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The banana: Is it another royal road to the unconscious?

by Mary Spring

I need to give some context here. I have always loved bananas or, to give them their exact botanical title, musa acuminata. I have a distinct childhood memory of visiting neighbours along with my mother and over a number of hours being offered and eating three bananas in a row. At home, banana sandwiches, along with Gateaux Swiss Rolls, were a regular summertime lunch – in those days we called this mid-day feast, ‘dinner’. My university days were sustained by banana sandwiches. They were made and wrapped in tinfoil early every morning and it didn’t matter that the colouring of the banana might have turned blackish by 1pm. I continued to morph into adulthood and, well, maybe not surprisingly, I continued to have this secure attachment to this particular fruit. To this day, I love them. I will happily eat two bananas a day; one accompanies breakfast and the second banana polishes off dinner and dessert in the evening. Note that it is not a dessert in itself – it simply completes the heated apple tart or whatever the afters are on any given day.  When away on holidays, a breakfast of warmed waffles dressed generously with heated Nutella and sliced plátano (the Spanish for ‘banana’) and complimented with two Lipton teabags in a porcelain pot is a joy, a pleasure

I’m curious as to where you, the reader, think I am going with this piece of prose. You might wonder, have I gone bananas? Have I gone into Freudian overdrive? I really hope not. I’m simply writing about my love of bananas in the same way others might wax lyrical about a particular wine, a juicy fillet steak, a snack box from Supermacs or maybe a kiwi from New Zealand, and it has to be New Zealand - Dutch or Chilean kiwis are not the same. But why, I suspect you are wondering, has my love of bananas crept into a psychotherapy journal?

Well, it once happened that when I was a trainee client I brought a bunch of bananas into the therapy room. You see, I had stopped at a corner shop and, while seeking out a small bottle of water, my eyes had fallen upon the most delicious bunch of bananas you could ever come across. I am, it is only fair to say, a fussy banana purchaser. Not for me the green rather hard-skinned fruit. No, I like, even love, the rich canary-coloured banana and here they were waiting for me. Of course, I was going to buy them. Of course, I was not going to delay gratification and wait until an hour later when they could very possibly be gone. That would have been ridiculous.

The session took place, I occasionally sipping from the sometimes crutch of my bottled water. It must have been one of these occasional feel-good endings of a session because as I stood up to pay and go, I picked up my bunch of bananas and gave one to the therapist. From the bottom of my very generous heart, I gifted her with a lovely, ripe banana. 

Needless to say the banana stayed in the room longer than I imagined, a few months later the therapist informing me that I had NOT actually offered her the banana but had given it to her. That fact had eluded me. Needless to say I didn’t appreciate the lesson in self-awareness or, indeed, the lesson in my lack of self-awareness. I was put out by her observation. If truth be told, I was quite upset. Was it not a spontaneous and big-hearted gesture on my part?

These days I am a practising therapist and tend to believe that everything that happens in the room is potentially revealing and instructive. What the devil was going on inside me when, like a magician producing a rabbit out of a hat, I produced a banana out of a paper bag? What was my unconscious motivation in giving, and not offering, a banana to the therapist? In the midst of the relationship matrix that is the therapeutic alliance, what was I looking for from the therapist? Was I looking for threads of shared similarities? Was I looking for specialness? Was I seeking a different relationship rather than the therapeutic relationship? Was I searching for an equality that would dilute the power imbalance that necessarily exists within the work? Was I vainly and blindly yet understandably chasing after what could never be found – the non-ambivalent, all-consistent care figure? Was this a new version of something old and familiar being acted out in present time? And, given that Freud somewhere said that humans tend to repeat themselves, goodness, was there to be another banana-incident sometime in the future? Of course there was. You can bet on it! It just wasn’t a banana.

The years have passed. I continue to work with this same therapist. The banana is occasionally remembered and we share a smile. Is the banana another royal road to the unconscious? Or is a banana sometimes just a banana? I will leave it to you to ponder on such questions. Me? I’m off to do some shopping – I’m running low on bananas!

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