Judd wrote on a broad range of topics. In 2016, Judd Foundation and David Zwirner Books published Donald Judd Writing—a collection of the artist’s essays, notes and manuscripts from 1958 to 1993.

Cult Rooms Few rooms loom as large in the popular psyche as the shrink’s office. Stephanie d’Arc Taylor considers the couch where it all began.

Cult Rooms Few rooms loom as large in the popular psyche as the shrink’s office. Stephanie d’Arc Taylor considers the couch where it all began.

  • Words Stephanie d’Arc Taylor
  • Photograph Freud Museum London

Lie back, close your eyes andconjure a scene of psychoanalysis. Most likely, a couch is there, in the middle of an expensive-looking office. The first person to come to mind (after your therapist, if you have one) might be Woody Allen. Or, perhaps, a 60-something white man stroking his beard, looking inquisitive and vaguely alarmed.

The therapeutic couch was first utilized in the 1890s by Sigmund Freud, the Austrian founder of psychoanalysis (and archetype of our beardy, bespectacled intellectual above). Since then, the humble piece of furniture has become so associated with psychotherapy that the phrase “on the couch” has come to signify the practice. But the couch has traditionally been more a means to an end, rather than something valuable in itself, says Dr. Mark Gerald on the phone from his practice in, yes, New York. Gerald interviewed and photographed over 100 psychoanalysts all over the world for his book In the Shadow of Freud’s Couch: Portraits of Psychoanalysts in Their Offices (Routledge, 2019).

In years past, an analyst’s office was a reflection of his particular methodology. Disciples of the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, for instance, modeled their offices after the Greek idea of temenos, or interior holy sanctuary, thought to incubate mental labor. Freudian analysts kept their offices free from any traces of personality: “The non-intrusion of the analyst, and the non-personal effects in the office, was considered instrumental to the release of the more unconscious parts of the patient’s mind,” says Gerald. (The Freudian approach is, notably, different from that of Freud himself, who kept many objects of personal significance in his office, including paintings, photographs and statuary.)

In the first modern analyst’s office of Gilded Age Vienna, the couch was there to a similar end: keeping the patient’s mind on itself and off the analyst. (Legend has it that Freud originally turned the couch away from his chair after a recumbent patient tried to seduce him.) Traditionally, “psychoanalysis has privileged hearing over seeing,” confirms Gerald. This set in motion what he describes as “an averting of the eyes, a kind of blindness” between patient and analyst. This, of course, is an impossible task, even for an analyst. “Showing oneself is not really even a conscious choice,” says Gerald. “It’s inevitable.”

These days, your therapist would probably be concerned if you plopped down and stretched out —if she even has a couch at all. Over the 20th century, the couch fell out of favor as the discipline of psychotherapy came under the same scrutiny as many other schools of social science. The emphasis of psychoanalysis, Gerald says, shifted from what’s “taking place only inside the patient’s mind, to recognizing that it’s a relational matrix going on all the time between the two parties in the room.” So how is this shift in theory reflected in the modern analyst aesthetic? Today’s analysts, says Gerald, look a lot more like, well, themselves. “Using all of oneself in the work includes how one dresses, and what is shown in the physical space,” he says. Through his research, he saw that there isn’t a typical analyst’s office today: “The individual aesthetic becomes what’s important.” In Gerald’s own practice, personal objets have led to breakthroughs with his patients; he speaks with great reverence, in particular, of a miniature tennis racket he bought one year at the U.S. Open.

The image of a wizened European gentleman with deeply furrowed brows is as much a part of the psychoanalyst’s office trope as the couch: a Freud figure appears in nearly every New Yorker cartoon on the subject, of which there are many. But this stereotype has had its day, and good riddance, says Gerald. “I’m especially interested in showing the face of psychoanalysis today, and challenging the stereotype that it’s a deadened practice occupied by old white men,” he says. Rather than focusing on any one orthodox method, or aesthetic, individuality in psychoanalysis is now not only accepted, but celebrated. “People entering the field today are primarily women from diverse backgrounds,” says Gerald. “The common thread now is the protection and appreciation of the unconscious world.”

You are reading a complimentary story from Issue 35

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