Personal example of illusion/disillusion

My (JL) personal experience with disillusion almost disrupted my career. I had returned from three years as a very young naval officer in the Baltic in WWII to go to medical school to become a psychoanalyst. In my second year of medical school I began analysis four times per week with a young woman who was either a recent graduate or a senior candidate of the Baltimore Washington Psychoanalytic Institute. I felt free to talk about everything: my affection and desire for her, my interest in creativity, my complex family relationships, my social and sexual life. Her interpretations provided me with considerable insight. Then one day, my freedom to associate and my dreams stopped. Finally, I had a dream I related to her. She took up one element as referring to menstruation. I reacted with angry, startled screaming: “No! No menstruation!” In her calm voice, she said “You are right. No menstruation. I am pregnant.” The analysis returned to its prior productiveness, then I received a phone call not to come in - she was ill, and a week later she died.

After a period of shock and mourning, and after waiting for an opening, I began analysis with Dr. L, a world-famous training analyst. He seemed far less responsive, more intellectually aloof, and business-like than my previous analyst had been. His interpretations interested me. My previous analyst had been responsive when I cried, as I often did with her, but he was not. And then, as I was immersed in mourning the death of my beloved grandfather and my previous analyst, he said “What she did with you was not analysis; all she did was hold your hand.” Many times later I thought to say “You idiot. If you only held my hand we could get on with this analysis.” But I was too stunned! I went into instant denial and proceeded as if nothing disturbing had been said. Several weeks went by in which I heard further insensitive responses to my transference associations. To complicate the situation, each week I drove from Baltimore to Washington with three institute classmates, two of whom were also in analysis with my analyst. They continually praised him as I slunk down in my seat.

This period of denial and distress ended with my having a Kafkaesque dream of being a crab lying on its back, legs spinning in the air. The crab must find a way to roll over and right itself or it will die. The meaning was clear: I had to right myself and get off the couch. As I brought this up, I was told that if I interrupted the analysis I might as well give up my training. Feeling completely disillusioned, I quit. Fortunately, the training committee put me on a leave of absence.

Two years passed and I developed a successful career as half-time Clinical Coordinator of Sheppard and a half-time private practice of psychotherapy. Sometime in that interval - I think whilst attending a meeting in Philadelphia - I was standing alone in a room in a museum art gallery examining a painting when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a person entering. It was Dr. L. He circled the room, going past me, and left. I realized he didn't recognize me, and this gave further impetus to my disillusion. Such disillusion often leads to an aversion state, with hurt feelings, disappointment, anger, and withdrawal. Seemingly out of the blue, Lewis confronted me, saying “Joe, you are a natural born analyst. All you need is a certificate. Go back and get one.” I asked to whom he thought I could go to for analysis. He answered “Dr. A.” I said “Dr. A? You said this and this about him.” Lewis gave me his stern Prussian look and said “You’d listen to me then, but you won’t listen to me now!”

I followed Lewis’s advice and it worked out well. Dr. A was a sensitive caring analyst and I was a different analysand. I sensed where he could best help me and, with appreciation, took it in. I sensed that there were issues for which his help was limited. I took the many helpful interpretations and lowered my expectations. I did not unconsciously build up an idealized illusion of a super-brilliant, world-famous analyst who would go beyond my first analysis and repair her loss. After two years, he said I was ready to both end with him and finish my training. Unsaid, but emotionally very important, I could now put aside vestiges of my disillusion with Dr. L.

A final interplay occurred when Dr. L, who had left Baltimore, returned to be on a panel with me and several others. We each gave a fifteen-minute presentation, followed by a five-minute discussion of whatever we wanted to say about our ideas or those of others. Dr. L now appeared elderly and his voice was weak. When it came to my five-minute wrap up, I decided that what he had to say was so important - and in line with my thinking -that I would lay it out for the audience, who had barely heard it. Three weeks later I received a “thank you” note acknowledging what I had done.

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