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Levin, C. Skorczewski, D. (2020). The Poetics of Boundary Violation: Anne Sexton and Her Psychiatrist. Psychoanal. Dial., 30(2):206-221.

(2020). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 30(2):206-221

The Poetics of Boundary Violation: Anne Sexton and Her Psychiatrist

Charles Levin, Ph.D. and Dawn Skorczewski, Ph.D.

In 1965, Frederick Duhl began a sexual relationship with his patient, poet Anne Sexton, whose previous psychiatrist, Martin Orne, had moved from Boston to Philadelphia. Little is known about this relationship, perhaps because Sexton was persuaded by health professionals, including her previous psychiatrist, not to expose Dr. Duhl. These professionals closed ranks behind Duhl, covering up the ethical misconduct, which may have contributed to Anne Sexton’s eventual suicide in 1974. Apart from documented reports elicited by her biographer, Diane Middlebrook, information about Duhl’s sexual misconduct is limited to his personal correspondence with Sexton, which Sexton preserved. The exchange of letters between them, including examples of Duhl’s amateur poetry, provides an unusual opportunity to investigate the dynamics of sexual boundary violations in psychotherapy. Sexton represents her bewildered feelings poignantly in letters to Duhl, whereas Duhl’s stilted efforts to respond to her emotional needs reveal a disturbing pattern of envious appropriation.

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