What happens when a fire destriys your workplace. Psychoaalytic response... throwing out the rule book... or revising it.. Thinking.maybe?
In these terrible days of Covid19, when everything is under threat this little bit of history from my days at Drummond Street Relationship Centre in Carlton, Melbourne, Victoria comes to my mind. “Drummond Street” formerly known as the Citizen’s Welfare Service of Victoria and, before that, as the Melbourne branch of the Charity Organisation Society of London,, has a long history of psychoanalytic work with couples and individuals. From the late 1970s Social Workers were the main providers. Many of them were supported by Melbourne’s psychoanalytic community including members of the Melbourne Institute of Psychoanalysis.
One sunny day at the end of a long summer, just as the universities were about to open, a terrible event occurred… and one that challenged what I had been taught about the management of the psychoanalytic frame… How does one think when the building in which one works is burned down. How do people cope when they have lost their space? I put this reflection forward for consideration… not because I know the answers. But this is what I remember of what was in my mind, then…
In late February 2000, at 9.00 am one Tuesday morning, I arrived at my workplace, a government funded counselling and therapy organization, to find that a fire had destroyed its interior overnight. I can still recall the fire engines. The boss was looking rather stunned and people from everywhere had gathered around. My precious notes, preparation for a couple therapy training course I was presenting that afternoon were trapped in my office on the third floor…There was not a chance that I would be allowed in. The stairs were falling down.
The organization’s employees were clinicians practicing psychoanalytic couple and individual psychotherapy. The damage was extensive. The buildings were not usable for over a year while repair work was carried out. ‘Drummond Street’ was a large three storey mansion created from three conjoined terrace houses built during the 1890s Melbourne property boom. They were linked together by a corridor. The arsonists had planned their hit well. They had set the fire where it would do the most damage. I do not know the motive. My colleagues and I fantasized about a neighborhood dispute over a car park at the back of the building. At the very least the Fire was a massive intrusion into the therapeutic space we had all developed with patients. It is not as if the reality of the event could not be spoken about. We also had to continue to work with our patients through this disaster.
Be that as it may. In the weeks before we were able to secure another building for our work the fire raised a question for all of us… What was the organization? What is the therapeutic space? Where is it located? What is the nature of the space between patient and therapist/ analyst? And what is the relation of the physical space of the consulting room to the interior world created by the patient and analyst together? For is it that relationship and the meaning of it for the patient, and the analyst, the real phenomenon that can bring relief and change. My analyst at this time was very helpful as I delineated these issues for myself. Had the organization died in the fire? Or not? There were some in my collegial group who said it did. Was the organization the building? And what happens when there is no building, or physical space, a consulting room, to symbolize the analytic relationship?
What did analysts do in the London Blitz when their buildings were damaged if not obliterated? Today the virus confronts us with similar questions as we quarantine ourselves and our practices and go online.
The theories we use these days have emerged from experience… Some people are not gifted with the capacity for theory…others are… it is something that Melanie Klein pointed out.
In these troubled times when so much is at stake as the virus moves through our communities as much as we try to prevent it… it offers an opportunity to explore this question about where, and how, psychoanalysis is located and managed.