Psychoanalysis Is Not A Relationship

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João Pedro Dias and Richard Raubolt


This article is based on a presentation originally entitled “A paranoid perspective on relational psychoanalysis”, presented by João Pedro Dias and Richard Raubolt at the 2014 IFPE conference (“Necessary Fictions”). The presenters surprised attendees by enacting the roles of a paranoid patient who burst into the room to confront his own analyst. By bringing the immediacy of the clinical experience into the conference, the ultimate purpose of this presentation was to challenge key concepts of relational psychoanalysis.

Preliminary Introduction

Richard Raubolt enters the conference room playing the role of the analyst/presenter.

Richard – “My name’s João Pedro Dias, I’m from Portugal and I’m here to present… Is the microphone on?”

Someone in the audience (Larry Green) – It sounds like it’s on, but you’re not speaking close enough.

Richard – “… Is it better?”

Someone in the audience (Sara Lavner) – “Yes, now it’s good.”

Richard – “Well, I’m here to present “A paranoid perspective on relational psychoanalysis”… (Gagging) But I don’t know where my moderator is… I have to delay the presentation until he appears… I wouldn’t want to start without him, so if we wait another minute or so, hopefully he will be here…”

A couple of seconds later, someone knocks heavily on the lateral door of the conference room. The audience looks surprised. Jay Swanson gets up and opens the door.

Jay – “I’m sorry but this a professional conference!”

Richard – “Jay, is there a problem?”

João Pedro Dias aggressively pushes back Jay, forcing his own entrance into the room. He is now playing the role of the patient (“Richard”).

Carrying with him a travelling bag he goes to back of the room, around the audience, which looks startled. Some people laugh, but the general atmosphere is of both surprise and apprehension.

Richard (Looking astonished) – “You have got to be kidding me… Richard? What…”

João (Shouting) – “What the f(…) is this? Surprised to see me here, huh, doc?”

Richard – “Yes I am! What are you doing here? This is a professional meeting!”

João – “I just came in from the airport, just is time to stop you, you son of a b(…)! I am here to prevent you from telling lies about me!”

Richard – “Richard, we’re not in my office and you’re disrupting… You came from Portugal?”

João (Approaching Richard) – “Yes! Are you here to tell lies about me?”

Richard – “No! This is professional presentation… These are all therapists who are very interested in relational psychoanalysis.”

João – “Yes, but you are here to talk about me, right?”

Richard – “I don’t want to violate your confidentiality…”

João – “Yes, you analysts feel very comfortable talking about patients… But I am the patient! I would like to speak for myself.”

Richard (Sounding hesitant, looks at the audience and then to João) – “You came all this way from Portugal? And you want to speak for yourself?”

João – “Yes.”

Richard (Still vexed, points to the microphone) – “Ok, it’s yours!”

The True and Never-Ending Story of My Analysis

João – Hello everyone… So now I will introduce myself, this time politely. My name is Richard and I have been Dr. João’s patient for the last nine years. Upon hearing that he was coming to IFPE to tell the story of my analysis and because he is not to be fully trusted, I’ve came along to tell you the true story. I wrote down some notes so that the good doctor won’t be able to contradict the truth.

  1. I met Dr. João when I was in a psychiatric hospital, in a state paranoid frenzy. My world had collapsed and crashed down on me: I lost my job as a teacher, my so-called friends, my family and the only woman I have ever had – they all turned against me. I was lost in a world of specters and shadows and to me he was no more than another one of those ghostly entities. I neither liked him nor disliked him. Actually I never got to know him as a person, which brings me right to the point: is this what you call “a relationship”, when you don’t even know the person with whom you are talking to? If I didn’t know you, you didn’t exist as person (Looking directly at Richard).
  2. So I am here to expose him and expose this scam you call ‘relational’ (ironic emphasis) psychoanalysis. Thus I am here to expose all of you sitting there with your phony faces and happy smiles… All of you ‘relational’ actors and actresses playing in this theatrical charade you call psychoanalytic transference. You see, I am an educated man and I am well am acquainted with all of your hocus pocus and healing trickery. So please leave the room now if you can’t stand the truth… But consider yourselves advised: Paranoia is a contagious condition. Your theories won’t protect you. Still, go ahead… Run if you must. Who am I to stop you?
  3. Yeah, yeah, I know that lately you changed your focus from the transference relationship to the real “relationship”… But still you haven’t realized that a relationship implies reciprocity between two separate persons, who relate to each other, because they are able to relate to themselves. In the beginning of this story I couldn’t relate to myself. All I had was his blurred reflection of me… And since my world was a labyrinth of inverted mirrors, I was literally lost inside someone who didn’t even exist. So this is it: there was no relationship between us… And to use the word “relationship” is not only intellectually incorrect but also terribly self-serving.
  4. The first thing I told him was that my mother and father abandoned me and left me to die when I was just a boy. They sent me to a reformatory and when I got back one day, they were gone… To make a long story short: they hated me when I was born and have been haunting me ever since. I felt stalked and harassed, especially by other men, who were sent by my mother to humiliate me, sodomize me and I think even kill me.
  5. So, don’t you see, I have to expose that my dear Dr. Joao is an incompetent analyst who was not even able to believe in me… Empathy my ass! Instead, he diverted my attention with tricks and maneuvers about splitting and projection. And because of him I started to doubt myself… One day I asked him directly: “If it’s not them who are haunting me, who is it then? Let him present himself!” I shouted! … You know what he did? He dared to present myself to me! Can you believe this bullshit? I wanted to kill him, of course… Remember that, doc? Anyway, something changed from then on.
  6. My relationship with others became less destructive because I stopped seeing in others my own destructiveness. As a result of that, I left the hospital and I even got my old job back… I came back to the world. Well, but I held my paranoia tightly and many times I thought the good doctor here was deceiving me – “He’s one of them”, I used to think… “He is my father in disguise, sent by my mother to punish me”. Every session I came in with a new story about how the all world was in cahoots to destroy me, and every session I left convinced that I was projecting into others my own destructive feelings.
  7. Except the main issue remained untouched inside of me and that’s why I am here today: to enlighten him. (Looking at Richard) I’m sorry to humiliate you in front of your colleagues, doc… But I am not exactly over what you said to me once, about me using and holding on to my feelings of anger in order not to take responsibility for my own life and destiny. That was cruel, man! … Even for you.
  8. Ok, so now I’ll explain everything. What have I been telling you doc, all of these years? My entire mental building of beliefs was based on the idea that my mother hated me. I’ve repeated this because I needed you to hold that same belief. So ask yourself: why was that so important to me? I desperately needed you to believe in that idea, since in fact I could not. I had to abolish it from my mind, even though I’ve tried to prove it tenaciously. So ‘welcome to the matrix’: my actual paranoia was that I didn’t believe in my own paranoia.
  9. How is that even possible? Let me once again enlighten you, my dear doc! There’s a difference between knowing something and being aware of it. All along I knew I should have never been born. That really hurts inside… And that’s why I even denied that my birth actually happened. So, I’m still inside the body and soul of the person who didn’t want me to be born. I was not born and therefore I was not abandoned. I do not exist!
  10. But then Reality happened. In other words, you happened when I began to exist inside of you… How did that happen and when did I feel it? There were many moments, but one lingers in my memory. It was Christmas Eve, 2008. I found myself in a train station. Once again I was running away from them. (Today I’m aware that I was not running away from them, I just had nowhere to go, no family, and no friends… I was completely and painfully alone in the world). But lets get back on track… So, they were out there to get me.
  11. Except that for the first time I was certain that they wouldn’t get me because I was about to throw myself in front of a train. I would kill myself and in that way I would destroy my mother and my father. (Looking at Richard) Suddenly, something happened inside my mind as I found myself talking to you, doc… Your voice had an imperative tone and was ordering me not to throw myself in front of the train. Instead, it was ordering me to get into the train and to go directly to your office. I felt compelled to obey your command precisely because I knew what you had in mind: I would get to your office and you would have the police there, waiting to arrest me.
  12. (Looking at the audience) But when I get there, to my complete surprise, he’s alone. The policemen are nowhere to be found. Perhaps they’re just waiting for the right time to jump in through the windows and put me out of my misery. “Yes, that’s it” – I thought to myself – “First he wants me to confess what I’ve done”. And so I complied: “Yes, I’ve falsified my younger brother’s identification documents in order to get myself an engineer’s degree. I robbed the papers and the identity of my mother’s favorite son and for that I deserve to go to jail for the rest of my life. Come on doc, call the police”.
  13. Now, can you imagine what this fucker told me? “I told you to come here, not to arrest you, but to protect you”, he said… Yeah, right! I smiled back at him, of course, not letting him know what I was really thinking. From then on, he knew what I had done so I couldn’t just kill myself, I would have to kill him also… But then he told me that my guilt about falsifying my brother’s document was just to cover up a more profound and ancient guilt: the guilt for having wanted to aggressively fuck my mother (a revenge because of what she had done to me).
  14. Ok, perhaps there’s a little bit of truth in this… But come on doc, you don’t have to be genius to understand what really made a difference that day: I felt you cared for me enough to receive me during your Christmas holidays… Somehow and even if it was just for a little while, I was not alone in the world. I felt embraced and emotionally adopted. From then on I could no longer fully deny that my mother had rejected and abandoned me, otherwise I wouldn’t have felt the need to be emotionally adopted by someone else.
  15. Except this new emotional reality intensified my older conflict. Don’t you get it, doc? By letting me in your heart, you were at the same time forcing me to become aware that I was really abandoned and rejected. You were exposing the wound I had been covering with my paranoia about the all world being against me. To be rejected by the all world allows me to maintain an unconscious attachment to my mother… And now you want me to break this attachment? Do you want me to be aware of it? Impossible! That’s why this is a never-ending story.

Alternative Ending

Richard – Allow me to share a thought: although you have certainly enjoyed embarrassing me in front of my colleagues, perhaps you also came here today in search of new chapter in our story which may provide us with an alternative ending.

João (introspective) – Yes, I came here today to recognize the truth… Recognizing and being aware, as opposed to knowing. Yes, the core of my paranoia is to remain attached to the one who didn’t want me to exist. I cannot deny it anymore. On the contrary, I need to acknowledge it so I can face it and disarm it and reverse it. I need to go 180 degrees around myself and towards the other side of the story, toward the beginning. I need to stop being against the all world, because it was not the all world that was against me in the first place, it was she!(This is a subtle but vital difference). This is it: I need to stop being attached to an absence, a shadow. I need to let go the one who didn’t want me to live inside of her. Except that I cannot do this inside an emotional vacuum. I need to do it inside the heart of someone to whom I can feel strongly attached.

Now can you see it? … This is not a relationship (a mental reality), it’s something else, something more ancient, sensitive, and almost physical: an attachment – A new attachment.

Final Dialogue

Richard – So let me see if I get this right… What you’re saying is that Relational Psychoanalysis is grounded on the preconceived idea that a relationship exists between us… And this is fundamentally wrong?

João – Yes. A relationship would imply a fundamental reciprocity between us, if we were two separate beings able to relate to each other and, reflexively, to ourselves. But we’re not two separate beings. I am attached to you, doc, which means I exist only inside of you.

(Pause, looks down…) Now that we are beginning to make this distinction, I’m also beginning to differentiate myself from you, and in a sense pulling myself from inside of you… Now I’m beginning to exist, and you’re beginning exist, and now we might be able to create a relationship… Yes, now the analysis may begin to come to an end.

(Richard and João change their conference identification cards; Richard is now Richard, and João is now João)

Final comments

  1. Psychoanalysis is not, let alone does it begin with a relationship. It begins with an attachment. Thus, we must differentiate a relationship from an attachment.
  1. Relationship, or To Relate = Re (i.e., again or back to the original place) + late (i.e., from one side to another), which implies (a) the existence of two places or sides and (b) a correspondence between them. From one to another, and vice-versa. Therefore, a relationship implies a correspondence between two separate beings (or persons) who are able to relate to each other and, reflexively, to themselves. This does not accurately describe what psychoanalysis is.
  1. A psychoanalytic patient has an impaired capacity to develop relationships – otherwise he wouldn’t be an analytic patient. In other words, he cannot or at least has difficulties to relate to – or to reflect on – his own emotional experience. So then what happens?
  1. Nothing. Except if someone, in this case the analyst, is able to that for him. The analyst reflects on – or thinks about – the patient’s emotional experience, except the same thing doesn’t happen the other way around. It becomes clear that the reciprocity of a relationship is intentionally suspended in psychoanalysis. The result of it is the generation of a one-sided, asymmetrical situation that is better designated by attachment.
  1. This distinction goes right to the heart of Relational Psychoanalysis because in order to generate an attachment, first of all the analyst must give himself to the patient.
  1. In order to focus on the patient, the analyst abstains from sharing directly his own emotional experience – except the experience that relates, or reflects back to patient. Which means that indirectly the analyst shares something, something that he does not – or should not – ask, nor expect in return.
  1. The analyst actually gives – because he shares without asking the same thing in return – his own personal way of reflecting on or thinking about emotional experiences. It’s not the personal experience itself that is given – that would overcharge the patient’s mind –, but the way through which he processes and transforms his own psychological life. It’s not the content of his mind, but the way it works – or doesn’t work – when faced with the patient’s psychological traumas, disruptions and events.
  1. If the way through which the analyst’s mind works adjusts appropriately and specifically to that unique patient, the patient becomes immediately and automatically attached. In other words, his mind becomes attached to the analyst’s mind. It’s important to emphasize that the patient holds on to the analyst, but – or because – the analyst doesn’t hold on to the patient. On the contrary, the analyst holds the patient’s mind inside his own mind. (That’s why it is not a relationship, but an attachment).
  1. As the attachment evolves, the patient’s undreamt dreams and interrupted cries (Ogden, 2005, pg. 23) come to life, continue and develop inside the analyst’s unconscious mind. By being hold and transformed inside the analyst’s mind, the patient’s mind receives a transfusion of energy and gradually becomes able to hold itself. This is a very sensible, almost physical and totally unconscious process – and may never need to be become conscious (Stern, 2006). The patient can feel it, but probably will never be able to think about it. (Except perhaps when, later in life, he becomes able to hold inside his own mind the mind of another human being.)
  1. The analyst must not only facilitate but also promote sensibly the implantation of patient’s fragile mind inside his own mind, where it can germinate, grow and develop into a full sense of Self. Only after this long process of emotional transfusion can the patient pull himself out from within the analyst’s emotional womb. And only then will he be able to develop what we call relationships.

And the last but not the least: The more profoundly and genuinely the analyst absorbs and attaches, holds and feels inside his own mind the patient’s feelings, the more of himself – of who he actually is as person – will be given to the patient. Therefore, and as Sacha Nacht once said, the analyst is worth more for whom he is than for what he says.

Now, to conclude: we have posited throughout this presentation that psychoanalysis is not a relationship but a work of construction of the psychological foundations of a relationship, which begins with the generation of an attachment.

Although these two phenomena stand and exist only within a dialectical tension between them, one precedes the other. We believe that this distinction is useful at least because we, as therapists, are probably more capable of constructing something without the preconceived idea that it is there from the beginning.

Therefore, we may define analysis as a developmental journey: from attachment (one mind inside of another) towards relationship (two separate minds relating to each other). In other words, it is the separation of souls after they had become one. To become one with the patient is not a process of knowing the patient (that is actually unadvised), but of being aware of the patient: of thinking, feeling and being as much as possible what the patient is thinking, feeling and being.

In this presentation, I became the patient. In this sense, I became my own “Necessary Fiction”.


Stern, D. (2006). The present moment in psychotherapy and everyday life. New York: Norton Press.

Ogden, T.H. (2005). This art of psychoanalysis. New York: Routledge.

To contact João Pedro Dias and Richard Raubolt, their email addresses are:

João Pedro Dias:

Richard Raubolt:

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