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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Jan 8, 2023

“Unconsciously, or sometimes just without really focusing on it, we’re always responding to the musicality of the patient’s voice. I think that careful listening and study of opera really hones our ability to do that. We pay more attention to it and we can potentially make not just unconscious use of it but also conscious use of it. As we listen to how the music itself is conveying the story that the patient is telling, it’s not necessarily the same story as the words are telling. What is often interesting is that the musicality of the voice, whether in opera or in the consulting room, often is at variance with the spoken text and that opens up interesting opportunities for generating meaning.” S.G. 



“The tendency is first to think that the text that is being sung is all important and that the melody and the orchestration behind it are supporting the purpose of the aria. That is generally true in popular Italian operas where the music for the orchestra and the melody seems to support the overall message. Because of Wagner’s influence in wanting to have an orchestration that actually comments on the action on stage as a second opinion, you get into more complex music where often the orchestra is playing something that reminds the listener of a previous theme, a motif, that complexifies the actual aria being sung.” L.R. 



Episode Description: Our conversation revolves around the idea that appreciating opera can “correct the historical tilt towards the verbal text” that often simplifies analytic listening. Steve and Lee use opera to understand universal unconscious themes that are often represented in opera. They suggest as well that it can alert the analytic listener to multiple levels of meanings that can be represented in the orchestration and melodies in addition to the manifest libretto. The ‘case example’ is The Magic Flute where the trajectory of male development is demonstrated through the evolution of maternal and paternal imagoes over the course of the storyline. They use musical excerpts to demonstrate different character’s affect states that enable the listener to experience their increasing complexity. We close with Steve and Lee sharing some of their own life journeys that have brought them to a place of finding great pleasure in this art form. 



Our Guests: 


Steven Goldberg, M.D. is a Training and Supervising Analyst at the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and a Personal and Supervising Analyst at the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California. He is currently an Associate Editor of The Psychoanalytic Quarterly and has for many years co-chaired Opera on the Couch, a collaboration between the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and the San Francisco Opera. He has published on a variety of theoretical and technical issues in psychoanalysis as well as on psychoanalytic approaches to opera. 



Lee Rather, Ph.D. is on the faculties of the San Francisco Center for Psychoanalysis and the Psychoanalytic Institute of Northern California, where he is also a personal and supervising analyst. He has published and presented on a wide range of topics including the integration of psychoanalytic theories, the existential dynamics of desire, mourning, and acceptance, and the unconscious aspects of creativity in drama, literature, and music. He is in private practice in San Francisco. 



Recommended Readings: 



Bollas, C. (1999). Figures and their functions. In The mystery of things (pp. 35-46). New York: Routledge. 

Britton, R. (1989). The missing link: Parental sexuality in the Oedipus complex. InJ. Steiner (Ed.), The Oedipus complex today: Clinical implications. London: Karnac. 

Chailey, J. (1992). The Magic Flute Unveiled: Esoteric symbolism in Mozart’s Masonic Opera. Vermont: Inner Traditions International. 

Goldberg, S. (2011). Love, loss, and transformation in Wagner's Die Walkure. Fort Da 17:53-60 

Grier, F. (2019). Musicality in the consulting room. International Journal of 

Psychoanalysis,100: 827-885. 

Frattaroli, E. J. (1987). On the Validity of Treating Shakespeare's Characters as if They Were Real People. Psychoanalysis and Contemporary Thought, Volume 10(3):407-437. 

Freud, S. (1914). The Moses of Michelangelo. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.) The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, (Vol 13 pp. 210-241). 

Freud, S. (1928). Dostoevsky and Parricide. In J. Strachey (Ed. and Trans.) The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud, (Vol21, pp. 175-198). 

Knoblauch, S. (2000). The Musical Edge of Therapeutic Dialogue. Hillside, N.J. and London: The Analytic Press. 

Nagel, J. (2013). Melodies of the mind: Connections between psychoanalysis and music. New York: Routledge. 

Purcell, S. (2019). Psychic Song and Dance: Dissociation and Duets in the analysis of trauma. Psychoanalytic Quarterly 88: 315-34 

Rather, L. (2008). Reuniting the psychic couple in analytic training and practice: Theoretical reflections. Psychoanalytic Psychology. Vol 25, Number 1, pp. 99-109.