The evolution of the psychoanalyst's office

One motivation for Gerald's photography project was to see himself in his work: "As psychoanalysts we're very interested in increasing and expanding consciousness and awareness about experience. And I realized that I couldn't see myself -- no one can see themselves, after all -- so I wanted to see what I saw, by looking at myself." "So what did you learn about yourself?" asked Spencer. "Well, I learned that it took a while to become a good subject for the camera!" he laughed. "That is, to relax into the experience. I think this is true for analysts, especially young analysts, that it takes a while to become comfortable within yourself in doing the work that you do." For more info: "In the Shadow of Freud's Couch" - Photographs by Mark Gerald ( Freud Museum, Vienna Freud Museum, London By senior producer David Morgan
Courtesy Mark Gerald

(CBS News) New York psychoanalyst Mark Gerald is also a photographer, and for more than ten years he has photographed other psychoanalysts' offices, as part of a project called "In the Shadow of Freud's Couch." The images have been exhibited in New York and Athens, Greece, and can be found on the web at

In this web-exclusive interview, he talked to Susan Spencer about the evolution of analyst's office space since the time of Sigmund Freud; the importance of objects and artwork for both analyst and analysand; and the ubiquitous couch.

Mark Gerald: "When you train as a psychoanalyst, you sit in psychoanalysts' offices. You go to classes, you study with psychoanalysts. So I had plenty of time to look around many different offices. And I do remember one particular moment in which I was sitting in a psychoanalyst's office with a seminar of other trainee analysts. And the instructor was saying there's no such thing as a basic aggressive drive. And I was looking over his head, and there were these primitive masks that were there, all quite frightening."

Susan Spencer: "Very aggressive!"

Gerald: "And I thought, I wish I could get a picture of this! I had studied to be a photographer, and I thought this would be a great picture, and I'd call it, 'There's no such thing as an aggressive drive.' (laughs) So that was a moment that sort of coalesced what had been brewing for me for a long time."

Spencer: "What was your your goal, really, in doing this?"

Gerald: "Well, that's a very important question. I was aware that psychoanalysis is changing a great deal. But the public really hasn't understood that it has changed. Most people's conception of psychoanalysis comes from New Yorker cartoons, Woody Allen movies -- you know, the analyst is always an old white man with a little beard, sitting with his pad behind the couch.

"And I knew that the psychoanalytic institutes that I was involved in [and] beginning to teach in were getting a much more diverse group of people, candidates, coming in to be psychoanalysts. Many more women -- in fact nowadays, most psychoanalysts who are in training are women. Many more people of color, people diverse, from different cultures and backgrounds.

"Psychoanalysis in many parts of the world is actually becoming of great interest, and I wanted to show that. I wanted people to see that this is a very diverse group of practitioners. And I also thought that seeing people in their work space would really give a feel for what was going on. Now, psychoanalysis is not something that has really been open to access. Some of the principal things in psychoanalysis [are] privacy, confidentiality, and this is not only true for patients, but for analysts as well."

Spencer: "I'm surprised they let you in."

Gerald: "Had I not been an insider, I would not have been able to come in. I have some colleagues who are photographers who have tried to do a similar kind of endeavor. One I know, for example, did psychoanalytic chairs. He was able to get in there and do the chair. Just the chair, but not with the analyst present.

The psychoanalytic office of Martin Bergmann, Ph.D., New York, N.Y. Courtesy Mark Gerald

"This goes to a very central thing, I think, in my project and in the interest of psychoanalytic offices, in that all of the objects in the analyst's office, whether they're intentionally designed or brought in, or created, have meaning. 'Cause psychoanalysis is a practice of looking at and trying to understand the meaning of experience, and not only the surface meaning, but the more underlying meaning."

Spencer: "Is this something that the patient is aware of?"

Gerald: "Well, patients -- when they begin the process of a psychoanalytic treatment -- begin to become more and more interested in different layers of their own experience."

Spencer: "So what they're experiencing in that office, to the point of just what's around them, becomes very important."

Gerald: "It can be. It's not uncommon, for example, that a patient, sitting in a psychoanalyst's office for three or four years, might one day say, 'Oh, when did you get that new picture on the wall?' And it turns out the picture has been there all along. So why did they know in that moment, how did they come to discover that picture, to find it? That's part of the psychoanalytic process, that you are finding things that have been there all along, but were not available to awareness."

Spencer: "So if a patient becomes that sensitive to the surroundings, then what's in that office is really important."

Gerald: "I think so, yes.

"The first office that I photographed was my own, and it was a self-portrait. And part of the motivation for that was I wanted to see myself in my work. One of the things that we're very interested in is increasing and expanding consciousness and awareness about experience. And I realize that I couldn't see myself. No one can see themselves, after all. So I wanted to see what I saw, by looking at myself."

Spencer: "So what did you learn about yourself?"

Gerald: "Well, I learned that it took a while to become a good subject for the camera! That is, to relax into the experience. And I think this is true for analysts, especially young analysts, that it takes a while to become comfortable within yourself in doing the work that you do.

"You know, we study a lot, we learn a lot, we have a lot of forebears that we try to model ourselves after. And it takes a long time to differentiate and finally separate ourselves into having a personal psychoanalytic voice, and a personal psychoanalytic self. And this brings us to Freud's office, because this is the iconic psychoanalytic office: 19 Bergasse in Vienna.

"It's been refurbished, so it's a museum and you can go there. And it's a fascinating place. And the couch -- of course, you say psychoanalysis, you think couch. The couch is very small, and rather than being a couch that you lay down sort of horizontal, it's loaded with pillows so that the patient was really sitting up, essentially. But the designs and the creation of that first office became sort of internalized, without a lot of awareness, into all future psychoanalysts' office."