The evolution of the psychoanalyst's office

Spencer: "So you think psychoanalysts today are still modeling their offices after Freud's office?"

Gerald: "There are elements of it that are undeniable. There's not a psychoanalyst who've I've photographed -- and I've photographed analysts in South America, in Mexico, in Europe, in the United States -- who does not have a couch in their office. One of the senior New York analysts who actually works in a psychoanalytic approach called interpersonal psychoanalysis, which does not use the couch, he said, 'I never use the couch with my patients, they always sit up. But if I didn't have a couch, I wouldn't feel like a psychoanalyst.'"

Spencer: "This legitimizes you."

Gerald: "Right. It's your uniform. I mean, after all, we don't have stethoscopes, we don't have X-ray machines, we don't have uniforms of one kind or another. But you're gonna have that couch, yeah!"

Spencer: "What would a patient think if they walked in and didn't see it?"

Gerald: "I think they'd think they're going to see a cognitive behavioral therapist!" (laughs)

Spencer: "So what common motifs and themes have you picked up on over your years of photographing these offices?"

Photos: Inside the analyst's office

Gerald: "I'm very interested in showing diversity in the offices, and there are very interesting distinctions. But most offices carry with them a few basic ideas. And these are connected to the notion that a psychoanalytic office is an enclosure. It's a place for privacy, a place to get at and reach areas that are not easy to reach in the social world."

Spencer: "So you should first of all feel safe in the office."

Gerald: "Very, very much. I mean, all offices are in closed rooms. No picture windows, unless you're looking out over the Rockies, or someplace where no one else is going to be looking back. They have doors, and the very notion that when you go into an office, the door is closed behind you. You're in this place that is private, and it's an opportunity to open up areas that have been private in parts of yourself -- secrets, shameful areas, trauma. You know, areas that are just difficult to get to.

"Now, along with that, then there's the question of what is most conducive to that type of revealing or opening up, to be doing so safely? And one of the things that is often found in most psychoanalysts' offices -- and again, this trends back to Freud's office -- are pieces of art, either paintings or objects, and books. These are very common. I've come across some exceptions, but for the most part offices have these. And these are important because these are evocative objects. Most art in analysts' offices often have an abstract quality to it.

"Now, one of the analysts that I photographed, he's an Israeli analyst, he has in his office a sequence of images of the blasting of the atomic bomb -- a very unusual image to have in the office."

Spencer: "That would scare me to death!" (laughs)

Gerald: "It might scare one person to death, and another person might welcome something very eruptive in themselves that they could see in this space, the opportunity and the possibility of being able to bring up some of the things that feel uncontainable in themselves. . . . He practices in the United States, and many of his patients were ex-pat Israelis. So I think there was something that would resonate with them having lived in a culture and in an environment where violence and war was not uncommon."

Spencer: "So the office can tell us as much about the psychoanalyst as it can be affecting the patient?"