Are Psychoanalysts Ever “Off-Duty?”

First, a disclaimer. I don’t go around listening in to conversations at nearby tables, on the street, the bus, or anywhere else. Maybe I should say I don’t try to listen. I can’t help it if you’re going to speak loudly enough for everyone in the general area to hear you. This isn’t about why people think others need to hear what they’re saying, so enough of that. It’s just a disclaimer. Period. Done.

OK – so why the disclaimer? The other night I was walking home after getting off of the bus and there was a group of three people on the street ahead of me, two men and a woman. As I was approaching I heard a part of the conversation. One of the men said to the woman,”You’ll like him. He’s a psychoanalyst.” She responded by asking something about are psychoanalysts always analyzing everybody or do they ever turn it off. She also said something about it being tiring to always being “on.”

Do we ever turn it off? You betcha!  Tiring to always be”on?” Jeez. Probably even more tiring for everyone around than it is for us. Can you imagine that? Why would I, using myself as the example I know best, want to constantly be confronting people with their “hidden motives” for doing things? Where would my respect for my friends and neighbors be if I did that?

The people who come to me for psychotherapy are asking me to use my skills to help them.  They expect me to “listen with the third ear,” as Langs put it, to attend “with free-floating attention,” to quote Uncle Sigmund. They pay me to do this. My friends, family, neighbors and total strangers aren’t paying me for my time or my skills. They aren’t asking me to listen to their free associations and make an interpretation. I’m expected to be just another person in the room and not invade the privacy of why they do what they do.

Yeah, I’m a curious guy. Uh, maybe I should rephrase that. I’m curious about a lot of things in this world. I’m curious about what makes people tick, including me (especially me,) and seriously hope, as the old, sad joke says, that it’s not a time-bomb. That doesn’t give me the right to pry into what’s going on in someone’s psyche and, contrary to what some believe (and/or have done) it’s not a parlor game where I can (or will) look at people in the room, talk with them for a couple of minutes and then give a psychoanalytic profile.

I like my friends, family, neighbors (trust me on this.) Why would I want to piss them off by telling them why they’re doing what they’re doing or trying to manipulate them by analyzing them without their knowledge or consent. Ah, there it is – perhaps the real point of the question (OK – this is analyzing but it’s me thinking about what I might be trying to accomplish by that seat-of-the-pants analysis) is whether I would be “using my powers” for my  own nefarious purposes. To manipulate things & people.

What do you think? Do you think we ever “turn it off” other than when we sleep? Do we manipulate people? Let me know – leave a comment. I won’t analyze what you’re saying or how you say it – promise.

5 Responses to “Are Psychoanalysts Ever “Off-Duty?””

  1. Hi Jay: kudos on the blog…………..my answer is NO, I am not always on. Who has the time and energy to work 24/7? I love the work we do — for me, it’s a privilege to provide the space and clinical guidance for people who want to make change, thoughtfully address life’s challenges, or just gain a better understanding of why they do/feel what they do/feel. Despite my love for the profession, the bottom line is that it is a four-letter word — W.O.R.K. Finding a balance of work/play/sleep is essential for MY emotional wellbeing and mental health.

  2. admin says:

    Linda,
    Thanks for the reply. Glad to hear that you relax & live rather than hide behind your professional stance.

  3. Jane says:

    Nice post, and very true. Just wanted to mention that Theodor Reik coined the phrase “Listening with the third ear” in 1948, long before Langs was even practicing, I believe.

  4. admin says:

    Jane,
    Thanks for the comment and the correction. I try to be accurate but sometimes….

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