“STANDING, SITTING OR SQUATTING?”

One of the main resolutions that Freud had to take at the beginning of his career as a psychoanalyst, was where to sit, on the assumption that he should sit down. What was clear to him was that the patient should be lying down, in a horizontal position. That would give a few minutes of advantage to the psychoanalyst if things got awry and he had got to make a swift escape. But what should be the psychoanalyst’s position? He considered all possibilities: standing, sitting or squatting. Standing would give him an added advantage in case he had to run suddenly. On the other hand, in those early days, a session of psychoanalysis could be extended hours and even days, so he soon ruled out the option of standing. Squatting would provide the psychoanalyst with a psychologically strategic point of view: that of the foetal position that we all had in the maternal womb (for Freud, the first months is one of the two determining periods of life, being the other the one that goes from 5 pm to 8 pm on June 5 of the thirteenth year). But the argument against was the same as in the standing posture: the discomfort. Undoubtedly the most comfortable position to endure the long hours of the psychoanalytic session was to be seated. But immediately the question arose: sitting where? On the same couch as the patient? On top of the patient himself? But Freud reflected that it was enough intrusion on the patient’s privacy to delve into the most sensitive memories of his life without invading his own physical space. No: analyst and patient should be separated from each other. But how much? At a great distance? Then they should talk loudly, and Freud had a tendency to suffer from headaches which is why talking loudly for hours was not advisable. On the other hand, sitting right next to the patient and whisper in his ear could lead to gossip, especially if they held hands. No, the analyst and his patient had to stay in the same room but not too close to each other. Another question that tormented him was whether he should sit in full view of the patient or hidden so that the patient could not see him. Freud had a marked tendency to release nervous giggles, which could hurt his patient’s feelings and cause him mental block. So he decided to stay behind the patient. As for the seat, a simple stool could serve, but in the heat of the psychological battle, the analyst could forget that there is no back behind him and fall on his back (Freud had a marked tendency to fall on his back). So a chair was preferable. But what sort of chair?  A simple chair? An armchair? Or maybe a gold throne inlaid with mother-of-pearl? For several months he was weighing the pros and cons of the various options and finally opted for a padded chair and perhaps a footrest (although the latter has been the subject of controversy to this day and, in Freud’s time, led to multiple splits in the midst of the psychoanalytic movement).

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Freud lying on the couch

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