The Seduction of Therapy

Rob Weatherill

Twenty years ago when I had been considering tentatively starting work as a
 psychoanalytic psychotherapist, a senior colleague made it clear in an interview
 with me that, “analysis was not to be thought of as a way of getting women, you
 know.. gratification leads to repression.” I was a little put out by this implied
 criticism, this insinuation, indeed projective identification¹.

However, my colleague’s comments were right on both counts. Firstly, 
psychoanalysis² occurs in a state of deprivation for both participants, abstinence on
 many levels. Secondly, gratification of demand, sexual or otherwise, leads to 
closure. The silence on the part of the analyst, the gap, the lack must remain. The
 rule in analysis is “no touching”, because touching can mean many things. On one
 level it may be supportive, on another, infantile comfort, yet on another, sexual or 
erotic, and so on. It is not necessarily what we say it is. Analysis is haunted by the 
erotic³. The carefully crafted theory and practice that comes down to us from Freud 
(in a number of different forms) both provokes and bars the erotic. Free 
association, saying whatever comes into your mind without censorship, tilts
 towards the erotic, towards chaos, the anarchic, while the emphasis on words and 
language, the “talking cure”, the formalities of the sessions, the couch, the 
payments, tend in the direction of reason and the secondary processes.

Above all, the quality of the attention that the analyst gives over an extended period
 of time to the patient is attention like no other. No one has ever listened to us as 
carefully and as freely as an analyst does. Perhaps, only the Winnicottian mother 
comes close. This analytic listening creates in the patient a transferential longing,
 which may be a repetition of an early experience which happened, or didn’t happen
 but should have done and has been unconsciously longed for ever since. The
 patient falls in love with the analyst.

But Freud, in his paper on the erotic transference (Freud 1915), was quick to point
 out that this love is produced by the artificial setting of the analysis itself, by the 
position that the analyst has within the structure. To Freud’s great credit, he pointed
 out that when his women patients fell in love with him, they fell in love with an
 illusion, not with his alleged real charms. He also pointed out that this love for the
 analyst, archaic in origin, acts as a resistance to the analytic process. The patient
 would rather fall in love with the analyst than do the work of analysis, which in the 
end would free the patient from his incestuous fixations and enable him to love 
others. He also noted the countertransference temptation of the analyst to exploit 
the situation. However, instead of responding sexually, Freud advocates the stoical 
work of analysis to uncover the infantile prototypes of this love, driven by the 
persistent transference repetition.

To put things another way, following Laplanche (1987), the infant, in a mythical
 inaugural moment, is seduced by the mother. As the mother is feeding, changing,
 rocking her infant, she is also deriving erotic pleasure (mostly unconsciously) from 
her play with the infant. The infant is then haunted by what Laplanche designates 
as an “enigmatic signifier” coming from the erotic mother, which it cannot
 decipher, some hidden pleasurable/dangerous, seductive quality in that
 relationship, which means from that point on it will be prone to other seductions in
 an effort to understand this primal seduction. We must emphasise here that the
 mother is not acting in any consciously perverse way towards her infant. This
 seduction is in the nature of life itself. As Baudrillard is fond of claiming, the 
universe was seduced before it was produced. Later in life, the subject (of
 seduction) will be vulnerable to a multitude of further seductions, key among these 
will be counselling and therapies of all kinds, in an effort to make sense of the 
primal secret.

At the beginning the infant is the erotic “plaything” of the mother. Breast feeding 
is an intensely erotic activity. How many mothers will say that they want to “eat”
 their babies in the sensual love they have for the bodies of their babies, the smell,
 the touch, the sounds, etc. These erotic games, although intensely enjoyed, fail to
 be understood and translated by the infant, who is also infans – without words.
 Later, post-Oedipally, armed with language, the child will try to make sense of 
what is now called “sex”, only to discover the impossibility of doing so. Education
 and enlightenment may follow, but the erotic remains outside any educational 
process. Something is profoundly missing in his life. The child may become 
vulnerable to paedophiles who know all about the secret longing of the erotic need. 
Later still, the adolescent will enjoy the seductions of others. Or, addictions or 
gambling may offer a return to the longed for enjoyment.

But our chief concern here will be the seduction of analysis, which with its
 mystery, its ceremonials of payment, the couch, the privacy, the confidentiality, the 
seclusion, all activate the repressed archaic longings to be a plaything again, to
 give up the onerous work of analysis, to destroy the analysis, in the acting-out of 
the oldest gratifications. Patients will say, coming to the analyst is not unlike
 coming to a prostitute. The analyst for her part has also experienced the primal
 seduction by her mother which leaves an unanswered question for her also about 
the enigmatic desire of the first big other. The analyst had better be aware of this 
possibility, primarily through her own analysis, lest she act out also. In fact the
 choice of profession may be unconsciously fuelled by such desire.

As is well known, Freud wanted to distance himself from seduction (4), preferring 
analysis to hypnosis and the pressure technique, and often refuting the accusation 
that analysis proceeded from suggestion. Analysis was to be productive not 
seductive, productive of interpretations, making the unconscious conscious, 
strengthening the ego. And in our current time, the drive is on for the 
professionalisation and absolute clarity about the nature of the therapeutic
 relationship. All risks to the patient must be minimised. Everything is currently 
being done to exorcise desire beyond language. However, in the present climate of
 litigation, what has been exorcised (we think!) returns on all sides. This makes 
current therapy trainings, cautious, efficient and repressive. Both therapists and
 students have to be carefully screened. The pressure has come from the consumer 
lobbyists of the EU. Consumers want to know what they are buying irrespective of 
whether the purchase is coffee or therapy. It all makes very good sense. The 
therapist is protected, by insurance, registration, the good name of the training
 institute or the professional association. The client knows that her therapist is 
sound. However, all of this transparency leaves out the radical otherness of the 
unconscious. The freedom of the patient is compromised before the analysis gets
 started, hedged around as it now is with all these safeguards. Freud was clear that 
the dangerous erotic aspects of the transference must not be acted upon, but at the 
same time they must not be avoided or ruled out. In the current climate of fear, this
 is just what seems to be happening. The patient is now not allowed to approach her
 question, the question which is evoked by the analysis itself. The love that she has 
missed (irrespective of how well cared for in childhood), the excitement left 
behind, the return of the yearning for the One, is there not a danger that intimations
 of this lost past are now deemed pathological by both patient and analyst alike?

What are we to be protected from, we might ask? The answer to many is obvious:
 bad, exploitative practitioners (and patients). This is clear. The public must be
 protected. But if analysis is to be more than just a simulation of itself, indeed if it 
is to be ethical, there must be complete freedom to speak and to fantasise (5). The 
analytic encounter must remain open. It stops short of many things including even 
touch, but freedom of expression including erotic longings must not be elided.
 There is a real danger now that the analytic process will be invaded by a
 professional growth promoting countertransference which defends against risk, the
 erotic, the perverse, the addictive, indeed life itself.

I was moved, when I heard Christopher Bollas speak in Dublin, to analytic
 practitioners, many years ago (the lecture was not published), about the need to 
respect and pay careful attention to the positive transference in its various 
manifestations. The negative transference is relatively easy to endure and interpret!
 The positive transference (at its deepest level) on the other hand is bound up with 
the core of subjectivity. To interpret that endangers the very soul of the person,
 what Winnicott called the incommunicado element that if exposed, according to
 Winnicott, is worse than rape. The love that the patient offers is to be heard, but not 
interpreted or acted upon.

The danger with the over-professionalisation of psychoanalysis, however 
necessary it might be politically, is the loss of human solidarity essential to the
 project. Patients, clients (these are both the wrong words) are in danger of returning 
to the status of objects, to be interpreted, to be worked on, to be cured, in short to 
be eclipsed of their very subjectivity. Patients may willingly collude in this objectification, anxious to find out more about themselves (gaining insight), losing 
the ability to be themselves in the rush to sort out their “baggage”. Patients and 
analysts become embroiled in this new puritan superego which demands emotional
 clarity and health promotion on all fronts.

The institutionalisation of psychoanalysis suffers from the same problematic as the 
institutionalisation of Christianity. Institutionalisation may be necessary to pass on 
and safeguard the message, but in so doing, it creates a lie that leads to the
 inquisition, the murder of the secret, the reversal of all the values that were the
 original inspiration.

In psychoanalytic terms, all will be done when the transference is resolved. But
 Lacan has insisted that the transference is never resolved. In his seminar on
 transference (1960-61), unpublished m English, Lacan puts it thus:

“And as regards this hand which stretches towards the fruit, towards the
 rose, towards the log which suddenly bursts into flames, first of all to tell
 you that its gesture of reaching, of poking, is closely linked to the maturation
 of the fruit, to the beauty of the flower, to the flaming of the log, but that 
when this movement of reaching, of drawing, of poking, the hand has gone
 far enough towards the object, if from the fruit, from the flower, from the 
log, a hand emerges which stretches out to encounter your hand, and that at 
that moment it is your hand which is fixed in the closed fullness of the 
flower, in the explosion of a hand that bursts into flames, what is produced 
at that point is love.” (6

Nothing is resolved in psychoanalysis, because the question of the erotic 
(transference) can never be resolved, it can only be explored by the seduction of
 psychoanalysis itself. On the other side of work, technique, interpretation, the 
production of meaning, lies nothing other than seduction. That is to allow oneself 
to be seduced, to be led along the pathways of free association, eschewing 
judgement, mastery, cure, and the whole labour of work on the self, which is itself 
a defence against seduction.

The state of mind that allows seduction to occur is termed by Bion, “reverie”.
 Prototypically, it is child in the presence of the mother whose erotic enjoyment of 
the child initiates the seduction of the child by the world. Just as the mother stops 
short of actual sexual contact with the child, which, as we know closes down the
 quest for life, so too must the analyst not engage in actual sexual seduction of the 
patient, which as my colleague pointed out, leads to repression. It is simply enough 
for the analyst to be present, relatively quiet, and fully attentive for the seductive
 process to have a chance of coming to life.

It seems to be that psychoanalysis faces two ways. Firstly, towards the production
 of meanings via interpretations, reconstructions, insights, working through, strengthening the ego, and so on. Secondly, towards seductions and deconstruction 
of stable realities and meanings, where both participants allow themselves to be
 caught by the flow of signifiers and affects which lead not to the reality-principle
 but to the uncertainty principle and the edge of the unknown. Modern 
psychoanalysis, post-Lacan and post-Bion, seems to privilege the second strategy,
which is really an anti-strategy, a negative capability, opposed to production, self-
mastery and knowing. One can be seduced by anything, including 
psychotherapeutic ideologies themselves, and the whole professionalisation of the
 process. However, developmentally, seduction always precedes production. 
Production is fragile, seduction is strong. The idealisation of production, growth 
and capital in the psychical economy as well as the real economy turns out to be 
just one more seduction, one more illusion, to trap and charm us.

Bollas had something similar to seduction in mind when he spoke of the 
”transformational object”. Here, he envisages the mother functioning as a source of 
transformation of the infant’s self experience prior to any representational 
knowing. For Bollas the mother’s caring activities act as our first aesthetic
 experience, the first experience of beauty (of seduction), the trace of which will 
inform our search for aesthetic experiences during the course of our lives. His very 
interesting point is that Freud, by eliding the importance of the mother infant
 relation during the pre-Oedipal period, unconsciously acts out this elision in the 
establishment of the analytic situation, which, as we noted above, repeats dedicated
 maternal attentiveness. The subject enters analysis with the hope of transformation.
 Bollas says:

‘Thus, in the adult life, the quest is not to possess the object; it is sought in 
order to surrender to it as a process that alters the self where the subject-as-
supplicant now feels himself to be the recipient of enviro-somatic caring, 
identified with metamorphoses of the self. I will argue, the analytic ecology 
enacts what Freud excluded: the early object relation of mother and child.’
 (Bollas 1979, p84-85, my italics)

He suggests that, ‘What Freud could not analyse in himself- his relation to his own
 mother – was acted out in his choice of the ecology of psychoanalytic technique’
 (p97). Against the purely productive analyst, he warns present day analysts: ‘[If] we 
insist, at least in more classical formulations, on proceeding to analytic “work”.
 Such work cannot take place, I maintain, until the analyst has a full understanding 
of his own profession as a countertransference enactment of an early object setting
 and relation’ (p100). Bollas notes that the primordial experience of transformation 
remains a memory which will be re-enacted in the search for transformative 
cultural experiences ‘that promise total change’ (p99). As well as new cars, new 
jobs, new relationships, and so on, Bollas acknowledges that this relation can 
become fanatical as in revolutionary ideologies which promise total 

Bellas emphasises the mother’s caring activities, he allies himself with the British 
Independent tradition (see Rayner 1991). Added to caring is also the darker side of 
the mother, namely seduction (Winnicott’s “Id-mother”). With seduction there is no 
knowing how things will go. The Independents down play the seductive erotic 
favouring the nurturing mother, the object-relation is primary. Care is primary (7).

Classical psychoanalysis privileges the extension of reason and meaning in 
psychical life in an attempt to exorcise the primordial seductive power of the
 mother with the dead Law of the father. The feminine becomes identified, as
 always, with the diabolical. Seduction operates in disregard for truth and meaning, 
preferring instead, the secret, the enigma, the opacity and illusion of appearance.
 Seduction secretly circulates in the analytic process displacing subjectivity,
 meaning and putting everything into play. Words and ideas seduce each other, in
 the joke, the flash of wit, the word play, the pun, the delirious polysemy of 
language. The son of alcoholic parents talks about “bottling-up” his feelings; the 
man whose father is a womaniser dreams of “raking” the autumn leaves; a French
 analyst reports that his patient dreams of giving him “six roses”. The patient’s
 father died of cirrhosis of the liver. In Freud’s case of the Ratman (see Freud, 1909),
 ratten equals rats, from there to raten (instalments), spielratte, (the father’s 
gambling debt), heiraten, (to marry), Ibsen’s Rat-Wife in Little Eyolf derived from 
the Pied Piper of Hamelin who enticed the rats into the water and lured the children
 out of the town. His magic word for his lady was Glejisamen, which it turns out
 was a mixture of Gisela (her name) samen (semen) and amen (said at the end of the
 prayers he said to ward off evil).

Language seduces itself in an endless play of meaning and non-meaning, of 
revelation and seclusion, appearance and disappearance, indeed humour. Consider
 the chief of the Irish Rugby Football Union being hard-pressed by a reporter about
 the Republic’s involvement with the all white South African rugby team. He says
 “I’ve talked about this problem until I’m black in the face”. Consider some of 
Freud’s (1900) brief dream interpretations. A kiss in a car equals autoerotic; a 
broken limb is a broken marriage; overflowing water is superfluous; a deformed
 skull is a childhood impression; lustre equals lustful. All this play of the primary 
process is what we prefer, as Freud indicates in the joke book: ‘It must not be 
forgotten that the nonsense in a joke is an end itself since the intention of
 recovering the old pleasure in nonsense is among the joke work’s activities’ (Freud
 1905, p234). This makes the so-called joke work, and its corollary, the dream work 
the ultimate seducers, dissemblers and distorters of meaning.

According to Baudrillard, only those who lie outside seduction are ill.
 Psychoanalysis believes that it treats disorders of the sexual drives, when the real
 disenchantment comes from the disappearance of seduction. What else can 
castration mean, asks Baudrillard? ‘To be deprived of seduction is the only true 
form of castration’ (Baudrillard, 1979, p121). Seduction returns us to the 
sovereignty of the world, to the domain of the Rule rather than the Law. Here the stakes are higher, in the order of cruelty, tragedy, the erotic, the challenge, the duel,
 the encounter… something necessary and rigorous.. Death remains the ultimate risk 
in every symbolic pact’ (ibid, pi24). His point is, there is nothing necessarily tender 
about seduction. It conveys a trans-human sense, a risk.

Therefore, at the heart of the erotic transference lies not love, but seduction. A
 seduction which is related to life itself and its origin in the seduction by the mother.
 When an analysis is entered into, both participants, however minimally, enter into 
a scene of seduction. There is no knowing how things will go. Seduction exceeds 
both participants. Both are subjected to it without knowing. True, the analyst is
 there to maintain the structure, but there is something nameless that always exceeds 
it. The structure (related to psychoanalytic technique and ultimately the dead law
 of the father) is inert, lifeless, unless enlivened by the effects of seduction. The
 attempt to rigorously exclude seduction and all risks (insurance policies), deadens
 the process and becomes seductive in itself. All the complex ideological battles 
within psychoanalysis, as well as its recent professionalisation, can be seen as 
systematic attempts to stop the play of seduction, and end up becoming immensely 
seductive in themselves. Suggestion, hypnosis, all seductive effects have not gone 
away, but surround the whole theoretical edifice in spite of its reasonable and 
scientific pretensions.

The discovery of psychoanalysis is that the unconscious seduces, lures us away 
from stable meanings and certainties, pulling us towards the archaic traces lost in 
what Freud referred to as infantile amnesia and repression. Psychoanalysis rests
 on this boundary between production and seduction with the stakes heavily 
weighted towards the latter. But to designate seduction as pathological, to call it
 resistance to the work of analysis is to only see things in a very limited perspective.
 One might just as well assert that the work of analysis is resistance to seduction, a
 joke not lost on some critics of analysis: you mean you analyse your life…the 
meaning of life!

No one knows for certain how many therapists actually have sex with their clients. While all guidelines are clear this would be an abuse of professional ethics, the risk
 remains. Furthermore, this risk is the hidden driving force of the analysis, its secret,
 its challenge, its power. However, it must remain hidden.

With the media’s intense coverage and outing of abuse of all kinds and the 
generalised break-down of trust and confidence in all human relationships, it is not
 surprising to come across the following on the Internet:

Therapy Abuse Support List

‘The Therapy Abuse List is an Electronic Peer Support Discussion List open
 to men and women alike. It provides a place where therapy abuse survivors
 can share their stories, and give/receive support to/from one another.

Who participates on the list? Anyone, male or female, who has been abused
 in psychotherapy or counselling whether it be by a pastor, doctor,
 psychologist, psychiatrist, lay counsellor, or other such therapist.’

Not surprisingly, the same search turns up pages on child abuse, diametrically 
opposed positions on False Memory Syndrome as well as abuse by therapists.
 There is a direct line, so it is believed, between the abuse of the child by a trusted 
adult and the abuse of a patient by a trusted therapist, now designated “the-rapist”.
 A logic of suspicion and paranoia now surrounds therapy of all kinds. A splitting 
has occurred that deems all helpers as potential abusers and all patients as innocent 
potential victims. Here the play of seduction, in the transitional space, has been
 closed by the seductive power of the alleged real of seduction. The erotic which
 should remain hidden has been forced into the open.

The pain of loss during childhood, so clearly outlined by Melanie Klein, has been
 converted wholesale into the pain of being the victim; the erotically tinged
 yearning for the lost other transformed into revenge against the other. The outing 
of risk, in the guise of protecting patients, has the ironic effect of repressing the real
 pain of loss which psychoanalysis designates as inherent in the ambivalence of life


1. Here one is forced to carry someone else’s phantasy and for a time you feel 
controlled by the other’s thoughts. For some time, you cannot get them out of your 
mind. What was being attributed to me, a young potential analyst, perhaps through
 envy, may have been part of this analyst’s fantasy life.

2. I shall be confining my remarks generally to psychoanalytic therapy.

3. The word erotic here is used in the sense that Bataille (1957) uses it. Bataille 
understands eroticism as our primordial desire in (separated) life to return to a lost
 continuum through excess, transgression, celebration, sexual licence, sacrifice,
 violence, the potlatch. Compare this with the later Freud, who, in his final theory
 of the instincts, posits a life and death drive. The life drive is referred to as Eros,
 which creates larger and larger unities. The erotic, in the sense that it is being used 
in this paper, is closer to Freud’s conception of the death drive, or to his original
 conception of the erotic as anarchic and dangerous.

4. We do not want to fall into the trap of Masson (1984) who attacked Freud for
 allegedly denying the “truth” of the seduction of children, what we now call sexual
 abuse. The early analysts did not ignore the abuse of children, but crucially 
included the child’s fantasy. (See, for instance, Stanton, 1990, p104ff)

5. The real difficulty here is with so-called training analyses. I myself have
 questioned analytic training bodies as to why they so limit the range of so-called training analysts who are deemed suitable to analyse their trainees. Very often these 
analysts are also teachers on the courses. So what freedom does the analysand have
 when their analyst also teaches them each week and whose colleagues will be in on
 the final assessments? How can she reveal her perverse imaginings, her deepest
 longings if in the end she may be deemed “unsuitable” or a “risk”, and her large
 investment in the course and a possible future career put in jeopardy? Immediately, 
the analysand is locked into false incestuous double-binds, which make true free
 association highly unlikely.

6. I am indebted to Cormac Gallagher of St Vincent’s Hospital, Elm Park, Dublin,
 for this translation of Lacan’s seminar.

7. Here, I would claim the object relations and the concept of care are being used 
as a defence against the erotic and its aleatory and seductive effect, thus keeping 
going the long tradition of psychoanalysis of downplaying seduction, as the next 
paragraph exemplifies.


Bataille, G. (1957) Eroticism Paris: Editions de Minuit Trans. Mary Dalwood.
 London: Marion Boyars Ltd., 1962, paperback 1987.

Baudrillard, 3. (1979) Seduction. Paris: Editions Galilee, Trans. Singer, B. London: 
Culture Texts.

Bollas, C. (1979) ‘The transformational object’. In Int. J Psycho-Anal 60: 97-107,
 reprinted in Kohon, G. Ed. (1986) The British School of Psychoanalysis, pp83-100. 
London: Free Association Books.

Freud, S. (1900) The Interpretation of Dreams. Pelican Freud Library No.4, 1976.

Freud, S. (1905) Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. Pelican Freud
 Library No.6., 1976

Freud, S. (1909) ‘Notes upon a case of obsessional neurosis. (The “rat man”)’ in, 
Case Histories II ‘Rat Man, Schreber,Wolf Man’, Female Homosexuality. In
 Pelican Freud Library, No.9.

Freud, S. (1915) ‘Further recommendations in the technique of psycho-analysis. 
Observations on transference-love’. In Collected Papers. Vol II. pp377-391.
 London: Hogarth.

Laplanche, 3. (1987) New Foundations for Psychoanalysis, Paris: Presses 
Universitaires de France, trans. Macey, D. Oxford: Blackwell.

Masson, 3. (1984) The Assault on Truth. London: Faber.

Rayner, E. (1991) The Independent Mind in British Psychoanalysis. London: Free
 Association Books.

Stanton, M. (1990) Sandor Ferenczi: Reconsidering Active Interpretation. London:
 Free Association Books.

Rob Weatherill is in practice as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisory
 analyst, member of IPA, IFPP, APPI and ICP. He teaches psychoanalysis. His
 books include: Cultural Collapse, published by Free Association Books (1994),
 The Sovereignty of Death, published by Rebus Press (1998), and he is editor of The
 Fatal Drive, to be published by Rebus Press this year.

Address: 12 Crosthwaite Park, East, Dun Laoghaire. Tel. 2805332.


Website: http:\\”homepage.html