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"I was born and brought up to be in psychoanalysis," writes the author of The Last Good Freudian. She describes the 1950s, when she was in her teens, as the golden days of psychoanalysis, when everyone in New York was either in analysis or had been analysed. When the psychoanalytic movement first caught on in America, it was seen as intensely liberating, and had worked wonders with soldiers traumatised by their experiences on the battlefield. The experience of the author was quite the opposite: analysis had become reactionary, and particularly for women, was a means of keeping people in their place.
I hoped that this story would illustrate the effects of psychoanalysis on both a personal and social level. The author saw her first analyst when she was fourteen, but why did she continue with analysis as an adult? The theme that runs through the book is that of entrapment of the author by psychoanalysis, but just how did it ensnare her, and how much more freedom would she have gained if she had left analysis earlier? What did she really feel about her psychoanalysts? Was she in love with them, did she worship any of them, did she have murderous thoughts about any of them? An insight into the social context of analysis would also have been interesting. What were the cultural factors that led to the rise of analysis as a common practice in the 1950s, and what led to its decline? If most people in New York were in analysis at the time, how did this affect the way they lived?
Certainly the author's narrative is an interesting story. The author's education, her first boyfriend, her abortion, her writing career, the failure of her first marriage and the success of the second all make absorbing reading. But I was disappointed with the part that psychoanalysis played in the memoir.
The description of the author's analysis with a female analyst called Maenchen (pp 115-117) is a typical example of how analysis is related to events in the author's life and the author's thoughts and feelings. The analyst wishes to discuss penis envy. The author describes her analyst's refusal to understand her feelings towards her brother as "maddening", and she says she thought that the analyst tended to contradict herself. Later on, the author has a miscarriage and her analyst is determined to uncover some emotional reason for the miscarriage, which, not surprisingly, increases the author's anxiety about her next pregnancy. But the next pregnancy is successful, and it is hard to see what impact the analyst had on this part of the author's life, apart from causing her a degree of annoyance and frustration. Little is said about the dynamics that other analysands report: the feeling of longing to break free, but feeling irresistibly drawn back the analyst's couch. The author writes that her analyst found for her "a gynaecologist with an analytic background who spoke to me in a low soothing voice as though he thought I was about the slit my wrists. I fired him and got a doctor who treated me like a normal person" (p116).
This matter-of-fact tone is present through much of the narrative, leaving it unclear why the author's experiences of psychoanalysis were so important to her. This is a shame, because the book is not lacking in frankness and detail. Perhaps it was thought that too much emphasis on the author's experiences in analysis would make the book seem tediously introspective. However, it seems to me that the intended readers of the book are those who want to understand the place that analysis had in the author's life and in the culture in which she lived. I had hoped for more explanation of the dominance of psychoanalysis in the author's culture and more insight into the hold that it undoubtedly had over the author. Natalie Simpson is a mathematics graduate of Oxford University, England, and holds a diploma in hypnotherapy. She developed an interest in psychology, psychotherapy and hypnosis after experiencing hypnotherapy herself. Her specific concerns include the assessment of the effectiveness and risks of psychotherapy, and the difficulties of obtaining informed consent of clients.
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