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Wilce, G. (2014). The Empty Couch: The Taboo of Ageing and Retirement in Psychoanalysis edited by Gabriele Junkers. Published by Routledge, Hove, 2013; 216 pp; £90.00 hardback, £26.99 paperback. Brit. J. Psychother., 30(2):270-272.

(2014). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 30(2):270-272

The Empty Couch: The Taboo of Ageing and Retirement in Psychoanalysis edited by Gabriele Junkers. Published by Routledge, Hove, 2013; 216 pp; £90.00 hardback, £26.99 paperback

Review by:
Gillian Wilce

When editor Gabriele Junkers began to talk to colleagues across the world about her plans for this book she found that, while all had ‘experienced many instances of successful withdrawal from professional life’, they had also all ‘witnessed distressing situations connected with illness, old age and the death of colleagues’ (p. xii). And which of us has not come across such situations? The analyst who is becoming forgetful and bewilderingly irritable with her patient, for example, or the supervisor who falls asleep while the supervisee is talking, or the patient who thinks that her therapist is taking some time off sick only to find out abruptly later that she was actually going into a hospice to die. Why, in a profession which is supposed to be all about self-knowledge, is it sometimes so hard to think about our own ageing and ailing and to see how best to act in our patients' interests? Why, in a profession which is itself, in more than one sense, ageing, is it so hard for our institutions to address these issues of practice and management and to contemplate their own possible futures?

There has so far been comparatively little of substance written about these things (although the bibliographies with each section of this book are a good guide to what is available), but now we have this assemblage of articles by eminent psychoanalysts. As with any such collection, a straight-through read from beginning to end may not be the best way to digest it; perhaps better to approach first through the editor's own clear and helpful contributions — her preface, introductory chapters in each of the three sections and epilogue — to get the feel of the book before picking where to browse.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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