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Forrest, D.V. (2018). On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud, by Nathan Kravis, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2017, xvi + 204 pp.. Psychodyn. Psych., 46(3):452-456.

(2018). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 46(3):452-456

On the Couch: A Repressed History of the Analytic Couch from Plato to Freud, by Nathan Kravis, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2017, xvi + 204 pp.

Review by:
David V. Forrest, M.D.

When is the last time you read something by a psychoanalyst that was fun? Please don’t say Freud’s painful joke book. Nathan Kravis has produced a stunning picture book that is as delightful as it is stimulating. It sumptuously illustrates the furniture of recumbence from antiquity to today, not stopping with or particularly valorizing Freud. Freud’s Rühebett (resting or reposing bed, daybed) and décor reflecting his “moral interior” (Kravis’s term) values with their “unabashed orientalist and archaeological motifs” have given way to “a more Spartan, austere analytic couch that closely resembles the Greco-Roman dining couch” (p. 139). This may not be universally true: For more than a decade I rented an office on Central Park West from the widow of a Viennese surgeon that might have been described as Dracula meets Liberace. Kravis shows that the couchly memes Freud inherited and could not ignore include a place to eat and drink together (Greek symposium), a symbol of social stature (that’s an oxymoron!) from antiquity and Christianity, a seductive and sybaritic comforter, and a contrived and aseptic medical implement where supposedly therapeutic interventions were visited upon a recumbent and passive patient. Patient is a word sometimes avoided by analysts because it is so literally true, and replaced in 1917 by analysand, modeled upon multiplicand (we wish to have more of them) or ordinand (a candidate for ordination, as applied to candidates). The worse term client (lawyer’s customer or computer that receives from a server) comes from an old Latin word for seeking protection (and bending to) a powerful person.

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