The Client Who Keeps Coming: A Psychoanalytic

Michael Murphy

From a psychoanalytic point of view, we are split, divided from ourselves. 
We never know ourselves completely; we’re always cut off from our own
 knowledge. The fantasy of Thoreau about living in oneness with nature might be
 romantic, but we are radically cut off from nature because of language, which 
carries all our social and cultural messages. Unlike animals, we have to live in that
 symbolic framework – a network that determines us even before we’re born. “My
 son, the doctor” – what a life sentence that could turn out to be.

As Freud discovered, there is an opposition between conscious and unconscious.
 We’re inclined to live on the conscious tip of the iceberg, ignoring the fact that the 
seven-eighths underwater is exerting an influence in proportion to its size. That 
split in our knowledge can never be healed because we are literally un-conscious
 of the mass that is determining the direction of our voyage. Freud says we can get
 glimpses of it when it surfaces into words via dreams, symptoms, jokes, gaps in
 speech, and so on.

This does not mean that we go about all the time filled with existential angst. We
 do our best to paper over the abyss with misrecognition of reality. We live
 comfortably in a fool’s paradise: shopping is a good alternative to introspection.

Every now and then the gulf opens up for us, in the light of the Holocaust, nuclear
 weapons, or the latest barbarous act of bigotry. But more specifically, when a
 loved one dies of cancer far too young; that impossible decision about having an 
abortion; the horror of hating abusive parents, or being disappointed in your 
children. The list goes on…

There are implications for psychoanalytic treatment. Any interventions aimed at 
bolstering the fantasy of wholeness and self-mastery, pandering to ‘fragile egos’, 
or giving in to demands which range from reducing fees to cancelling 
appointments, are doomed to failure because they deal only with the tip of the
 iceberg. The truth of what is unspoken has to be named – turned from an absence 
into a presence – in order to give it being in the world. The person comes to be in
 their own right by giving that submerged seven-eighths a chance to speak, and 
hearing what the truth is for the first time. It means allowing as much of the 
unconscious into their conscious lives as they can bear. It results in a 
transfiguration – a complete make-over, and it’s what the hard labour of analysis is 
all about.

The French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, has given a good definition of the

“I do not know that I know.” So when an analysand sits in front of an analyst, he
 thinks he’s sitting in front of an expert who knows it all. But an analyst can never
 positively answer a client’s throwaway line, “D’you know what I mean?”, because
 the only person who actually knows is the client himself. That is why the analyst 
invokes the fundamental rule: to say whatever goes through your mind, no matter 
how stupid, irrelevant, insulting, tangential – say anything; because it is the client
 who knows. There is a deep well of knowledge that is just waiting to be tapped.
 Does it matter what the client feels about the analyst? How about what the analyst 
feels about the client? Both yes and no. Yes, because it allows the client to
 confront his history in the here-and-now situation with the analyst. He inevitably 
repeats earlier relationships, especially those with parents. What actually matters 
is the structure of this transference relationship. And no, because the love or hate 
or whatever emotion is involved can be used as resistance. Resistance is part and
 parcel of the analytic situation. There is a level of resistance that can never be 
overcome, because transference is part of the essential structure of speech: if I
 speak, I’m transferring. At least the analyst need not make it worse by being drawn 
into it, and he can avoid strengthening the client’s ego, which strengthens the
 resistance. The unconscious, if given a free rein and allowed to speak by the 
analyst, is only too anxious to repeat. And what about the counter-transference -
 the prejudices, passions and ignorance of the analyst about his client?

What animates an analyst is not the desire to help or to cure or to have the client
 identify with his own particular version of reality or abuse the client by suggestion,
 but to provide a setting for the client so he can become as much an individual in 
his own way and in his own time as he is capable of. So if that is to happen, what
 the analyst actually wants is for the analysis to continue; his commitment is to the 
therapy. And it is that desire of the analyst that keeps the client coming.

Michael Murphy, perhaps better known as a broadcaster, is a Psychoanalyst and
 Psychotherapist at the Milltown Medical Clinic, 98 Lr Churchtown Rd, D 14 and 
a founder member of the Irish Association of Jungian Psychotherapists and he is
 also a member of the Association for Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy
 (Lacanian) in Ireland.