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Sunday, April 27, 2008

HBO's In Treatment: 6th in a Series

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

With this buggy article on the various kinds of psychotherapy in wide use these days --- especially insight-oriented therapies and their diversity as compared with the large varieties of cognitive-behavioral therapies ---the buggy series on HBO's In Treatment continues to chug along on various tracks . . . some of them aesthetic in destination, some intellectual, and others just plain hilarious.

Meaning What, These Hilarious Tracks?

Well, believe it or not --- just this: crammed with rollicking, hard-to-believe celebrity-worship, these bugged-out data-rails lead directly to the HBO forums on In Treatment, where the posters, virtually one and all, are ultra-horny, in-heat adulators of Gabriel Byrne, the actor who plays the series chief character, Dr. Paul Weston . . . these adulators, note quickly, all either girl-girls in their 30's, 40's, or 50's or guy-girls or girl-guys/guy-girl bisexuals in the same age range. The number of hetero/heteros like prof bug far, far less numerous . . . a tiny assemblage, nothing more: maybe, at most, three or four ---unless a few fellow Neanderthal-humanoids were hiding out in the closet.

Alas, one of these hetero primates was a man full of rage, mainly directed at women or any hetero or girl-girl or girl-guy or bisexual who criticized the slightest buffoonish thing he managed to say.

Eventually, the inevitable happened: the site managers got his number and quickly shut him down.

Trust Me, No Great Loss To Anybody --- Uh-Uh.

No, not at all. Not a loss either to the intellectual levels of the guffaw-a-second posts left by the girl-girls and guy-girls, all without exception swept away by their carnal-infested hots for Gabriel Byrnes' lavishly fantasized bod . . . including, as some of the guy-girl posters noted, his fab-ass. Yeh, lots of stuff about his ass. No, the buggy prof isn't making this up! See the nutbin parody published at this buggy site a few days ago on this fab-ass, big-bazooka-packed fatuities that got both the girl-girls and the guy-girls all worked up in a lather of sexual ardor. Or, to go on, not a loss to the raucous, bursting-with-laughter delight that enthralled prof bug at that site off and on for a few weeks, as, one after another, he read the loony, trembling-with-erotic-expectation-filled posts at the HBO site and, in reply, left several posts of his own. Some of these bugged-out posts wry and bantering; others half-humorously barbed or biting; and yet others clownish digs at the expense of these sex-starved, starry-eyed infatuates in those forums . . . their on-display carnal adulation of GB, as his admirers obsessively refer to him, of crazy-house extravaganza.

Whatever, take it from me --- the whole shenanigan-laden hokum added up to an ongoing madhouse spectacle to behold for those who weren't and aren't in urgent sexual need to fantasize down-and-dirty foreplay followed by kinetically charged orgasmic coupling with Gabriel Byrne. Think prof bug's exaggerating? No sir; not on your life. Want proof? Then just wander over to those online forums --- try, when you do, the most popular thread of all, thousands of slavishly eroticized infatuation entitled "I Could Lick Gabriel Byrne All Over!" --- and you'll have a hard time crediting your eyes . . . at any rate, if you aren't a recent escapee from a padded-cell crazy-house somewhere in Southern California.

Si Monumentum Requiris, Circumspice, no?

"What? Is it possible? " you'll start wondering the instant you log on at the HBO forums. "Ye gawds! " You'll pause, rub your eyes; maybe twice. Won't help. Because look . . . you'll be face to face with the hard evidence: hundreds of women posters, many with college degrees and almost all in their 30's, 40's, and 50's, behaving like teeny-bopping girls at a rock concert flushed with erotic fever and high on pot and booze. "Oh my! Can't be! Is so!"

Still think the bugged-out prof has been exaggerating? Then continue your little mental tripping and read on a few minutes more, nothing longer. No need to.

"Whew! Wow! What a scream!" you'll hear yourself say out loud at the end. "I tell you, buggy guy, you've not been bull-shitting us. No sir; what a riot! I mean . . . hard--- no, no; outright impossible to say who's more in hilarious sexual heat. The screaming mini-boppers I've seen at rock concerts, their eyes bright and excited and squirming their little bottoms with urgent need on their seats . . . anxious as hell to bury their faces in the drugged-out rock-star's jean-covered crotch that he's thrusting and jerking at them up there on stage, the raucous music blaring away. Or --- you pause momentarily, shaking your head at the screwball stuff you're reading . . . or, bluntly put, these physically older but no more mature girls and girl/guys posting their totally in-heat fatuities; and, no less anxious" --- you halt again, overcome with roars of laughter ---"yeah . . . no less anxious as hell to bury their own faces in Byrne's fab-ass and unzipped bazooka-packed pecker.

Or so they say, no hesitation whatever."

Crazy! Crazy! . . . all right! Once again, prof bug has emerged as a candid, no-bullshitting guide to the rife fatuities of contemporary mass culture.

 

All of Which Brings Us To Today's Buggy Topic

To wit: . . . the different kinds of psychotherapy on tap for those of you who --- too clinically depressed even to laugh at the girl-girls or guy-girls or demoralized by your life's stresses or just bewildered by things --- would benefit from some therapy. Starting with a few transitional comments about Byrne's portrayal as a psychoanalyst and the contrast with his own analyst, who uses a different variant of psychoanalysis. (Note: there will likely be three or four buggy articles on this topic, with the current one just the first installment.)

      PART ONE: PAUL WESTON AS A PSYCHOANALYST

Weston: a Mentally Split Fellow:

Meaning? He's both a good psychoanalyst dedicated to helping his struggling, demoralized patients and yet a figure-of-fun full of self-deception in his private life and lost in escapist fantasies full of eroticized expectations.

To clarify briefly, of the 43 daily episodes that comprise In Treatment, a good 41 take place in the cramped, walled-in offices of two psychoanalysts --- Paul Weston's 80% of the time and the rest in that of Gina, his former supervisor at the prestigious psychoanalytic training institute where he obtained his doctorate. In those weekly sessions in Gina's office, the patient is none other than Paul Weston himself . . . played, of course, by Gabriel Byrnes, a talented Irish actor (recall Miller's Crossing) . . . yes, talented enough; but hardly in the category as his silly, swept-away adulators in the HBO forums think of some out-of-the-world combination of Al Pacino, Daniel Day Lewis, Edward Norton, Paul Gambatti, and Sean Penn, with dashes of Marlon Brando, Ben Kingsley, and Lawrence Olivier.

 

Leave aside the hyperbole. Byrne had a very challenging character to play, and for a couple of reasons.

For one thing, Weston anchors all 43 episodes as the dominant character --- itself something of a marathon challenge for any actor, what with the episodes all shot in sequence and fairly quickly at that with little formal rehearsal. There can be few, if any, acting roles in the whole history of televised drama (whether here or in Britain) that were as challenging on that score alone . . . if nothing else, an energy-consuming ordeal with a constant need for Byrne to prepare himself emotionally and intellectually for each of those episodes and whatever rehearsals there might have been.

For another, far more important thing, Byrne has to play a bifurcated, fully split-minded man.

On one side of his personality, he's a caring, helpful, and astutely alert psychoanalyst when it comes to penetrating to the core of his patients' inner troubles and their long-repressed developmental causes with roots in their childhood and early adolescent experiences. On the other side, he's something of a laughing stock in his personal life: a man as full of self-deception, wishful thinking, and eroticized and escapist fantasies galore as any of his patients . . . with, to boot, no insight whatsoever into why his marriage to Kate has been frazzled and fraying and near the point of ripping apart; or how and why he has slid into an existential mid-life crisis as a 53 year-old fellow, overrun by his professional and family burdens and full of escapist longings; or why --- his high-fueled, carnally charged fantasy of all --- he thinks he has fallen in love with one of his patients, Laura.

Played with Panache by Melissa George, Laura Is a Sight To Behold

A mobile male entrapment device, so lusciously sexual that her ultra-ripe body swells and spills out of both ends of her short, paper-thin dresses --- also, as it happens, a talented physician who is a good 20 years younger than Weston and very bright --- Laura, in therapy with Weston a whole year when the series begins, finds herself in love with Weston too and is out to land him. Not that hard a challenge when you get down to it, considering that she's pure provocation, a virtuoso seducer who rattles on in lurid and lewd detail about her sexual life and hang-ups --- all calculated to arouse Weston's non-stop sexual hunger for her.

But note. As with virtually everything in In Treatment, what you initially believe and think about the various characters turns out, sooner or later, to be flatly wrong . . . overthrown, topsy-turvy, by later developments.

In particular, Laura's hyper-sexualized horse-play, which is the only way she has learned from childhood traumas to try relating to a man --- who will, invariably, leave her high and dry --- hardly exhausts her complex personality. Far from it, as the series progresses, she emerges as a woman with far more savvy insight into her raw rippling emotional problems and desires than Weston, her shrink for a year, remember, has about those problems and desires of hers; and more strikingly still, she's far more astutely aware of Weston's inner troubles and escapist longings than he himself happens to be. No surprise really: not, anyway, by the sixth weeks of the series. At which time Laura, rightly, decides to quit therapy and take control of her life (not that she disappears from the remaining three weeks of In Treatment); and at the same point, Paul Weston emerges clearly as a self-deceived, helplessly fantasizing fellow when it comes to his own inner and intrapersonal life.

Nor does Laura's sharp savvy stop here.

Fully aware that her ardor for Weston is partly shaped and caused by an eroticized transference from her own childhood experiences, she insists --- and rightly so --- that she is actually in love with him above and beyond what the standard psychoanalytic conceptual guide reduces it all to. Which, of course, is a nifty dig at psychoanalytical rigidities and lots of its mumbo-jumbo theoretical constructs.

If anything, the 43 episodes turn out in one sense to be the revenge of psychoanalytical patients, presumably the Israeli writers of the original script and the American team later on. Who can blame them? Most psychoanalysis --- whether of the original Freudian sort or its later offshoots --- is time-consuming, very expensive, and filled with reawakened psychic traumas that only a few talented, introspectively candid analysts ever seem to have been able to deal with effectively.

There's a brilliant scene in the next-to-the-last Laura treatment-session that underscores the topsy-turvy nature of her superior powers of both introspection and acumen about Weston.

Half-humorously, she asks if she can change seats with him: he'll take her place on the couch and she take his comfortable chair facing him. After a few jocular moments, she then begins to play his therapist role . . . a radical metamorphosis that was actually endorsed and used extensively by one of Freud's chosen acolytes, Sandor Ferenzci --- an Hungarian who experimented with mutual analysis. (One day, he would analyze his female patients; the next day, they'd switch roles and he became their patient. The technique, he claimed, was beneficial to both of them. Actually, though Ferenzci was the most notorious practitioner of mutual analysis, a follower and former patient of Jung --- Tigant Burrows --- preceded him. Both Ferenzci and Burrows are now considered the pioneers of "group therapy", widely used these days, but condemned by Freud in all its versions . . . including mutual therapy, which he regarded as disastrous.)

Back to Laura, the makeshift therapist in control.

Once she begins to analyze Weston, she zeroes in quickly on the nature of his mid-life crisis (something he isn't aware of, believe it or not) and sets out some of the contemporary causes of it. Despite the half-joshing nature of this turn-about relationship that lasted only for a few minutes, we learn by then just what an incompetent figure-of-fun Weston is when it comes to his own personal affairs: whether his troubled inner life or his troubled relations with his wife Kate, with Laura, and with Gina --- his own psychoanalytical therapist.

 

Why Does Byrne, a Man Full of Self-Deception, Start Therapy with Gina?

The answer: battered by a mid-life crisis that he has no understanding of or insight into, Weston --- very perceptive about his patients' mental troubles and torment, but lacking any insight into his own troubles --- at least senses that his life is boiling over in a variety of ways and has enough common sense to start renewed therapy with Gina at the end of the first week of the dramatic series.

His original therapy with her occurred when he was being trained at a prestigious psychoanalytical institute in his 30's, and Gina had become his supervisor when he started his own practice.

A good 10 years have gone by since he stopped his initial internship. They didn't part on friendly terms. Their relationship broke down under contentious circumstances: Gina had said in her final assessment of Paul's professional talents that he was her favorite supervisee, a gifted therapist; but because of theoretical differences that, she said, mucked up the analysis he was carrying out with one of his patients, and so she could not do what he asked her to: recommend him for the new directorship of the analytical institute where both worked. Weston abruptly broke off all contact with her and the institute and started his private practice, at which he's been unusually successful --- treatment-wise and in income.

 

During that 10 year interval that followed his rupture with Gina, Weston had never tried to contact her even once --- though he and she had been on friendly terms until that final break. So why has he gone to her, rather than to another psychoanalyst for help?

As he tells her in the initial session, he really had no one else to go to. In particular, if he had started analysis with another therapist, they would have to spend several --- several! --- sessions for the new analyst to get a diagnostic fix on Byrne's personality structure; and he doesn't have that time available, his life is boiling over in all directions, he's bored with most of his patients, his marriage is unraveling, his wife --- angered by his detachment and lack of interest in her --- has started an affair, he's head-over-heels in love with a patient of his, he wants to fuck and suck her endlessly, he wants to run away with her, he desires a new life for the two of them on a Caribbean island where he can scuba-dive during the day, drink cocktails with Laura on the beach in the evening, and have a suck-slurp-screwfest every night with her . . . 7th heaven, in short, only incarnate in mortal human life.

Or, in plainer, down-to-earth terms, escapist wish-charged fantasies that resolve nothing in his unrecognized mid-life crisis.

What Does Gina Do?

In retirement for three or four years, something of a recluse after her husband died --- he too was a psychoanalyst and cheated on her a lot (though she continues to love him to the end) --- she agrees to take him on . . . motivated mainly by her accurate if rapid set of inferences that the poor guy's inner life crackled and rippled with raw tumultuous conflicts.

Gina, by the way, is played to perfection by Dianne Wiest in another demanding role. As an analyst, she reveals very little about her own inner life until, with a series of staccato surprises, she astounds Weston and the viewing audience in the next-to-last episode with a series of startling revelations. Otherwise, she is confined in her role asking questions, making terse comments to lead the exchange and free-association, and using her extraordinary facial gestures and intonations to convey her emotional responses to Weston's self-revealing talk.

Nor is that all. Every one of the character-actors does a superb job in their roles, digging deep beneath the skin to strike at the core emotional and intellectual nature of their characters and then finding similar emotions and other psychic responses in their own being --- however painful those raw half-buried feelings, conflicts, wishes, desires, and fears might be in their own mental underground life.

Click here for the HBO links to the various character-actors in In Treatment.

 

PART TWO: IN TREATMENT'S USE OF PSYCHOANALYSIS

What emerges in the first session with Gina is particularly relevant for today's buggy topic --- the various kinds of psychological therapies, divided into insight-oriented and cognitive-behavioral approaches. That core classification is pivotal. Even so, there are plenty of sub-divisions within each of these two main categories, including psychoanalysis --- the only kind of psychological therapy on display in In Treatment.

Why the Stress on Psychoanalysis Alone?

Contrary to the complaints of a handful of perceptive, informed commentators in the HBO forum-thread devoted to psychotherapy, there's a good reason for In Treatment to deal with a psychoanalyst and not a cognitive-behavioral therapist. In plain language, the latter wouldn't make for good drama. Only probing in depth the personality background of Weston's patients --- and, for Gina, Weston's background and that of his wife Kate when they start couple's therapy for three sessions late in the drama-series --- creates complex, three-dimensional characters of full-tilt theatrical interest.

In effect, Gina's more traditional, less empathic kind of psychoanalysis differs from Weston's looser, more freewheeling approach that reflects recent trends in the last 30 or 40 years in psychoanalytical approaches. How so is what Part Three will be about. Before those contrasts within psychoanalysis unfold, though, a few more preliminary remarks about the major division between insight-oriented and cognitive-behavioral approaches need to be set out by way of clarification, nothing else.

 

A Fast Top-Skimming Survey of Psychotherapies, Introductory Only

(i.) Psychoanalysis and Other Insight-Oriented Approaches, Expanded on Later

All psychoanalytical variants, note carefully, draw on the same theoretical core of Freud's work early in the 20th century, however much it might have been modified by later psychoanalytical schools: above all else, on this Freudian view, people's emotional troubles with themselves and others in late teen-age and adult life derive from festering childhood and early adolescent personality-problems that are internalized and largely repressed into the unconscious levels of mental life.

These unresolved psychological conflicts and various compromise defense (coping) mechanisms --- which derive from individual biological inheritance and the interaction of an individual person in early developmental stages of his or her life with parents and other closely intimate persons --- structure the emotional life and personality of that person through various developmental stages. No individual can escape his or her past. To think otherwise is to see people's troubles in adult life from an entirely different kind of psychological perspective --- all grouped, essentially, in psychotherapy, under the heading of cognitive/behavioral therapeutic methods for treating them. All insight-oriented therapies, however --- not just the variants of psychoanalysis --- share this outlook.

Sidebar clarification: Psychoanalysis vs. other insight-oriented therapies. To be credentialed as a psychoanalyst, you are required to undergo years of formal analysis at a certified institute. Until the last 30 years or so, moreover, only M.D. psychiatrists could be admitted to such training --- at any rate, in the US. It was always different in Europe. Since the 1970s, this requirement has been waived, and almost all analysts are Ph.D.'s . . . few psychiatrists interested any longer in psychoanalysis, rather in psychotrophic medicines and possibly brief follow-up psycho-therapy.

Similarly, in virtually all other therapies --- whether insight-oriented or cognitive-behavioral --- the therapists are either Ph.D.'s or M.A's in clinical psychology.

 

Want a more graphic way of putting this point about how the past influences the present?

Tersely and vividly put, the past relives in our daily lives whenever we find ourselves excessively over-reacting or excessively under-reacting to stressful situations: of a general sort or those involving important people in our lives, such as parents, spouses, children, co-workers, bosses, and the like.

Such behavior --- say, experiencing intense fears about a fairly limited criticism or rebuke or rejection, or alternatively denying entirely that we have done something displeasing to others who count in our lives --- is inappropriate to the "stressors." We lack proper reality-testing. Instead, our reactions are channeled through a chronic, long-lived mental prism of internalized childhood fears, worries, wounds, anxiety, or rage, and so our behavior --- rather than being suited to the stressful situation --- is motivated by a complex of unconsciously inappropriate beliefs, expectations, and motive-forces . . . all living on in the heavily guarded unconscious levels of our minds.

Enter the aim of all insight-oriented therapies: to make the unconscious conscious, so that the patient-client is able to see how the punitive, self-defeating past relives itself harmfully in the present and creates negative and harmful dysfunctional feelings, thoughts, expectations, and motivated behavior toward himself or others.

Once the patient is then aware of these unconscious emotions and thoughts and expectations, so insight-oriented therapists assume --- way too often, please note, with polyannish views of themselves and their patients --- the patient is supposedly freer from irrational thoughts and feelings, freer therefore to make more choices of a reality-based sort in his or her life, and freer consequently to cope more effectively with all the stresses, challenges, and problems of living our lives. (In traditional psychoanalysis, still widely practiced, the talk-therapy would supposedly induce a painful, threatening traumatic transference-neurosis in the presence of the psychoanalytical surrogate parents . . . painful and very threatening because all the barriers of repression would crack sooner or later and the hidden underground traumas, conflicts, and assembled fears, worries, anxieties, and the like rush into the conscious awareness of the bewildered, overwrought patient. The resolution of that transference-neurosis was what analysis aimed at, taking years and years (or longer) of relentless therapeutic sessions. Whether a "cure" ever emerged in most cases is at best enshrouded in uncertainty.)

 

No need to say anything more at this point about psychoanalysis and its insight-oriented offshoots . . . in particular the different theoretical versions within them. Paul practices one kind, Gina another; and they frequently squabble about their theoretical differences --- which show up, moreover, as personal conflicts. We'll take up these important points in the next parts of this buggy commentary.

In the meantime, want an even more vivid poetic account of how our repressed puntive and self-defeating past lives on in our here-and-now? Then consider the poem by a late 20th century English poet, Philip Larkin:

They fuck you up your mum and dad.

They don't mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn

By fools in old-style hats and coats.

Who half the time were soppy-sterm

And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.

It deepens like a coastal shelf.

Get out as early as you can,

And don't have kids yourself.

....

Anyway, enough for today. The series on psychotherapies --- insight-oriented and cognitive-behavioral, with references to the HBO extraordinary dramatic series In Treatment --- will continue in the next two articles in this buggy series.