Seduction Therapy: Can Men Be Treated by Female Psychiatrists?


The question remains of whether I used the murk of my psyche to trick Clarice into wanting me. Even though each of us had made personal confessions to the other, the reciprocity of those confessions disinclines me to consider my motives sinister. I was not trying to manipulate Clarice into feeling a certain way like Hannibal Lector beguiling her namesake.

Over the next six months, Clarice and I underwent the usual trajectory of a romantic relationship. Those first, hesitant declarations of love were followed by the later, habitual postscripts to phone calls. We house-sat for her parents while they were away. She came as my guest to my friend's dinner party, and I came as her guest to her work's office party. We took a weekend trip to visit my little brother in college. Our conversations, however gradually, began to assume a future in which our lives, at least physically, were closely interwoven. Favorite breeds of dog are rarely discussed in a short-term affair.

Certainly we were not without our problems, but neither of us dwelled on our difficulties very long. The truth is, I never considered my relationship with Clarice as it pertained to my past relationships, the similarities and the differences, the positives and the negatives, until I first met with Dr. Phillips roughly eight months after that night at the bar.

* * *

My relationship with Dr. Phillips was as rough to begin as my relationship with Clarice had been smooth. We met twice a week, each session 45 minutes. Our therapy was part of a program to train residents in psychiatry. The program consisted of one year of intensive therapy, free of charge to the patient, followed by a group examination with fellow doctors. In order to qualify, I'd taken round after round of tests and sat for round after round of interviews, all of which were meant to determine, more or less, whether I was messed up enough for the treatment. If only college admissions had been so easy.

Although at first I took well to the therapy, describing my recent problems with panic attacks, explaining my past issues with self-esteem, I soon began to dread our scheduled appointments each week. Every Tuesday and Thursday became an excruciating countdown to 5:15 in the afternoon. Why? The most obvious reason was the sheer amount of time I had to spend talking about nothing but myself.

Psychotherapy is inherently solipsistic. Going into the treatment I was aware of that key trait. I had no problem with it. The trouble that arose during my therapy was that not only am I inherently solipsistic but I also do not like that about myself. I've written a dozen essays about the inconsequence of my love life. I've spent hours at the bar boring friends with anecdotes. I've written a novel that didn't even veil its autobiographical sources. In therapy as in life my brain began to throw up warning signs whenever it seemed as though I were becoming self-indulgent by discussing matters of little importance. It was not simply that I was reticent in talking only about myself. If I were going to have to discuss my problems, so went my thoughts, then they at least better be the really big ones. By the tenth week of treatment, though, I'd run through all of my greatest hits. Therapy became a contagion for me, irritation its consequent antibodies, all of which was supposedly a cure.

Nevertheless, two times each week I had to sit in a white room, discussing myself. If I had a hard time thinking of something interesting to say, then I would have to talk about that very inability. The only thing more irritating than being forced to talk about yourself when you find it difficult is being forced to talk about your difficulty with talking about yourself.

Still another problem I had with therapy was that, due to exposure to movies, television shows, and books that portrayed the process, I was aware of the various tactics therapists use. Noticing the strings does not make a puppet show more enjoyable. Unconsciously I would cross my arms whenever Dr. Phillips said, "Tell me more about that," and consciously I would grimace every time Dr. Phillips asked, "How did that make you feel?" I faced another source of frustration when Clarice began to ask me, in person and over email, at concerts, on the subway, at restaurants, out loud and in a whisper, what exactly I told my therapist about her.

* * *

One night during the spring of last year, on our way home in the back of a cab, I told Clarice she was bad in bed, particularly when it came to oral sex. We were both drunk. Clarice said to me, "What did you just say to me?"

"Remember what happened on Saturday night?" Earlier that week, after still another night of drinking, I had passed out while Clarice was giving me a blowjob. "I only pretended to pass out."

"Fuck you."

"That's the problem."

"You're lying."

Clarice was right. I really was lying to her, but I didn't yet know why. Although we had gone through plenty of serious episodes -- the comically unsuccessful suicide, the tragically successful abortion -- our arguments tended to veer toward the frivolous. She once threw a club sandwich at me because I'd forgotten she hates deli meats, and I once ripped my own t-shirt to shreds because she'd claimed not to be a big fan of v-necks. What do they say about arguing with your significant other? If you don't then you should worry. I have absolutely never had to worry, according to that logic, about my relationship with Clarice.

The thing I found most upsetting about what I had said on our cab ride home wasn't, therefore, that I had told her something so vicious, so infantile, so imprudent, so hateful, but that I had done so with the obvious goal of wounding her. Even now I find it hard to believe I said that to a woman I love to this day. It seems that what little sense I was capable of at the time had succumbed to the whims of my furor. My id had won out over my ego.

In actuality, Clarice and I were great in bed. Our penis and vagina fit together like, well, they fit together like a penis and vagina. I still think about the saucer indentation at the pedestal of her lower back. I still think about the way her nipples at rest are inverted like two belly buttons and have to be coaxed out with continual swaths of the tongue. I still think about the weird little scar just below the curve of her midriff. In relationships that fail, reality becomes, sooner or later, the provisions for fantasy.

So then what prompted my cruelty that night? All I could come up with, then as now, was that I had just recently started seeing Dr. Phillips, an experience I found so frustrating that, then as now, it made me senselessly furious. Only the likes of a therapist, I thought, could drive someone this mad.

* * *

Allow me to play devil's psychiatrist. In his book, The Heart of Psychotherapy, George Weinberg defines the concept of transference as the patient's "carrying forth of expectations and impressions and feelings from a past person" to the therapist. Transference is a kind of superimposition. "What the patient brings from the past and imposes on the therapist," Weinberg said of Sigmund Freud, who first termed the concept, "contains the whole essence of the patient's problem." Resolving transference was tantamount to curing the patient.

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Snowden Wright is a writer based in New York City. He has contributed to Salon, The Good Men Project, Thought Catalog, and Nerve. More of his work can be found here.

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