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[From January 1990 to June 1994], I underwent a four-and-a-half year, five-day-a-week analysis with a traditional male Freudian psychoanalyst (or he tried to behave that way). The maternal aspects of the analysis were wonderfully gentle, but the paternal/fraternal aspects were horrendous. He came to hold an incredible amount of power over me and would not help me leave, terminate, be done with the process that was, from the beginning, highly sexualized and erotic.… He refused to confront the “here and now” between us, always taking me back to my past; in so doing, he helped repeat/reenact a condition that brought me to analysis in the first place.… In the end, I thought he would keep me there forever … and so I left. Eventually I came back to the study of psychoanalysis, which is, with all its faults, one of my intellectual homes.1
—Esther Altshul Helfgott, The Psychoanalytic Experience: Analysands Speak
In 1978, when I was thirty-seven years old, a single parent of three, a doctoral student in history, and a housemate with my seventy-nine-year-old mother, I entered into a therapeutic relationship that would last until the week of September 11, 2001. The first eleven years of the relationship constituted a one-, two-, or three-day-a-week psychoanalytic psychotherapy; the next four and a half years, a five-day-a-week analysis where, for the first couple of years, I sat in a black leather chair and, for the next two and a half or so, I lay on a couch.
I had not been in therapy before 1978 and had no idea what I was getting into. My children, two boys and a girl, were fifteen, fourteen, and ten. My doctoral focus was women's history and outwardly, at least, I was a strong woman. My mother, Anna (1899-1996), had lived with me and my family ever since my father died in 1964, and she continued to do so after my divorce in the early 1970s. This had its good and not-so-good aspects.
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