together to explore everything that is unknown. It’s inevitably a scary place (and this is why the couch is resisted much of the time).” If you use the couch, you will find yourself really getting to know yourself and having the responsibility of changing all of that.
The analyst supports the analysand by listening to their speech, to paying attention to the feelings in the transference and responding in appropriate ways to the speech and to the feelings. Most of the time, the analyst has to keep their mouth shut. When someone is showing you their house the person who is seeing everything for the first time shouldn’t be telling the owner things about the house as if they were the authority. But, after spending time with the analysand in their unconscious, the analyst starts to make contacts and interpretations that are there to stimulate new thoughts (growth) in the analysand.
This is the deep relationship the analyst has with their analysands. The analysand, all of you, even the parts that neither of us know about and may never know consciously, are accepted. This is why psychoanalyst don’t give advice so readily. Dr. Peterson is right when he states that, “Advice is what you get when the person you’re talking with about something horrible and complicated wishes you would just shut up and go away (pp. 233).” Advice teaches nothing.
When Dr. Peterson explains that a face to face relationship is a closer and more personal relationship than the psychoanalytic method with the couch, I will say that the assessment was incorrect. It is too easy and too common to use face to face speech as a way of resisting a deeper relationship. You will rely on conscious and unconscious facial and body ques which regulates and censors the client’s speech. It’s inevitable when looking at each other.
I have and do work both ways, with and without the couch, and understand that some analysands are not ready for the couch and not ready to explore so deeply and that’s ok. There is no rush. The analysand needs to be comfortable enough, not fully comfortable, but comfortable enough to be courageous enough to use the couch. The couch is intimate, personal and vulnerable and takes much courage to use. Once used, client’s and analyst find themselves in a deep and intimate relationship exploring the limitless realm of the analysand to say and change anything.
Adam Ayala is a Modern Psychoanalytical Relationship Specialist with a private practice in Orlando, Florida and Brookline, MA and is weekly featured on the online relationship magazine YourTango.com. Mr. Ayala can also be Contacted if you’re interested in working or collaborating with him.