The secret life of a therapist

"As a therapist, I am not Anna Blundy"
March 24, 2016

Obviously, it is possible to guess some things about one’s therapist or analyst—especially if sessions are in his or her home. A lot of anoraks on the coat stand—outdoorsy. Noises around the house during your session—not single. The smell of porridge and toast—family. Watercolours of Cambridge colleges—someone here has had an education. The house might be hidden down a cobbled lane near Hampstead Heath (mainly private practice or a rich spouse?). Or it could be off a main road near a big petrol station (mainly NHS and spouse also a therapist?).

Then, of course, there are the fantasies. The anoraks mean he is much less worldly than I am. The toast—he has a beloved family and I am just a patient to be cast out alone to his great relief after my session. The wife—how boring for him, how attractive and glamorous I must seem. He eats stodgy breakfasts but is thin—is he ill? He looks down on anyone who didn’t go to Cambridge. He is not rich—he must be incredibly honest. And this is quite apart from the deeper fantasies that, once conscious, will be interpreted—he sneers at my weakness, he is disgusted by my snobbery, he finds my work ludicrous, he pities my husband, he thinks I am a bad mother. I have never been one of those “he’s definitely in love with me” patients.

The idea is that you’re not supposed to know anything much about your therapist so that your fantasies about the relationship say more about you than about them—your stuff can’t be confused with someone else’s if you’re chucking it at a blank-ish canvas. When I started my own analysis I did already know a friend of my analyst’s and I also knew his brother through work. I found this comforting—I could lie down in a small room with this man and not feel physical danger. This seemed like a good thing but, looking back, I realise that if I had felt my natural stranger response (fear) we might have moved ahead more quickly. (Alternatively, I might have run away).

As a therapist, I have a difficulty here. I have written autobiographical newspaper articles for 20 years, a personal memoir and lots of novels, there is stuff about me on the internet and I also write this column where various people claim to have seen themselves (they haven’t). “Take your mum’s maiden name,” someone suggested at first, but it didn’t feel right. Oddly, it took me a while to remember that I have a married name (psychoanalyse that), and I use it for child-related things.

So, as a therapist, I am not Anna Blundy and it doesn’t feel like a lie. Or, at least, not to me. It certainly did feel like a cruel lie to a patient who “found out.” In fact, he’d always known my maiden name but had “forgotten” this until eventually recovering the knowledge and Googling me. When we looked at how my “secret life” as he saw it, affected him, it turned out he had always felt lied to, by his parents, groups of school friends who excluded him, his girlfriend whose wardrobes he would go through seeking evidence of other lovers, and now me. In the end it was a useful catalyst for material (as perhaps anything is upon examination), but for me it was a strange insight into my own therapist confidentiality. How anonymous can anyone be in the face of the internet? Is consciously hiding a public profile somehow duplicitous? I often breach my own anlayst’s confidentiality, writing openly about sessions I feel are my own property (since I pay for them). Now I wonder if he minds…

Anna Blundy is a writer training to be a psychotherapist. The situations described are composite. Confidentiality has not been breached