New York based psychoanalyst and photographer Mark Gerald’s series of portraits of psychoanalysts in their psychoanalytic environments is a fascinating study of the intersection of these two very different disciplines, made more insightful as an insider’s perspective. His honest and introspective inquiry constitutes a kind of role reversal in putting the psychoanalyst firmly on the couch. In the process a third intersection also emerges: The one between psychoanalysis and design and the lessons offered up to both by the experience. Mark Gerald casts his trained eye both on the lessons learned and on his unique experience in creating this photographic series.
When I began to photograph portraits of psychoanalysts in their offices in 2003, I was responding to my own desire to see myself at work. After taking a series of self-portraits, I moved on to photographing colleagues in their psychoanalytic spaces. My long standing interest in the world of work and my previous study of photography made the project feel very natural to my inclinations. I have always been a fan of the environmental portrait, the person in his or her space, as seen, for example, in the work of the photographer, Arnold Newman. Additionally, the project felt like part of a familiar pattern to attempt to bring together two seemingly disparate, yet essential states of being. In this instance, my identities as psychoanalyst and photographer.
Gradually, I came to realize that there were others in my field, subjects of the shoots and other interested parties, who seemed fascinated with turning the analytic eye onto the analyst in the analytic room. I was pleased and gratified that my creative stirrings connected to other psychoanalysts. I also realized that former, current and even prospective patients might find it compelling to look at the images of the analysts that I had photographed, at work in their offices. At present, I have done shoots of seventy subjects from North and South America, Mexico and Europe. Many of these can be found on my website. It is a gallery of practitioners of a singular profession made up of diverse presences and sensibilities regarding ethnicities, age, gender, race, sexual orientation, theoretical persuasions, and aesthetic tastes. What surprised me were the inquiries and feedback from the architecture and interior design communities.
How did they learn of my work and what was the nature of their connection to this project? What is it about design that may be relevant to psychoanalysis? What can I contribute to a dialogue between psychoanalysis and these disciplines? Interior designers and architects are interested in spaces and how they can be used for human experience, for dwelling, for being. This is also the concern of psychoanalysts; to create facilitating environments that can deliver an unvented or tormented self into more mature existence. Psychoanalytic space is the created territory in which the therapeutic work of analysis is accessed. Yet, the emphasis in these two realms, psychoanalysis and design, is on opposite poles. Psychoanalysts turn inward towards the unconscious with its internal object relations. To extend this meaning to an extreme might suggest that psychoanalysis can be conducted anywhere, in a private office, a hospital corridor, a corporate board room or even a car. While the world of design is focused on the objects and appearances in the exterior domain. Space matters. The shape, dimensions, and alignment of rooms, the furnishings contained within and adorning the grounds and boundaries of spaces are the essential features that by design create that space.
So I am again intrigued and challenged to grapple with contrasting positions and to discover what may be areas of connection. I enter this exploration with the question I hope to pursue in this essay – what does the term, by design, mean? As I am writing this article in my office, I am identified in this place as a writer. When I return to this very same space with patients, it becomes transformed into a psychoanalytic office, with the particular qualities of such a space. The space defines me and I define the space.
A psychoanalytic office, like any room, can be a home and a sanctuary for dreams. Such spaces are associated with and conducive for dreaming with attention to lighting, comfortable chairs and a couch, wall art and evocative objects. Privacy and quiet are present, as well as the receptive existence of the ear, eye and body of the analyst. Most psychoanalytic offices are repositories of secrets, the release from shame, the confrontation with darkness and the welcoming of dreams. A recent dream of mine contains images that seem to reference the theme of duality that I am grappling with and to additionally speak of rooms:
There are two structures, side by side. One is an open space, artist gallery in a dangerous neighborhood. There are objects of art displayed on the walls and on small tables. It is a garage that has been converted into this artist space. To enter and leave you have to duck under the heavy garage door that isn’t fully open. Next to this building is a more proper house, with multiple rooms, and in the strange logic of dreams, it is located in a more organized and safer section of town. This second construction also is involved in some form of artistic production.
Are these two edifices representative of different forms of work in psychoanalysis? There is much discussion in the field of psychoanalysis about how the rituals of the practice and the spontaneous moments of engagement shape and intersect with one another. Despite general agreement that both modes are valuable and inevitable, there are clusters of proponents on either side. Order, silence and neutrality compete with relationship, mutuality and uncertainty.
Yet there must be, even in the most structured, formalized version of analysis, one supported by empirical evidence of effectiveness, some degree of creative inventiveness. The artist’s gallery, one that is challenging to enter (and maybe dangerous), does not guarantee an easy exit, like the door to the garage in my dream. The influential British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, cautioned analysts to enter each psychoanalytic session without memory or desire. What is there to protect or motivate the analyst, if remembering and wanting are stripped away? Yet, there is also the more proper space of analysis. This one harkens back to that first psychoanalytic office, the work place of Sigmund Freud. Here, there is more of a sense of order, even if it’s illusory. There is a frame to the fifty minute hour. The analyst occupies the analyst’s chair, while the patient repairs to the couch, whether lying down, sitting or settling into the role of patient. Here in the proper house, it is “by design”.
What does it mean to design a psychoanalytic office? One of Freud’s sons, Ernst, was an architect, who created consulting rooms for doctors and analysts, first in Berlin and then in London. He was commissioned to create the therapy office for the famed British psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein. Some contemporary psychoanalysts hire architects and designers for the establishment of their offices. And a great deal of planning often goes into the purchasing and placing of furniture and objects of art. But the real design of an analytic space, seems to me, to be more of an organic process that is the on-going influence of time and the relationships with patients, psychoanalytic forebears and childhood homes. The Action- Centric model in design, which stresses creativity, emotion and improvisation, in contrast to the Rational model, with its emphasis on planning and ordered stages, may parallel the two structures of the dream and the synergistic relationship between the “rules”of psychoanalysis and the always emerging uncertainty of an actual analysis.
What influences the design of a psychoanalytic office? The first is time. I was told by the psychoanalyst, Allen Wheelis, that an office grows organically and that it becomes more of yours when it has absorbed the smells of patients over time. He was ninety when I met with him and had been practicing in the same room, in his beautiful Victorian mansion in the Presidio Heights section of San Francisco, for more than fifty years. It takes time and patience for a space to be transformed into a home. This occurs within each analysis and over the life of the analyst. I have noticed that the finish on the right armrest of my analytic chair has been removed by the rhythmic movement of my fingers, as I have listened to patients for almost three decades. The movement accompanies the words of the patients, our breathing and the beating of our hearts. This factor of time is built into the “design” of psychoanalytic space. As the analyst ages, so does the room containing him or her.
Patients are the co-designers of our rooms. Sometimes they provide literal recommendations or bring objects to the analyst that may or may not be employed or displayed. Regardless of whether these show up as actual parts of the decor of the office, once presented they become a presence to contend with. And if the “gift” from the patient stretches the analyst then, as the American jurist, Oliver Wendall Holmes, Jr. said, “A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions”. The imprint of the patient remains forever in the design of the office and of the analyst.
There are also the more frequent, subtle influences on our space and its evolving or static state, that are provided by patients’ comments, attention and choices. I realized that it was time to purchase a new couch after a number of patients spoke of the sagging nature of the upholstery. Another area of design, the selection of clothing worn by the analyst, can be conjointly created in our work with patients. Many analysts will privately admit that their sartorial choices can be influenced by which patients they may be seeing that day. About fifteen years ago, I made a change in my dress, when I began to wear black tee shirts under my collared shirts. The white tee shirts that were a staple of my wardrobe since childhood were jettisoned in favor of the darker hue during a long analysis with a very creative, challenging patient, who often wore tee shirts of varying colors. I think it was part of a significant shift in my work that was moving from what we psychoanalysts call a one-person model (a classical Freudian approach) to a Relational or two-person model acknowledging the inevitability of mutual direction of influence.
Although an analytic office is a private space for patient and analyst, it is always inhabited by other presences that accompany each party. In addition, to the parental figures, spouses, childhood (and imaginary) friends, the analyst frequently brings along her or his own analytic forebears. The complex interrelationships of early psychoanalysts were creatively rendered by Ernst Falzeder in a chart he called “Psychoanalytic Filiations”. It looks like a complex circuitry of a brain or the most chaotic roadmap of a highway of massive interchanges. These former and current analysts, supervisors, teachers and analytic ancestors, whose acquaintances are made through reading their work, populate each room where analysis takes place. Their contribution to the design of the current work space may be subtle or a blatant copy of an admired colleague’s office. There is an intergenerational transmission of psychoanalytic design.
One of the analysts that I photographed, situated her chair with its back close to the wall of books on analytic theory and technique. She quite consciously felt she was surrounded by the history of psychoanalytic thought as she traversed her days with patients and students in her office. It was as though her mind was encompassed by the volumes of Freud, Ferenczi, Klein, Fairbairn, Horney, Winnicott and Mitchell.
Another significant designer of psychoanalytic offices are the childhood homes of the analysts. The homes that we inhabit as children come to inhabit us and in turn become the inspiration or antitheses of the spaces in which we feel at home. Gaston Bachelard, the French philosopher, wrote “Space that has been seized upon by the imagination cannot remain indifferent space…it has been lived in…with all the partiality of the imagination”. It is my impression that whether felicitous or haunted, childhood homes become the template for the project of finding the dream home. I think that this translates for analysts as a spur to find and practice in a space that can heal, both the patient and the analyst.
Psychoanalysts have much to learn from the disciplines of design and architecture. These areas that have been studied and elaborated can help psychoanalysts to take the physical more into consideration. Space does matter and has an influence upon what it feels like to occupy that space. The shapes, dimensions and aesthetics of the room that can support a more safe, free and creative experience for patients in psychoanalytic treatment are of great value. On the other side psychoanalysis, with its rich history of the mining of the interior as it intersects the outer world, has elaborated a formal and artistic approach to the the ever engaging and challenging question of human existence. We continue to design and be designed by our needs, emotions, strivings and relationships. The appreciation of the intersecting spaces of the office and the mind can move us more freely between creativity and security as we strive to design a facilitating environment for our patients.
Mark Gerald is a psychoanalyst and a photographer. He has two Masters degrees in psychology from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in psychology from New York University. He did his psychoanalytic training at the New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, where he is on the faculty. Mark also teaches at the Stephen A. Mitchell Center for Relational Studies and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (IARPP), and he is on the faculty of the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy. Mark has presented at psychoanalytic conferences in the United States and internationally and has published papers in Psychoanalytic Dialogues and Psychoanlytic Psychology. Mark is a trained photographer. He studied with Phillip Perkis at Pratt Institute and with Harvey Stein at the International Center of Photography. He also studied lighting with Bobbi Lane and has trained at the Maine Photography Workshops, the City University of New York, and the University of California at Santa Barbara. For more information visit Mark Gerald’s website www.markgeraldphoto.com