Putting the analysts on the couch

IN ``Fine,'' a new comic novel by Boston psychiatrist Samuel Shem, an analyst's wife says to her husband, ``You used to be funny, lively, daring! Now you're so wooden -- every response is like there's a two-second tape delay, censoring. Why are analysts so weird?'' The phenomenon of wives, patients, even other analysts analyzing analysts and finding them somewhat wanting is nothing new. What would a Woody Allen film be without the obligatory ``shrink'' joke? But now we seem to have arrived at open season on the species.

The journalist Janet Malcolm has called psychoanalysis ``the impossible profession'' in the title of her case study of an analyst. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Miss Malcolm notes that analysts can be simultaneously obtuse and ``bullying.'' She argues, not altogether flatteringly, that they must combine ``some of the qualities of oracles, lawyers, and hairdressers.''

After reviewing taped sessions of analysts in action, she writes: ``It would be nice to think that there are wiser and larger-souled people doing analysis . . . but . . . '' And then she goes on to suggest that too many analysts have a gift for being silent when they should talk and talking when they should be silent.

Even the father of all the father figures, Sigmund Freud, is coming in for some rude desanctifying these days. Jeffrey Masson, at one time projects director of the Freud Archives, has accused the master of fudging his research on a critical point. Once treated as reverentially as a saint, Freud is now routinely described as a somewhat fickle if not treacherous friend -- ``as mean-spirited as anyone,'' in the phrase of one journalist.

Why are analysts, from the very first analyst on down, suddenly getting such very bad notices? A number of cracks are certainly showing. Freud and a lot of his followers have been perceived by feminists as no friends of women, either in their theories or their practices.

Drugs have become the new fashionable panacea -- promising a quicker fix than 10 years of recalling one's childhood.

Thomas Szasz and a few other psychiatrists have been warning for years that theirs is not the precise discipline most analysts have laid claim to.

In short, this purported science that began as the demystifier of all other myths is being seen -- fatal vision! -- as one of the great myths itself.

And for this we appear inclined to make the analysts pay, as if they, the retailers, were responsible for selling us, the consumers, false goods.

Are we going through a revolt -- something like what Miss Malcolm calls ``patients' lib'' -- because analysts permitted us to think they were priests of white magic?

This aloofness has been rationalized as necessary to the cure -- part of the technique. But the historical moment may have come when laymen, as we are known, refuse to accept the subtle tyrannies implicit in the rules of the game of therapy.

Something profoundly democratic seems to be occurring. It is as if we can forgive analysts for not possessing The Answer. What we cannot forgive is their refusal, for whatever reason, to be human.

Back to ``Fine'' and that analyst's discontented wife. Speaking for ``patients' lib'' -- and maybe even analysts' lib -- she says to her husband: ``I really think that sitting there with your patients for all those hours, listening and not being allowed to say what you really feel, is a very unnatural act. They pour out their hearts and you say nothing! Human beings are not built that way.''

Human beings are not built that way. In phrases like this -- demanding a brotherhood and sisterhood of aspiration, unlimited by anybody's theories -- the analyzers of analysts are trying to set everybody free, including the analysts. A partial explanation of life, having to pretend to be the whole explanation, can be the worst tyranny of all. A Wednesday and Friday column

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