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Skolnick, N.J. (2019). Review of On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud, by Nathan Kravis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2017. 224 pp.. Contemp. Psychoanal., 55(1-2):116-121.

(2019). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 55(1-2):116-121

Book Reviews

Review of On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud, by Nathan Kravis. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2017. 224 pp.

Neil J. Skolnick, Ph.D.

This delightful confection, thoughtfully created by Nathan Kravis, manages to be at once a scholarly study of the history of the use of the couch in psychoanalysis while also tracing its use to its roots in facilitating treatment for other medical conditions, ranging from tuberculosis to wartime injuries. But it does not stop there. It wickedly ponders additional reasons that Freud might have ventured underneath and beyond the well-established claim that he put his patients on the couch in order to avoid their staring at him for up to 8 hours a day. In other words, although he no longer wished to have patients stare at him, and subsequently proclaimed that being on the couch allowed the transference to manifest by minimizing interpersonal contact with the analyst, why choose the couch? What are the erotic implications of this supine ceremonial, “ceremonial” being the term he used to describe lying on the couch? What about the implied power differential? There are alternative possibilities, such as sitting on a chair with one’s back to the analyst, for example. Such a question evokes whole new pathways of exploration and Kravis’s book takes us down some interesting and provocative paths. It also serves as a treatise on evolving domestic fashion from Greek and Roman society to the present. It ventures into several philosophical side roads journeying from Kierkegaard to the moral attitudes of the analyst. And it illustrates the entire Sacher Torte with witty and alluring drawings and photographic sirens. The book could sit every bit as comfortably on a professional bookshelf as on a coffee table.

[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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