My Analysis with the Spirit of Professor Sigmund Freud: Toward a Collaborative Case History

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River Malcolm

Eastsound, WA

Approaching this case history requires wrestling with resistances I find challenging. Your presence now as reader, and your anticipated presence while I was writing, is a tremendous support. The truth – that we can face fears together that we cannot face alone – lies (for me) at the very heart of the analytic adventure.

That little word “lies” – my initially unconscious pun– says it all, and suggests why “necessary fictions,” the title of the 2014 IFPE conference, for which I originally began this project, is so compelling.

My analysis with the spirit of Professor Freud began in January 1992. We continued through the summer of 1997, until the analysis was interrupted by mutual consent. For various reasons, I did not return to analysis as planned.

Fourteen years later, in late summer 2011, following the deaths of two beloved dogs, I returned to analysis with Professor Freud. The second analytic episode was interrupted by a pilgrimage on the Camino del Santiago in Spain, and despite having made an appointment to return, I never did so.

In 2014, the Professor and I agreed to begin a case history of our work together, and to present the preparatory stages of our collaborative effort at the IFPE necessary Ffictions” conference.

Colleagues have asked me what made my fictional Professor Freud seem so real to me. Of course he wasn’t always as present as I wanted him to be. During one session he commented how odd that someone who was usually so content with her life in every way should feel dissatisfied with his presence in that particular session.

On the other hand, the way the Professor appeared so unexpectedly in the beginning of the first analysis, and the ongoing element of surprise, made him real to me. This included his ability to look at things from a perspective that was startling for me, including his humor that often made me laugh out loud. In his presence, I was not alone. However immersed I might be in painful thoughts and feelings, I was held in his intelligence and his caring. My strong attachment to him made it possible to face my fears, and to move toward my dreams.

One motive for this project emerged after my retirement, as I lived my dream of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (a wilderness trail between Mexico and Canada). I walked, surrounded by ever-changing beauty– mountains, trees, sky, surprises that wait at each new crest and around every corner. On the trail I was truly happy. Reflecting on the years when my life had been hell, I wondered, “How did I get here? How did I find my way out of hell into heaven?”

As a therapist I was often skeptical about theories and models of therapy; they seemed unreliable maps of the territory of the unique individuals I encountered. When occasionally I witnessed people moving through profound transformations, I felt more like an innocent bystander than a guide.

The riddle of my own happiness as I walked the trail, the question, “How I did I get here?” intrigues me – and I also hope that the question may prove fruitful for others. This question brought me back to my work with Professor Freud.

To give you a little more of the context of my relationship with Freud: In the summer of 1987, my partner Chris and I visited the Freud Museum in London together. At that time Freud’s large collection of antiquities was not yet on formal display. When Chris asked if Freud had any figures of Sehkmet, the Egyptian goddess of destruction (who had been the namesake of our first cat and had inspired our honeymoon in Egypt), the museum director opened the cabinet and invited Chris to look through the collection. An analyst from San Francisco, gazing at that open cabinet, exclaimed, “I had no idea Freud was such a Jungian” – which became the opening story for Chris’ series of lectures on Freud that year at the Jung Institute in Switzerland that summer.

When Chris finished the last of those lectures, on Freud and Death, a young man who was dying of lung cancer came to the stage and silently hugged her. Their long hug lingered in my mind.

Let’s move in time now to January 1992. At the end of December, I am delivering my mother to the ferry after her first visit to our new home on Orcas Island. Watching Mother wrestle with her heavy suitcase while trying to run on her painful hip to catch the ferry, to which I had delivered her late, summed up a lifetime of messy endings.

I think my pull to Freud, particularly as Chris imagined him, came from a sense that he could teach me to make peace with the brokenness of life, to accept limits and endings and live them with grace.

Back home, I found myself angry at Chris. My journal entry for Jan. 3 1997 reads:

Inferiority is a terrible thing. There is a murderous rage that goes with it. I am furious with Chris for being so functional, for organizing our lives, so my debt to her grows and grows and grows, and with it my shame that I shall never be capable, never good enough, to pay what I owe.

I felt myself crying, realizing that the depression truly is returning, that I must return to Jane and/or medications. (Jane was the Jungian analyst with whom I had terminated, having traded in my dream of becoming a Jungian analyst for our beautiful new home close to the natural world).

Of course there is great shame in returning to Jane – (since I really do not have any extra money, given the mortgage payment) and fear as well as shame in returning to medication – fear of the meds not working, of an untreatable, deteriorating depression.

The part of me that wants to get suicidal is all about that fear and shame – I want to translate it to tenderness, wanting to stop the pain, give me a sense of power.

I cry “Help” to my inner world and entities of other dimensions. “Someone, something, please help.”

A calm voice speaks to me. “Just say whatever comes into your mind. Don’t censor anything.” I find myself in the consulting room of Sigmund Freud, lying on his couch, on the birthing rug. Of course my anger at Chris comes up. He agrees to work with me.

The goal – to help me find aspects of myself I respect and appreciate. To understand the unconscious sources of my dark impulses—like wanting to destroy Chris. To learn to accept –and sublimate – that darkness.

He speaks of his friendship with Jung—that he agrees to work with me because Chris and I have a chance to resolve those archetypal currents and dramas differently than he and Jung did.

And now, coming forward to 2014, I want to share a fragment of a conversation with Freud to give you a glimpse of our attempt to create a collaborative approach to writing the case history.

Good Morning Professor.

Good morning Ms. Malcolm. How are you this morning?

I am a mess — miserable, discouraged, and filled with self-pity. Definitely in a mood to regress to being the patient. And you?

I could easily regress to being the analyst this morning. Would you like to join me in a regression a deux?

Sure, what have I got to lose?

At the risk of pretending that nothing is lost in regression, may I suggest that the best way out of your mess might be to look at it, and see what unknown possibilities might be present?

You were a good analyst, Professor. Duh. But even after years of analysis I still hate accepting and looking at my messes. I hate that writing, presenting, or any other meaningful engagement with the unknown, especially the unknown in other humans – forces me to walk through so god damn many messes. It feels like I have regressed to hell and will dwell here forever.

That’s the nature of hell, is it not? It has a certain transcendent flare, if one thinks about it. Pain and suffering that go on forever. Mortality transcended through agony.

I am not sure I appreciate your humor at my expense.

Oh, don’t worry. I am not charging.

You are such a brat, Professor.

From you who are such a consummate brat, I will take that as a compliment and a recognition of common ground on which to build our future relationship as colleagues.

And how are you now, Ms. Malcolm?

Professor Freud, I’m a mess.

I had no idea that hell could be such a wish fulfillment. Motionless, paralyzed – the perfect opposite of free association. You escape entirely the uncertainty of living in time, as well as the possibility of beauty that might be worth the pain.

There! See – you are just a voice I am creating. You are using my phrase “beauty worth the pain.” You don’t really exist and I can’t rely on you and this whole presentation is going to be a failure because it will be only me and you won’t be there and I might as well kill myself right now.

What a splendidly creative idea. How will you do it?

You really are a brat.

Well at least it’s a fresh possibility. A little more interesting that being stuck in hell. How will you do it?

It doesn’t seem feasible right now to drive out into the desert and wander off without food and water and wait. It’s been a long time – I don’t even know how to think about the logistics of suicide anymore.

A pity. It sounded quite interesting.

Would you be interested in the logistics of our presentation? How are we going to incorporate your presence?

Yes I am wondering that too.

We could present something in your voice, or a conversation. I can’t think of any other options, can you?

I could show up in my tutu and do a little dance. Or hang from the ceiling by one hand on a swing. Professor ex machina. How would you like for me to appear?

I would like you to appear by a miracle, with no planning and no responsibility on my part, proving that you have an independent existence and that I am not your creator.

This is hard for you, isn’t it, my dear? Differentiating me from my historical former self, from all your projections that gave me a godlike existence you could count on, that wasn’t a function of your own wish fulfillments and illusions?

But you aren’t just a function of my own wishes and illusions. You do see things I can’t see, and surprise me, and make jokes I could never make. You do have an independent existence.

Fancy that. And here I thought I was called into existence by you. It’s interesting, though, that your wish for me to have powers I don’t have is now being thwarted. So that you are forced by this role change to face the very frustrations one faces with an actual other.

You knew I couldn’t possibly be the literal historical Freud – but you trusted your experience and felt that you could depend on me. I am not belittling that, or even denying that it is a kind of truth. How brave of you really, how brave of both of us, to step outside your myth.

But Professor, why do we have to do this?

My dear Ms, Malcolm, as I have pointed out to you any number of times, you left the analysis, you’ve already killed both of us in the sense of the patient-analyst myth you constructed. Do you think if I sent away Dora, who left me after such a short time, that you whom I had five years to become attached to, and whom I allowed to return once – do you really think I would have allowed you to use analysis as an endless breast from which you could suck whenever you pleased without any need to honor your agreements? We had a date for you to return and I never heard from you again. You cast me into oblivion. I lacked even the power to write a case history to avenge myself upon you.

You have that now.

Yes, I have that now and I am doing so with great relish.

You are making me laugh and love you, Professor.

Of course. You can laugh at my aggression as a mother might laugh at an angry toddler. Because I am no longer large enough to be either a salvation or a threat. I am like that little Freud action figure in your office, a toy with which you can play.

Professor this is not leading us any closer to a presentation.

I don’t care about the presentation. The best way to avenge myself on you for abandoning me and the analysis is to refuse to help you and let you go to IFPE and be just as embarrassed as you fear you will be.

You don’t think that co-creating this history will be a meaningful adventure for you as well as for me?

I am not entirely sure I want to join you in a meaningful adventure for which you will receive the entire credit, which will leave me dead – a creature of your imagination whom you will discard when I am no longer of use. Just as you did twice now at the end of our fragmentary analyses. And if I were to develop an engagement of my own with this task, the chances are that you would end it before I believed it was complete.

How can I convince you to give me a chance to do things differently?

Although you seem to think I have cured you, or you have cured yourself – I am not at all convinced. You want me to risk being carelessly cast aside again – for your sake. What’s in it for me? Why should I?

You’re the one who taught me to love beauty in the face of transience. You’re the one who wished that Chris and I could surpass you and Jung by accepting our murderous impulses and not being afraid to look at them. You’re the one who keeps telling me that you love analysis; that you want to be close to the living, breathing world of ideas; that you want to go on being part of the conversation.

Ms. Malcolm, do you see me leaving?

River Malcolm may be contacted at

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