by Susan Kavaler-Adler, Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt., NCPsyA
He said that I would look bad if I spoke of his behavior towards me. I was silenced. Now I am speaking up. From the end to the middle:
Before the final blow from the senior male training analyst, throwing me out of my treatment, there was the man’s paranoia. This was all part of the silencing. Following the tale of seduction and betrayal that I will tell, the much older male analyst puffed himself up and proclaimed, without any conversation between us leading up to this, “You cannot damage my reputation!” Out of the blue, this man, whom I will call Dr. T. made this declaration, defending himself against the exposure from me telling my tale. Ironically, I was totally focused on holding onto him in any way that I could. My mind was not at all on talking about him to others at that point. I was trying to figure out why he didn’t think we could work together anymore, and why we couldn’t talk about what happened.” Although Dr. T. had gone to a senior colleague for consultation, he ultimately threw me out after five minutes, saying, “If you don’t get out of my office now, I will call the police!” To cover himself, or so it seemed, he said: “You can call me for an appointment some other time!”
When I actually did call for an appointment, he gave me a time. However, when I made the long trip to show up, he said we had nothing to talk about. He would not talk to me! So, I got up to leave, after about 10 minutes into the session time. Then, as I walked out, he took one last swipe at me, as I passed by him. He tauntingly said: “This is the first time you are leaving the session on time.” He didn’t mention that he used to keep me for 15 minutes after a session, speaking with me, which went back to a time when he demonstrated that he was in love with me. I didn’t realize till later, that when I came back that last time, even after he threatened to call the police to remove me, and while I was still desperately hoping we could talk about what happened, that he only said I could still have one more appointment so that he couldn’t be accused by APA of an unethical professional abandonment. When I look back, I see that I was still foolish enough to think we could talk. Yet, how could we? Dr. T. had accused me before of not speaking and of not defining my anger. When I had finally expressed my anger, he had said I was really angry at someone else, someone onto whom I had displaced all my transferential feelings for him. Then, in that last appointment he said we had nothing to talk about. I left early. He made gestures as if he was Mr. Clean, right out of the bottle. He had already declared, “I think this is all inside of you, Susan.” Then he smirked and shot out his last provocative: “This is the first time you are leaving on time!” I had to swallow it and leave. I thought I could have gone crazy if not for friends, and my loving husband, but I had also become alienated from my husband while seeing Dr. T.
It was after 17 years of me seeing Dr. T. for psychoanalytic treatment that he declared he would call the police if I didn’t immediately leave his office. In an instant he proclaimed: “I can’t work with you!” I wanted to talk about it. He said: “I will call the police if you don’t get out of my office,” as if I wasn’t entitled to the session time for which I had been paying. In the end, Dr. T. explicitly blamed it all on me. He tried to silence me. The scapegoating trauma of my early life was compounded by the demand for silence.
I will tell the tale now, from the time when this senior psychoanalyst passionately declared that my legs were gorgeous, while he also implied that my husband was inadequate in only declaring my legs to be “nice.” This was something with which I might have agreed, except that later, Dr. T. said that he would love to kiss my feet, and implied, even more strenuously, that my husband couldn’t appreciate me. He actually said that my husband would never be taken over by the intense desire to kiss my feet. Things got increasingly weird. Then, when I started having intense erotic desire towards him––which in a normal psychoanalysis would be a subject for analysis––as the analyst facilitates the patient symbolizing in words, Dr. T. said more quietly: “It is both of us Susan. I have the same feelings for you that you have for me.” This was tantalizing for me, but also threatening. I departed that session overwhelmed and over stimulated. When I spoke about this in my session the following week, Dr. T. criticized me for not knowing how to use my husband over the weekend, implying, but not saying it overtly, that I should express my sexual desire for him in sex with my husband in order to relieve myself of the sexual charge. But more threatening was the seductive way in which he said he had all the same desires for me that I was starting to feel for him. This really shut me down!
Then Dr. T. was enraged that I shut down. From then on, he was probably retaliating constantly, until the last strike at me as I walked out after ten minutes, when he said we had “nothing to talk about,” and then flung out at me an even more pointed comment. As I got up to leave, filled with a sense of the hopelessness of it all, he commented: “This is the first time you are leaving a session on time!”
My analyst’s sharing his reciprocal desire for me had an impact on me that was the opposite of the impact for which he might have hoped. His confession didn’t open me up to him. Instead, it shut me down. I failed to tell him any sexual fantasies about him, and he retaliated in a punishing way, as he seemed driven mad by me withholding my feelings and fantasies from him. Dr. T. no longer get anything sexual out of me anymore. And since I was supposed to say everything that came to my mind, I told myself that I had to say out loud, one day, that, as he was standing by the door, Dr. T. looked a little older now. In a flash, Dr. T. slammed me with an outraged rebuttal, “You’re just saying that because you are so attracted to me!”
Instead of encouraging me to open up for the analysis of my unconscious conflicts around love and erotic desire that lay behind my erotic transference––which I had done with my own psychoanalytic patients––my analyst’s open desire for me profoundly silenced me! How come he didn’t know how my superego would rebel against me for the psychic incest between us, as he stood in for my father in the transference? So, he would go from acting like my father to acting like my mother. He turned from open desire to critical judgments of me. He had declared not only desire, but also love for me. He had told me I was in his heart. But it was the day when he said he had the same erotic desires for me as I had for him that I began emotionally withdrawing––without being able to feel any of my feelings, because feeling would have meant feeling my rage. Without my anger, and without bringing to consciousness the more powerful primal rage that psychic incest can evoke, I was forced into a masochistic position, just like I had been in my family when young. But, back in my childhood, at least I could act out, without feeling I had to protect my parents from my rage. With my psychoanalyst I could only withdraw and numb out! I could only start to distrust my own perceptions. This was worsened by the fact that this had also happened to me with another psychoanalyst, who had previously gotten over-involved with me.
Today, however, I can tell the story!!! In doing so I can indicate, and perhaps even teach, how a psychoanalytic patient’s erotic transference can be misused by an unscrupulous analyst. My goal is to teach, by contrast, how important it is for a psychoanalytic patient to have a symbolic avenue to the safe expression of erotic transference. I will attempt to show my own masochistic dynamics in reaction to seduction and betrayal. By opening my own clinical travesty to scrutiny and dialogue, I hope to inform others of the dangers of psychic incest in psychoanalytic treatment. I will also be maintaining the legitimacy and clinical usefulness of proper symbolic work with erotic transference.
Before and after He called my Legs Gorgeous and Wanted to Kiss My Feet
The prologue that had led up to Dr. T. effusively saying that my legs were gorgeous and that he wanted to kiss my feet lasted for many years. There were years of defense and interpretations of psychic conflict. There had also been years of support and interest in my professional work in the field, which, possibly, may have also stirred up envy in Dr. T. And, to be honest there had also been years of emotionally alive relatedness that had helped me connect much more deeply and empathically with my patients. In fact, there was one day when Dr. T. made a point of telling me that I did have the capacity for intimacy, and he was obviously enjoying the emotional intimacy as was I. Then there was a day when Dr. T. came over and held my hand as I lay on the couch because he said, “Maybe I was feeling too lonely to open up.” Then as he held my hand, which of course did feel comforting, he suddenly backed away on his chair exclaiming that the situation was getting too sexual! Now I hadn’t been feeling sexual with him, so my guess is that he meant he had gotten turned on, and even possibly having an erection while holding my hand. However, at least in his backing away at this time, Dr. T. still inhabited the role of being a psychoanalyst. Nevertheless, he was having some masturbatory experience that he spoke of as being a mutual situation. Yet it was not at all mutual, from my perspective, at that time.
Then there were signs of Dr. T. having fallen in love with me, and, in response, I was confused, gratified, and threatened by what was going on, all at once. Once, as I was leaving a session, Dr. T. thought he heard me call to him after I was outside of his inner office. He charged out into the waiting room, and his voice came out as if he was in a delirium of love. In this voice, he cried out, “Susan! Yes Susan. What is it?” I saw he was acting like he was a young boy who had fallen in love for the first time. I felt both helpless and powerful at once, not knowing what to say. I just said: “No. I wasn’t calling you.”
This kind of behavior on an older male analyst’s part might have seemed stranger to another female patient than it did to me. Why was that? I had had a former male analyst, who had blatantly displayed a highly charged emotional romance he was having with a female patient. He displayed his feelings about the patient, along with hers about him, in a therapy group of which I was a member. So, I had seen this love affair between analyst and patient as something that could be part of analysis. Little did I know about how much this kind of love affair would undermine the atmosphere needed for a clinical treatment! Nor did I suspect the kind of aggression that would follow from the analyst. It seemed to me that these first two male analysts, with whom I had been in treatment, considered love affairs with patients to be a kosher part of psychoanalysis. In fact, they turned potential erotic transference work into a game called the erotic transference and erotic countertransference game. Aren’t there schools of psychoanalysis which consider some acting out the primal enactment, oedipal and preoedipal, to be a necessary key to the whole treatment? Knowing this encouraged me to doubt my own perceptions of the dangers in what was going on.
Given all the related experiences in my background, I chose to ignore the signs that something out of control was about to happen. However, at least I did start to become uncomfortable and suspicious, as Dr. T. seemed to arbitrarily touch my body here and there. Once I came back from a psychoanalytic conference, where I had been listening to a panel speak about how to handle therapeutic situations when patients wanted to touch the analyst, hug, or kiss, or have the analyst touch them. I had always discouraged a patient wanting to hug or kiss me, since I had had too much hugging from that earlier analyst who was engaging in Gestalt therapy, and who was the one who openly displayed his love affair with a patient to the members of a therapy group.
As an analyst myself, I always backed away from a patient trying to touch or hug or kiss me, and, would politely ask the patient to put the feelings into words, rather than actions. This was very effective in many cases, as the patient might then have tears come to their eyes as they felt their loving feelings for the analyst. By feeling it, rather than by acting it out in a hug, they would then know the meaning of what they were feeling, and, would be able to better understand what was emerging from their unconscious desires and emotions. Putting the loving feelings into words helped my patients to move to a symbolic level of communicating feelings through putting feelings into words to be communicated to others. Typically, this would develop into intimacy and caring. Such verbal communication would also help patients to better communicate with themselves about the meaning of what they were feeling. Of course, this also extended to helping them put intense sexual fantasies, which involved the analyst, into words. This process of talking rather than acting was part and parcel of understanding a whole pattern of erotic transference.
However, as time went on in my treatment, Dr. T. was not choosing to communicate in words, although he did speak the critical words that he had desires for me equal to my desires for him. However, when he was rebuffed by my emotional withdrawal after this, he responded in two ways: reaching out to more and touching me more. Dr. T. was trying to reach me by touching me physically. Simultaneously, he started to verbally attack me in aggressive and reprimanding ways, including sadistically belittling me.
When I returned from a conference in which I listened to the panel discuss patients wishing to touch the analyst, and be touched by the analyst, I had an important message for Dr. T. In fact, this was one of the few times when I asserted myself in this overall situation of the analyst’s seduction and retaliations for his frustration. I said quite frankly to Dr. T., “I heard this panel in which they spoke about how to handle patients who felt they needed to be touched, but the wish to touch was coming from the patient, not the analyst.” Dr. T. responded immediately, in an emergency state of fear it seemed. He said, “It will stop immediately!” (meaning his touching me). I guess he was aware that actual physical touching of a patient could lead to a legal case of sexual misconduct by a therapist. He added, “There’s no sexual obsession!” But this latter statement appears to me now as a good example of Freud’s theory of “negation” or Shakespeare’s theory of “She doth protest too much!” In other words, Freud was speaking of how a statement of negation can mean the exact opposite, since the unconscious could be speaking in opposites where “no” means “yes.” Dr. T. declared he had no sexual obsession, as if I had accused him of that, which I hadn’t. Dr. T. was coming from his own unconscious psyche, or guilt, possibly denying the very obsession about me in which he found himself trapped.
And then there was the emotional drama of my response to Dr. T.’s wife’s death. I was so overly involved in my feelings for Dr. T., beyond the usual oedipal and preoedipal transference states, that I felt a surge of intense grief for the death of his wife––a woman who I did not know. In fact, I broke out in quite a few moments of helpless sobbing when I learned from Dr. T. about the death of his wife. He had told me she was quite ill, because he had to change his schedule with people to care for her. He had dropped one of my three sessions a week, as he had done with other patients. Then she died, and he let me know. After I sat and vented sobs and cries for several minutes, upon hearing of his wife’s death, Dr. T. seemed quite moved by my display of grief for him. Dr. T. said to me that the loss of his wife was the biggest loss he had ever suffered, and he joined us together by comparing my father’s death when I was ten years old to the death of his wife. We felt very close to each other then. But what was to follow?
As we continued our sessions, Dr. T. expressed open jealousy about me and another man. He also yelled at me one day for exhibiting my romantic life to him. However, once Dr. T. fell in love with me, and exposed his own desire, his retaliations took the form of increasingly hostile comments. He could not stand that I was not reciprocating his desire with desire of my own. At least that is what I surmise. His hostility peaked on the day when he wanted to give me back my third session, following his cutting back sessions to care for his wife. I got upset because he didn’t want to give me back a session on a Wednesday, when I had formerly had a third session. Instead, he wanted to give me a session on a Friday. Since Fridays had been my writing day, I balked at his suggestion. It was then that he erupted into his telling me that, “I can’t work with you!” When I said I wanted to discuss what, if anything, I did, and why he was so angry at me, he got fiercer. It was then that he viciously declared: “If you don’t get out of my office, I will call the police!” This was ten minutes into a session. This was 17 years after I began to come to sessions with Dr. T. three or 4 times a week. This felt like the ultimate betrayal!!
Nevertheless, it does occur to me, in retrospect, that it could have been so much more horrible if he allowed me to stay. Both my psychoanalysis and my life were going down the drain. Dr. T. and I entered a sadomasochistic cycle together. He seemed to be acting out his rage at his mother with me. This is plausible since Dr. T. had actually told me that, as a child, he would scream at his mother until she threatened to send him to reform school. Here he repeated things–– it seemed, in reverse, with me in his mother’s role. He said that he would call the police. My next analyst found this scene astonishing, saying, “He was going to call the police on you?!!!” Yes, how ironic! I was perceived by Dr. T., in his paranoia, as such a threat! Meanwhile, my inner reality was of feeling like a child still clinging to her mother, crying out in longing to be understood, and in the hope that some reparative communication could take place. My romantic father transference had evaporated. Dr. T. was my mother now. We had both regressed, way before the Oedipal. In some strange way we were both fighting for our lives. In truth, my analysis had been over long ago.
I went to two other psychoanalysts after Dr. T. The last one was a Kleinian who never responded to romantic feelings. It was all about aggression, and he would immediately interpret the wish for sexual excitement, since he had a definite belief that this wish for sexual excitement was a defense against aggressive wishes and a primal rage hunger. By contrast, I always had received sexual wishes in words from patients, helping them to reach a developmental capacity to speak their intense romantic and erotic longings. However, my Kleinian analyst also had definite beliefs that one does not participate in sharing erotic feelings (or any feelings) with the patient. Instead he would put into words what the patient thinks the analyst is feeling or thinking. For the analyst, to share his erotic feelings with the patient would be seen by him as eroticizing the analysis. My Kleinian analyst would immediately interpret the defensive aspects of my own erotic fantasies and wishes. For me, this was a corrective to what I had experienced with Dr. T. However, I believe there is much psychoanalytic territory in-between if approached carefully and thoughtfully, where I have gone many times, successfully, with patients.
I have published many cases that illustrate this, e.g., “Mourning and erotic transference” (International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 1992); “Lesbian homoerotic transference in dialectic with developmental mourning: On the way to symbolism from the protosymbolic” (Psychoanalytic Psychology, 2003); and “Erotic transference: A journey of passion and symbolization” (MindConsiliums, 2014). In all these articles, I demonstrate how critical clinical process is developmentally advanced through a focus on the erotic transference fantasies of the patient. The developmental journey towards symbolization is seen in parallel with self-integration and separation-individuation as the erotic transference fantasies unfold, and are put into words by the analysand. Progress is made in each treatment towards integrating love and desire, and towards owning split off parts of the self, and thus evolving ego capacities for self-reflection and observing ego, as well as for psychic dialectic, as whole object engagement develops in erotic fantasy, which is expressed in words, and is not acted out within the treatment situation. Depressive position’s (Klein, 1940) capacities for compassion, concern, existential guilt felt as heartfelt grief, and the expanding experience of one’s own interiority – are all developed along with the capacity to express erotic desires in words, and particularly erotic transference desires and passions, which are whole object related, and not just part-object eroticization.
In speaking of this, I need to mention a paper by the now deceased Muriel Dimen entitled “Lapsus linguae, or a slip of the tongue? A sexual violation in an analytic treatment and its personal and theoretical aftermath” (Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 2011). In this paper, Dimen speaks of her own analysis with a seductive analyst, who seems to have unconsciously manipulated and betrayed her, as Dr. T. did with me. However, for Dimen, the male analyst’s overture of a passionate kiss was split off from the physical reality of her analysis, as it took place at a conference. The out-of-touch analyst somehow believed that when he and Muriel Dimen returned to the treatment room after the conference, that everything would be the same. He acted as if the analysis would proceed, as before, uninterrupted and unchanged.
The “kiss” experience seems to have been a gas lighting provocation that was totally denied by the analyst’s formal behavior in the treatment room. The analyst was obviously choosing to stay unaccountable for his behavior. As in my story with Dr. T., the seduction and betrayal by the analyst was horrifically confusing and crazy-making for the analysand (patient). In writing about her experience, Dimen, like me, evidenced a belief that telling our idiosyncratic stories will help analysts understand the breakdown of boundaries in treatment, so that we can all practice better psychoanalysis in the future.
Dimen, M. (2011). Lapsus linguae, or a slip of the tongue? A sexual violation in an analytic treatment and its personal and theoretical aftermath. Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 47 (1), 36-79.
Kavaler-Adler, S. (1993). Mourning and erotic transference. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 73 (3), 527-539. [Reprinted in J. Schaverien (ed.), Gender, countertransference and erotic transference. London: Routledge, 2006.]
Kavaler-Adler, S. (2003). Lesbian homoerotic transference in dialectic with developmental mourning: On the way to symbolism from the protosymbolic. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 20 (1), 131-152. [Reprinted in J. Schaverien (ed.), Gender, countertransference, and erotic transference, (pp. 157-183). London: Routledge, 2006.]
Kavaler-Adler, S. (2014). Erotic transference: A journey of passion and symbolization. MindConsilliums 14 (1), 19-43.
Klein, M. (1940). Mourning and its relation to manic depressive states. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 21, 125-153.
Bio of the Author:
Susan Kavaler-Adler (Ph.D., ABPP, D.Litt., NCPsyA) is a Fellow of the American Board and Academy of Psychoanalysis, and is the Founder and Executive Director of the Object Relations Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. Dr. Kavaler-Adler has practiced as a Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalyst for 4years. She is a Training Analyst and Senior Supervisor, and has a monthly online private supervision group, as well as a writing group, and a monthly “Mourning, Therapy, and Support Group.” She is on the editorial board of the “International Journal of Controversial Discussions” (Arnold Richards, M.D., editor and chief). Dr. Kavaler-Adler is a prolific author and theorist. She has published 6 books and over 65 journal articles and edited book chapters. Some published books are: “The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers” (ORI Academic Press 2013, formerly published by Routledge in London and New York in 1993); “The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity” (ORI Academic Press 2014, formerly Routledge in London, 1996); “Mourning, Spirituality and Psychic Change: A New Object Relations View of Psychoanalysis” (Routledge 2003; Gradiva Award from NAAP 2004); “The Anatomy of Regret: From Death Instinct to Reparation and Symbolization in Vivid Case Studies” (Karnac 2013, now Karnac-Routledge); “The Klein-Winnicott Dialectic: Transformative New Metapsychology and Interactive Clinical Theory”). Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s website is http://www.kavaleradler.com
If you would like to contact Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler, her email is: firstname.lastname@example.org