Tuesday, May 18, 2004

A Law School Reunion


Hey, buddy. What's up?
I got a letter yesterday from my old law school, Temple University in Philadelphia. They're holding a reunion for the classes of 1982, 1983, and 1984. I graduated in 1982. Here's something we could do together, buddy! Interested?
Reunite, Rekindle, Reunion 2004. It's being held on Saturday May 22, 2004. There's going to be a full open bar, music by DJ (who's DJ?), Hors D'oeuvres, auction of old library carrels (now that sounds exciting!), and complimentary parking in Liacouras lot.
Liacouras lot. Peter Liacouras used to be a law professor at Temple. He rose to Dean of the law school, then President of the University. He's now emeritus. He was Dean of the law school back when I was a student. I remember the school held a 50th birthday party for him back in 1981. I remember Professor Reinstein (now Dean Reinstein) saying that Liacouras couldn't believe he was 50; I know the feeling. (I was taking a course in Constitutional Law backing 1981. Reinstein had just returned from Washington, having completed a stint at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, in the Carter Administration). I later took a course on Employment Discrimination Law (my specialty!) with Professor Reinstein. Eva Bleich was in that class: an old friend of mine. Frau Bleich's father was a Berlin Jew; both her parents were concentration camp survivors. Frau Bleich's husband, Robert (originally a mathematician), was also a lawyer.
President Liacouras knew my sister. Back in the late 1960s, when my sister was an undergraduate at Temple, she worked part-time as a secretary at the law school's unit in law and psychiatry. She was "Estelle Freedman" back then.
Maybe Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert can give us a ride up to Philly. President Swygert used to be a law professor at Temple Law School back in my student days.
Be that as it may.
I had my penultimate session with my psychologist at GW yesterday. Just one more session, next week (May 24, 2004), and I'm done baby, I'm done!
Indira Gandhi--as I call her affectionately--had some positive points and some drawbacks. She was a nice person. Very intelligent. Thoughtful and introspective. She was noncoercive, unlike many of the therapists-in-training I've seen in the past.
But there was a basic incompatibility between us. I just found her style (and this was me, not her) vapid and vacuous. There was a basic meaninglessness about the enterprise from week to week. I never got to build, or create, a narrative. I would come in, sit down, make a few comments. And it was like Pimlico: "They're off and running." She would start asking questions. She would keep asking questions till we got to the stretch. Then we'd reach the finish line. We went nowhere fast, as they say. Each and every week.
Then the whole process would start up again the nest week. No critical mass ever developed. There was little continuity from session to session, and little synthesis of ideas within a session. That's disturbing for me. I live--absolutely live--for continuity and synthesis. Example: look at my letter yesterday. I attempted to show how each detail was a metaphor, and the cluster of details could be seen to be interrelated at a metaphoric level. Now that's analysis! That's the work of analysis, my friend.
The themes yesterday were fraud, corruption, deception, Watergate, The Dreyfus Case.
Mayan Art, French Impressionistic painting, the huge marbleized columns in The National Building Museum, Watergate, The Dreyfus Affair. On the surface, these ideas (or issues) have nothing in common. But as metaphors, they tie together. The thing in analysis is to take the patient's free associations and find a common denominator.
Mayan Art: a metaphoric "veneer" of civilization that concealed a society living at the edge of an abyss, on the edge of the Central American Rain Forest. The few privileged persons at the pinnacle of Mayan society lived at the expense of the many who eked out an impoverished and disease-ridden existence.
French Impressionism: a metaphoric "veneer" of civilization that concealed a society at the edge of the abyss of World War I. The few privileged persons depicted in the paintings lived at the expense of the many who eked out an impoverished existence, working 16-hour days in factories and mines under horrible conditions, with no legal protections--as Professor Reinstein will attest.
The Huge Marbleized Columns at The National Building Museum: a literal veneer of plaster and paint that concealed thousands of bricks that formed columns that held a huge structure in place. The columns are a metaphor for fraud and corruption, giving the appearance of marble, when in fact they are faux marble. The columns support a huge structure of bricks, just as a large corrupt enterprise is supported by a deceptive appearance of legality. RICO. Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization. A corrupt organization whose illegality is plastered over--"marbleized" as it were--and supported by the machinations of a sizeable column of persons ("a mob of bricks," as it were).
Watergate: Burglary; illegality; small enterprise concealing a larger corrupt enterprise; deception; concealment; corruption leading to the highest level of government.
(Incidentally, Robert Reinstein can tell you the story of a law school buddy of his who was once interviewed by President Nixon during Nixon's days in private practice (with Len Garment) in New York, in the mid-sixties. The buddy wasn't hired, but Nixon gave the kid a souvenir "Vice-President" pen.)
Dreyfus case: Treason; illegality; small enterprise concealing a larger corruption; a racist society; a society depicted in the art of the times as one of ideal beauty.
Yes! That's the work of analysis. But it takes ingenuity to see the patterns of thought in a patient's concrete observations and anecdotes. Inexperienced therapists get caught up in the details. "Bricks, paintings, burglary? What is this patient talking about?" Inexperienced therapists don't know how to just shut up and listen. They don't get the larger picture. The larger impressionistic canvas, as it were.
In the end the patient is blamed for lack of progress. "He talks about inconsequential facts. He blathers on and on. It's not my fault that the patient doesn't progress. He doesn't talk about his feelings. He doesn't talk about important issues." But of course the feelings are embedded in the ideas the patient talks about. The patient is not necessarily aware of those embedded feelings. When the patient talks about "bricks," or "burglary," the feelings have to be brought to the surface by analysis. And analysis itself is a process of looking at the details, but not getting caught up in them. You need to look at the details as small, minute expressions of larger entities--larger structures of thought and feeling. In fact, analyzing a patient is like analyzing a corrupt business. "Why, we just sell pizzas. Nothing more. Look at our books. Check our suppliers. What do you think we are, the Corleone Family?" Indeed!
But most of that cannot be taught. It's a style of thinking. To be an analyst, the individual-in-training has to have a pre-existing disposition to look at the world in a certain way. The trainee has to have a cognitive style that permits--or more, requires--him or her to look for ever-larger structures in the flotsam and jetsam of the patient's ideational productions. And that cognitive style cannot be taught. The trainee either has that ability, or cognitive style, or not.
Now, yes, many patients talk in a flood of feeling. Sometimes, however, those are the most severely-disturbed patients. That's one of the ironies of therapy. Sometimes the most severely-disturbed patients are the ones who are easiest to treat, in a sense. Such patients immediately launch into feelings, castigation and neediness. The therapist cannot help but see the problem. The patient is obviously distressed and expresses that distress in a summons for help. "Please, please, doctor, I am in pain. Help me. Oh, you never help me. You take my money, but you do nothing. You just sit there." The patient is dependent, and that dependency shows.
Ironically, a more highly-developed patient can be harder to treat, precisely because of his complexity and structuralization. Typically, there tends to be more reserve, more tolerance for pain, more highly-developed capacity for symbolization in the more psychologically-mature patient. It's not always easy to discern the problems. (Metaphorically, like the real Corleone Family, the deception rises to the level of an art in the psychologically-complex neurotic). The therapist can very easily get lost in the "maze" of symbol and metaphor--the "bricks and marbleized columns" of the patient's narrative, as it were.
Here-see for yourself.
Primitive patient:
"This weekend was a pure horror. I felt alone, abandoned. I have no friends. I gazed out the window. Passers-by walked down the street. Couples walked hand in hand. People who had other people. Happy people. It's as if the entire world is made up of happy people. People with friends. While, I, alone in my apartment, sat depressed, aimless. Desperate really. I live on the edge of despair, doctor. You don't help me. You never help me. You are worthless, doctor."
Inexperienced Therapist's Report to Supervisor:
"Patient is lonely and depressed. Patient seems to be on the brink of despair. Suicidal ideation cannot be ruled out, though patient did not talk about harming himself. Patient needs support and re-assurance. Patient needs to be shown alternative ways of viewing his situation. Patient is compliant and cooperative, and talks freely about his feelings."
More Structured Patient:
"I went to The National Gallery of Art this weekend. I visited the Mayan Exhibit and an Exhibit of Small French Paintings. Then I went to the National Building Museum, and gazed at the huge marble columns. I was lonely and depressed. But seeing these things took my mind off my problems."
Inexperienced Therapist's Report to Supervisor:
"Patient denies his feelings. Patient is mired in details and circumstantiality. Patient discusses anecdotes, with little insight into his feelings. Patient undoubtedly has feelings of shame about his social isolation, but is unable to talk about his feelings because they threaten his fragile sense of narcissistic integrity. Patient needs to talk about his feelings in a supportive setting. However, this needs to be done in a careful manner. Clearly, patient is easily threatened by insight into his underlying distress. Patient's fragile sense of self could easily collapse in the face of a too-rapid and too-deep exposition of the underlying causes of his psychic pain. Patient tends to be uncooperative and noncompliant with the therapeutic process. He tends to become defensive and angry when confronted with the vapid quality of his narrative."
Right! Guess again!
There's something so frustrating about my therapy with non-analytically-trained therapists. It's like going back in time -- five years, ten years, twenty years -- in my mind, only to come to rest on a parking lot. Like a car parked on a parking lot in the inner city. I feel I never get beyond that.
Janet Malcolm puts the whole issue so clearly and fully in "Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession." She quotes a seasoned analyst's reflections on his treatment, years earlier, of one of the patient's he worked with early in his training. The psychoanalyst has the insight and integrity to see that the limitations and problems were his own, not necessarily those of the patient.
Malcolm writes: "[The patient] went on and on, berating me for my coldness and passivity and indifference to her sufferings--and that was the true beginning of the analysis. But I didn't know it. I sat there cowering under her anger and irked with her for not knowing that what I was doing as I 'just sat there' was classical Freudian analysis. I found her in every way disappointing. I had expected a patient who would free-associate, and here they had sent me this banal girl who just blathered. I didn't understand--I was so naive then--that her blathering was free associating, that blathering is just what free association is. Worse than that, I thought I had to instruct her on the nature of her unconscious. I would laboriously point out to her the unconscious meaning of what she said and did. Only after years of terrible and futile struggle did it dawn on me that if I just listened--if I just let her talk, let her blather--things would come out, and that this was what would help her, not my pedantic, didactic interpretations. If I could only have learned to shut up! When I finally did learn, I began to see things Freud had described -- to actually see for myself symptoms disappearing as the unconscious became conscious. That was an incredible thing. It was like looking through a telescope and realizing that you are seeing what Galileo saw." Malcolm at 70-71.
My wish. My fervent wish. Listen, you chorus of therapists out there! Could you all just let me drive around, take a look at the sights, and stop directing me to the parking lot! Meaning is disclosed by the succession of scenes that can be seen from the car window, and not by sitting in "park" in the place of your choosing, you leeward-chorus of therapists!
Check you out later, buddy. You're a good listener, Brian. Has anybody ever told you that?
P.S. Just because it's now legal in Massachusetts, don't be getting any funny ideas, Brian.
P.P.S. Angela Purnell runs a real professional organization up here at Tenley. You could learn a few things from her. It's quiet and professional up here. A quiet place to think and reflect, the way a library should be. A couple of weeks ago I told her about my problems with you. I said: "Do you know Brian Brown?" A spontaneous and genuine smile flashed across her face: "Yes, I know Brian." Apparently Ms. Purnell is an FOB.

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