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Psychoanalysis On and Off the Couch

Dec 13, 2020

"My dad also revealed a lot of himself in his writing which made it difficult for me, because I also had the sense that I was looking into a private space that was his own. I wasn´t sure I really wanted to see it because it wasn´t always very nice and it wasn´t always very wholesome - most of the time it was very complicated.” (SM)


I grew up with a very keen interest in my father as a result of the position he held as a writer and as a psychoanalyst, while my mother also was a psychoanalyst. It made me very attentive to learning as much as I could about this very powerful man who had tremendous amounts of influence often without saying anything." (JW)


Description: Dr. Harvey Schwartz welcomes Susan Mailer and Dr. Joan Wheelis to today’s episode. They are both psychoanalysts who wrote memoirs which are organized around their relationships with their famous fathers, Susan being the daughter of Norman Mailer and Joan’s father being Allan Wheelis, a well known psychoanalyst and writer.


Susan and Joan speak about the meaning of memory, as they acknowledge that what they have written is a construction of their lives. Both recognize that writing helped as a piece of their self-analysis, to evolve their personal narrative and their internal relationships with their family members.


Susan Mailer was born in 1949 and is Norman Mailer’s firstborn. She grew up between Mexico City and New York, between her mother and her father. She graduated from Barnard College in 1971 and then moved to Santiago with her Chilean husband, where she became a psychoanalyst in the early ’90s. Since then she has been very active in the Chilean Psychoanalytic Organization. She has written on a variety of topics published in Latin American psychoanalytic journals where she teaches, supervises, and has a private practice in Santiago. Her book was published in 2019 and is called In Another Place: With and Without My Father Norman Mailer.


Dr. Joan Wheelis is a psychiatrist and a Training and Supervising psychoanalysts at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society & Institute. She is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is on the clinical faculty of the combined MGH/McLean Adult Psychiatry Residency Training Program. Joan is the founder and the director of an outpatient treatment facility called Two Brattle Center and has a private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her memoir, published in 2019, is called The Known, The Secret, The Forgotten: A Memoir.


Key takeaways:

[8:22] The similarities in Joan’s and Susan’s childhoods.

[9:01] Joan talks about her early years growing with both of her parents being psychoanalysts.

[10:58] Joan confesses not having a keen interest in what her father did while she was young but rather felt resentment.

[13:21] Joan shares how she received a sort of “oppressive” attention from her parents which resulted in her feeling watched all the time.

[14:23] Joan and Susan talk about their fathers’ relationships with fame and public speaking.

[15:00] Susan and Joan talk about their career choice.

[17:09] Joan and Susan share about dealing with the doubts about opening-up while writing their memoirs.

[19:33] The memoirs Joan and Susan wrote are not literally accurate since they don’t know for sure what happened while they were young.

[20:45] Memory is a reconstruction of stories and images.

[22:28] Joan shares her view about what the role of psychoanalysis is.

[23:07] Susan talks about how she struggled writing the memoir since she never considered herself a writer.

[24:23] Susan shares her experience of growing up around writers and artists.

[27:00] Susan discloses the catalyst for her to start writing.

[28:55] Joan talks about the piece she wrote for her father’s memorial.

[30:58] Joan and Susan talk about the reactions of their colleagues.

[33:54] It is not so common for psychoanalysts to share so much about themselves.

[35:02] Did writing a memoir changed their practices?

[36:20] Is writing a self-analysis?

[41:49] Joan talks about the relief of moving away from her parents.


Mentioned in this episode:

IPA Off the Couch


Recommended Readings:

In Another Place: With and Without My Father Norman Mailer, Susan Mailer


The Known, The Secret, The Forgotten: A Memoir. John Wheelis, MD