heightened meaning

Sessions are spatio-temporal sites of heightened signification. In session, things mean a lot. I know that a lot of it stems, for me, from the urgency I feel to air the pain. I walked into analysis with a mountain-load of pain on my shoulders. I had, still have, no time to waste. I was dying to get the mountain-load off my shoulders. Maybe I was just plain dying. So it was essential to me that my analyst understood that I meant business, and that we consider no moment a throwaway moment. From the moment I say hi to the moment I say bye, everything has a density of meaning I experience nowhere else (not true: intensely scary/painful/traumatic situations have their own kind of greatly heightened meaningfulness, but one can’t take too many of those).

I also want to mention that, in session, my conscious mind works differently from the way it typically works outside of session. Things I normally know, I don’t know. Things I would easily grasp, I don’t grasp. Probably the converse is true, but I am more aware of the moments in which I don’t know things I should know. They are quite striking.

Last Friday (the same Friday I talk about in my previous post) this small exchange happened. After sitting in my analyst’s office for a short time, I pointed out that it seemed warm in the room. My analyst agreed and asked if I would like her to turn down the A/C. I said I would. The thermostat is in the hallway and two more therapists’ offices open onto it. It’s a nice, light, spacious hallway, square rather than rectangular, nicely decorated, and it’s a space I enjoy seeing when I walk through it. I asked if I could go change the A/C settings too and my therapist said, “Sure.”

These little communal expeditions, which have happened only once or twice before, have been really meaningful to me lately. I think both my analyst and I are pretty clear about their meaning and I think both of us find them productive.

Only one of the other offices was closed. I asked whether there was a session in course and my analyst that yes, there was. That reassured me. I would not have liked for that therapist to come out of her office and find us both there playing house, something that felt to me intimate, intense, meaningful, and private. I figured that if she was with a patient she was not likely to come out.

Then I noticed that my analyst was a bit apprehensive about this, too. In the meantime we were back in our (our!) office and talking about this. My apprehension vis a vis the other therapist, I said, was that she would see us there together and disapprove of this departure from the words-only psychoanalytic mantra. My fantasy about her disapproval was that she would scold my therapist (who, by the way, is senior to her professionally) when she next saw her alone. And then my therapist would have either to defend me/us or cave in the face of her colleague’s disapproval, and that would result in the withdrawal of (what to me felt like) the delicious privilege of going into the hallway together.

At the beginning of this post I spoke about heightened signification and, also, about some specific limitations in my knowledge and understanding while in session. This event with the thermostat and our joint expedition was clearly intensely meaningful to me, but also, I realize retroactively, and strikingly, I could think of no other explanation for why my therapist was a little apprehensive about the whole thing than that she feared her colleague’s disapproval. Surely she, too, must feel that her colleague would disapprove of my being there because it was behavior rather than language, and, surely, she was also anxious about being scolded, and, surely, she was also unsure about whether she was doing the right thing, and, surely, she anticipated the anxiety of having to defend her choice or change it. In my mind there was absolutely no other possibility, no other interpretation.

I am emphasizing this because clearly in that moment my anxious transference was trumping my capacity to envision alternative explanations that were in reality quite obvious. (My analyst, it turned out, was concerned about her colleague’s patient’s privacy, in case he or she came out of session).

But then what happened was that this small event, which for some reason it took us some time to clear up, occasioned a really profound realization later on, and for the life of me I would not have noticed the connection if my therapist had not very smartly picked up on it and showed it to me, and all in all it was a really great session.

I am not sure why I’m telling this story. Maybe because it led to some really startling realizations on my part (I discuss them in my previous post). Or maybe because what could have been a misunderstanding turned out to be so useful. Or maybe to underline the power and intensity of transference. Or maybe just to praise my analyst, for being so open to experimentation, joy and creativity.

Artwork by Trash60.