The chewing gum and the bicycle
Murray Stein (Chicago)
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson once said about a political opponent that he reckoned the man was too stupid to chew gum and ride a bicycle at the same time. I must confess that I
find it hard to listen to a patient and think at the same time. If I’m thinking I’m usually not listening, and if I’m listening attentively I’m generally not thinking. As a consequence of this deficit, I’ve made a rule for myself as an analyst: Listen first, think later. I do not always obey this rule, but I should. When I do begin thinking, it’s not always what Jung called ‘’directed thinking.’’ Thoughts form as I’m listening, and I try to observe them and consider what they mean before sharing them. Some of these thoughts are by-products of the complexes stimulated in my psyche by listening to the words of a patient. An analytic session is, in a sense, an extended word-association experiment with the analyst as subject. Or a thought will form that is compensatory to what the patient is saying. Sometimes directed thinking gets activated by the need to “figure out” what a dream or fantasy or tale means and to produce an interpretation. This may be useful to the process of
analysis or it may get in the way. As I see it, my role as analyst is to help the patient to think and not to do too much thinking myself. (I can think about the case later in the quiet of my study.) If my thinking can clear the way for the patient to arrive at an unconscious thought, or to clarify a state of confusion by thinking more accurately, or to reach an insight, then I consider it a job well done.