Tag Archives: Termination

Psychoanalytic Endings

JSF Travel

Psychoanalytic therapists have a penchant for drama. They speak of psychotherapy termination as metaphorical death; they see sexual objects everywhere. The rest of us are, rather disappointingly, seeing trees and rocks and designer boots, while the psychoanalysts get to see, well, you know what they get to see.

You say you dreamt of rocks? What sort of rocks? Might they have been egg-shaped? Or perhaps you saw the sandy bottom of a river covered with little fishes? Could it have been a salmon hatch? Perhaps all this represents your unconscious longing for fertility. But what if you don’t really wish for more children; instead you’re pining for the unmitigated proliferation of all your excellent ideas? Like maybe you’re fantasizing an NPR interview where you get to talk on and on about obstruction of justice. Or just a cameo where you get to comment on who’s really the grand-stander.

Or maybe, yesterday, you just gazed a little too much at the Stillwater River, and so you dreamt of rocks and little fish?

Better yet, maybe both are true.

But I digress.

Like all chapters in our theories textbook, the psychoanalytic chapter has to end. But it doesn’t want to. It wants to drone on and on because it has so many important points to make. One of those points involves closing the chapter with a few fascinating historical comments about Freud. But some people contend that having “Concluding Comments” and a “Chapter Summary” is redundant. But other people don’t think so. If you’ve gotten this far and are still with me, you be the judge. Are the following “Concluding Comments” worthwhile?

Concluding Comments

Anyone whose collected works fill 24 volumes is likely to have—as we psychoanalytically informed mental health professionals like to say—“achievement issues.” Dr. Freud might even accept this interpretation. He sort of said it himself, “A man who has been the indisputable favorite of his mother keeps for life the feeling of a conqueror, that confidence of success that often induces real success” (E. E. Jones, 1953, p. 5).

Judging him based on his own theoretical perspective, Freud suffered from some Oedipus conflicts, and these were, in part, manifest in his intense striving for recognition. It may have been his penchant for stature that caused him to invent and then recant his seduction theory.

In 1937, 2 years before Janet’s death, Edouard Pichon, Pierre Janet’s son-in-law, wrote to Freud, asking him to visit with Janet. Freud responded:

No, I will not see Janet. I could not refrain from reproaching him with having behaved unfairly to psychoanalysis and also to me personally and never having corrected it. He was stupid enough to say that the idea of sexual aetiology for the neuroses could only arise in the atmosphere of a town like Vienna. Then when the libel was spread by French writers that I had listened to his lectures and stolen his ideas he could with a word have put an end to such talk, since actually I never saw him or heard his name in the Charcot time: he has never spoken this word. You can get an idea of his scientific level from his utterance that the unconscious is une facon de parler. No I will not see him. I thought at first of sparing him the impoliteness by the excuse that I am not well or that I can no longer talk French and he certainly can’t understand a word of German. But I have decided against that. There is no reason for making any sacrifice for him. Honesty the only possible thing; rudeness quite in order. (Jones, 1961, pp. 633–634)

There was no special reconciliation for Freud. Toward the end of his life he suffered from many medical and psychological problems. His addiction to tobacco led to cancer and jaw surgery and considerable physical pain. In September 1939, he asked a fellow physician and friend, Max Schur, to assist in his suicide. Freud asked, “Schur, you remember our ‘contract’ not to leave me in the lurch when the time had come. Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense” (Gay, 2006, p. 651). After Schur responded, Freud replied, “I thank you” and followed this with, “Talk it over with Anna, and if she thinks it’s right, then make an end of it” (p. 651). Although Anna was initially against the plan, Schur argued otherwise and on 2 consecutive September days, he administered enough morphine to finally result in Freud’s death on September 23, 1939.

Freud’s legacy is often linked to negativity or pessimism. There are good reasons for this; Freud focused on issues like the death instinct and primitive instinctual impulses, impulses that we have little awareness of or control over. But he was sometimes hopeful. One of his more optimistic statements is carved in a memorial to him in Vienna which reads,

The voice of reason is small, but very persistent.

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Let me know your vote. I’m sure, just like the vote for who’s the real grand-stander, it won’t be particularly close.