A conventional view of psychoanalysis features the therapist listening intently to the patient. But what if the therapist suddenly dominates the conversation? This is what happened to Kerry Malawista, coauthor of Wearing My Tutu to Analysis and Other Stories: Learning Psychodynamic Concepts from Life and coeditor of The Therapist in Mourning: From the Faraway Nearby.
In a recent essay for The Huffington Post, Malawista explains how her first experience with a psychotherapist went wrong due to a failure to listen. Malawista, now a practicing psychotherapist but then a graduate student, went to visit “Dr. K” as a patient as part of her graduate training. Unfortunately, Dr. K never seemed to understand how to help Malawista and their first sessions meandered to an unsatisfying close.
Right before her fourth visit, Malawista, much to her surprise, she saw Dr. K drive up to the office in a shiny corvette. Out of curiosity, she asked Dr. K about this, leading to an awkward interaction:
After some small talk, I hesitantly told Dr. K how surprised I was to see him behind the wheel of a red Corvette. He dove right in, quickly explaining how he was a serious car aficionado and how the Corvette was an extraordinary car. Even though I did not yet understand the idea of transference, I was waiting for him to be curious about my thoughts. Instead, he rambled on in car speak, describing the engine horsepower, the fiberglass body and all of the mechanical specifications. He seemed to be trying to convince me — and maybe himself — that his reasons for owning this car had nothing to do with its hot color and styling. I sensed that I had made Dr. K defensive. I felt uncomfortable having that power over him. It occurred to me that Dr. K cared more about his car than for getting to know me as his patient. That thought make me even feel alone and deflated.
Soon thereafter I quit therapy with Dr. K.
Malawista argues that Dr. K failed to take Malawista’s observation as a way into her inner world. Malawista concludes by writing:
In technical terms my thoughts about Dr. K and his car were bits of transference — feelings related to other important figures in my life that I transferred onto him. This transferential moment could have been an important opening, enabling this therapy to get off the ground. Dr. K’s response, however, did not allow for further exploration and I was wise to call a halt to that therapy. Happily, the next practitioner I saw was more attuned to listening and hearing my story.