Response to Merkin's "My Life in Therapy"

 For those seeking a career in the psychoanalytic realm or treatment, Daphne Merkin’s New York Times article, “My Life In Therapy: What Forty Years In Therapy Has Taught Me” gives one pause.  Merkin while appreciating therapy as “a safety valve” that “buffered her and prodded her forward,” questions the “veneer of caring,” the degree to which a therapist really listens, really holds a patient in his mind: “Did he ever think of me when I wasn’t in front of him.” Among the multitude of disappointments, she notes “no therapist ever offered to take me home or adopt me so much as a single night, like the British child psychiatrist D.W. Winnicott , (my ideal shrink) did with one of his patients.” 

Would Winnicott have been the “perfect therapist” or fit,  Merkin was in search of?  Or would he have been the Winicottian “good enough” therapist who while generally empathic and attuned to the patient’s wishes, often disappoints. A paradox in therapy is that a certain amount of failure is necessary for a successful treatment. It is more a question as to how lapses and ruptures are metabolized in the overall treatment so that the therapist survives as “good enough.”  In a paradoxical way, the perfect therapist would hardly be perfect.  For that would deny the patient the capacity of being in a more “real” relationship, to struggle with the limits of empathy and to develop a more resilient approach to others’ otherness. 

For all the analytic modalities—from Freudian to Self-Psychology to Interpersonal—as therapists we are asked to participate in and observe a patient’s world of attachment.  Transferentially, we are to be hated, to be loved, and, ultimately, ambivalently embraced in a way that helps a patient shift towards a more creative, genuine, spontaneous true self—to paraphrase Winnicott. 

For those considering analytic training, looking for the “perfect” institute.   PPSC offers something far better:  a caring, creative, rigorous mix of modalities, a diverse, brainy and committed faculty—in short, a level of complexity that resists easy answers and quick fixes. And in Winnicottian terms that is beyond “good enough.”