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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Dec 17, 2023

"My analysis not only allowed me to grieve [my mother], with my analyst patiently pushing me in the direction of my feelings, but it radically transformed my life. I wouldn't have had kids if I hadn't had my analysis because I thought ‘I'm an ambitious person, I want a career, you can't do everything’. I didn't know any models of women who had a career and enjoyed motherhood. In my analysis I learned just through analyzing my own dreams and free associations, that this was all a rationalization. I was a very maternal person and I had the unconscious belief that if you become a mother you die. Once that was conscious, I talked to my husband who was excited about the idea about having kids. We had our two daughters, and so my life is in very concrete ways radically enriched by my psychoanalysis. So I went into the field with a deep conviction of how therapeutic this process is and it's been kind of a straight line from there." 


Episode Description: We begin by describing the arc of learning that characterizes our psychoanalytic life journey. The oral tradition starts with our first supervisors and extends from there to study groups and to becoming a supervisor oneself. Nancy shares with us her professional trajectory from being an eager college student first encountering Freud to becoming a best-selling psychoanalytic author. She relates the transformative experience of her own analysis, the steps of maturation in her clinical work, and how she has faced the traumas of older age. We discuss the role that students have in relating to their more experienced colleagues and we close with her sharing her hope for our field's future.


Our Guest: Nancy McWilliams, PhD is Visiting Professor Emerita at Rutgers Graduate School of Applied & Professional Psychology and has a private practice in Lambertville, NJ. She is author of four textbooks (on psychoanalytic diagnosis, case formulation, therapy, and supervision) and is co-editor of both editions of the Psychodynamic Diagnostic Manual. A former president of the Society for Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy of the American Psychological Association, she is a member of the Austen Riggs Center Board of Trustees. Her books are available in 20 languages and she has taught in 30 countries. 


Recommended Readings:


McWilliams, N. (2022). Credo: Psychoanalysis as a wisdom tradition. In J. Salberg (Ed.), Psychoanalytic credos: Personal and professional journeys of psychoanalysts (pp. 70-77). New York: Routledge.


McWilliams, N. (2021). Psychoanalytic supervision. New York: Guilford Press. 


Lingiardi, V., & McWilliams, N. (Eds.) (2019) Special Issue: The PDM-2 and clinical and research Issues in psychoanalytic diagnosis. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 35.


McWilliams, N. (2017). Psychoanalytic reflections on mortality: Aging, dying, generativity, and renewal. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 34, 50-57. Also in C. Masur (2018), Flirting with death: Psychoanalysts consider mortality (pp. 25-40). New York: Routledge.


McWilliams, N. (2011). Psychoanalytic diagnosis: Understanding personality in the clinical process, rev. ed. New York: Guilford Press


McWilliams, N. (2004). Psychoanalytic psychotherapy: A practitioner’s guide. New York: Guilford Press.