Visiting the Freuds’, Part I, Austria

Back before my Midlife Crisis Odyssey, when I was just having the crisis without the odyssey, a mate asked me one day how I was getting on. I told him I was no longer seeing any benefit from my regular sessions with my psychologist, and he suggested I give psychoanalysis a try instead. Now this particular friend knows a lot about pretty much everything, and feeling I had nothing to lose, I took his advice, found a local practitioner, and made an appointment.

All I knew about psychoanalysis was that some bloke called Freud had started it, and that dream analysis was part of the treatment. I thought it might be a good fit, as I had been experiencing a series of recurring dreams for years. I had also heard that Freud talked and theorised a lot about sex, and penises in particular, so that would definitely be a point of difference with my previous therapy sessions where penises had not been mentioned at all.

I have to admit that despite knowing very little about psychoanalysis, my gloomy outlook on life gave me little confidence that it would actually help. But I tried to keep an open mind as I parked the car and began the short walk to the practice. The therapist met me at the door, a lady in her 50s who I will call Anna, and I followed her into her consulting room. It was warmly lit and nicely furnished, but didn’t feature the couch that I expected to be offered for my session. I sat in a comfy yet supportive chair instead, and listened as Anna explained that there would be no charge for the appointment; we would just talk and see if we thought we could work with one another.

We chatted for about half an hour, mostly about me and why I had decided to come and see her. At the conclusion of the session, Anna said she thought future appointments could be beneficial. To be honest, I had no better idea of what psychoanalysis was, but she seemed like a genuine and nice lady, and I wanted to give it a shot, so I booked in for the following week.

Next time I went to see Anna, and we were seated in her consulting room having dealt with the usual pleasantries and small talk, she asked me what I would like to talk about. ‘Err…you mean what I have been struggling with the past few years?’ ‘Not necessarily. You can talk about anything you like.’ ‘Oh. Right. Ah…well…’ I was suddenly at a bit of a loss, so after stuttering around a little I just launched into one of the things that was causing me anxiety at the time.

During my agitated soliloquy, Anna didn’t say anything, nor did she take any notes. So I just kept talking. She was wearing a short skirt, and crossed and uncrossed her legs a couple of times, which I have to say was both revealing and distracting. Remembering Freud, I wondered for a second if it was actually part of the therapy.

After finishing my rant on that particular topic, I took a deep breath and looked at Anna, who was sitting silently. I was wondering when the ‘analysis’ bit was going to start. After a pause, I asked her to explain what structure our sessions would take, and how psychoanalysis actually worked. She said our meetings would involve me talking about whatever I wished to talk about, that frequent sessions were preferable, and that there was no guarantee that solutions would be found to what I considered to be my problems. I sat there perplexed.

The counselling sessions I had with my psychologist had been conversive in nature. Although I did most of the talking, the psych would ask me questions, try to tease out what I was thinking, and suggest different ways of perceiving my thoughts and situations. He would take notes during our discussions, refer to them frequently, and revisit them at the start of our next appointment. On the other hand, my sessions with Anna seemed to be laissez faire in the extreme.

‘So…I just talk about whatever and…presumably you start to see patterns in the way I think?’ Anna smiled and kind of half-nodded.

When our time was up, I followed Anna to the door. Although I felt good after having had a purge about what was on my mind, I was still confused as to what Anna’s role actually was in all this. I told her I had applied for a job interstate, and wouldn’t book another appointment until I new if I would be leaving.

Turns out that was my last session of with Anna. I was offered the job and left town, having never really figured out what psychoanalysis was, or whether it might have helped me.

So why am I telling you all this? Well I’m in Vienna at the moment, where Sigmund Freud lived for 47 years. The city is considered the birthplace of psychoanalysis, and a museum has been established in Freud’s former apartment and consulting rooms. I figure it’s a good opportunity to learn more about the man and his methods, so I’m going to check it out. I’ll let you know what I find.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like French Stereotypes, What’s in a Name

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Midlife Crisis Odyssey