High Anxiety

I'm a reasonably happy person—or at least I was before I went into psychotherapy

Such are the gifts, for me, so far, of psychotherapy.

Toward the end of her 1981 book Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession, Janet Malcolm reports on the last of her many intimate conversations with "Aaron Green," a disguised New York psychoanalyst. He had compared analysis several times to surgery, and Malcolm asks him why he is so attached to that analogy. "Because it's so radical," he says. "Because it indicates how impersonal and intimate analysis is. Because it tells you that it is not a casual procedure, that it is serious and dangerous, that it is dire." I know there's a difference between five-times-a-week classical psychoanalysis and the mere three-times-a-week psychotherapy that I'm putting myself through, but his radical analogy, and his use of that awful word "dire," have me, for now, in their grip. One of my many strange fantasies while in therapy has been to be hospitalized for an extended period. For what? I'm a healthy, reasonably socialized, reasonably happy person—or at least I was before I went into psychotherapy.

I keep going back for more psychotherapy—and recently asked for that third weekly session, rather than just two—because I have a minimal but persistent faith that I will eventually get better, and will finally be better off than I was pre-therapy. I want some insight. Malcolm's "Aaron Green" again: "Insight isn't superficial—it isn't simply learning something mildly interesting about yourself. It is becoming yourself." So I guess I'm trying, with the help of psychotherapy, to become myself. I didn't expect it to be easy or entertaining or cheap. But I wish I had been better prepared for the degree to which psychotherapy has been wreaking havoc on my brain and my body. I'm eager to learn how to feel feelings; I'm just alarmed at the price I'm being asked to pay to do so. I thought psychotherapy would be, above all else, interesting. Instead it is, more than anything, dire.

Rick Whitaker is the author of Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling and The First Time I Met Frank O'Hara: Reading Gay American Writers.

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