October 1991

This entry was a response to a magazine's request for material on mentorship.

The Psychiatrist as Mentor
Upstream: A Magazine for Northwest Readers and Writers, Winter 1992

You ask about mentorship, artistic expression.  And I immediately think of him.  I think of him, and I think of me.  I think of us together.  Of our development.  Over thirteen years.  Of time.  Winding in and out and around each other.  Always trying.  To figure out.  How to do this powerful thing we do.  If this doing we're always doing will continue.  If we're doing it right.

And, then, finally, we learn.  Together.  That right has only to do with us.  Nothing to do with theory beyond the simple rule of no exploitation.  Beyond the complexity of unknowing what we know.  And the acceptance.  Of not knowing.  The nature of ambiguity.  The muddle.  Of deciphering.  Another's mind.  The commitment.  To rules of self.  To mind.  To Interruption. Saying goodbye.  Which often impairs.  The process.

You say hello.  Refill the space.  Shyly.  The both. With trust.  Ability.  To see.  And hear.  To have confidence.  To create.  Space.  To feel.  Love.  To accept that you love.  That you are loved.  That is the hardest.  His love.  A silence that speaks.  Tolerates.  Untouched touch.  Eyes that feel.  That fill.

I hadn't planned on his being my mentor.  I hadn't thought about him that way.  Until recently.  Sometime after the analysis began. It crept up on me.  I had been in therapy with him for eleven years before that.  When we started, he was a resident in psychiatry at the U; I was a teaching assistant in history.  We were in our thirties, a couple of years apart.  Neither of us knew anything about the realities of a therapeutic relationship--with each other.  We plodded and forged our own.  As we went.  Trial and error.  Failure.  Success.  Fundamentals, we knew.

The room has two chairs.  A table between.  Nothing fancy.  A desk and chair.  A rug.  Some wall hangings.  Books.  A couch.  A box of tissues and waste basket.  Basic Freud.  A few ornaments.  Two lamps.  One is always on.  Why, I don't know.  I ask him, but he doesn't answer me.  So, I give him a dirty look, or, tell him he's a pain in the ass.  I'm not sorry.  Neither is he.

Once, when he went on vacation, I did something heretical: I went to another analyst for the month he was away.  When l told him what I intended, he was ticked off.  Wasn't hard to see.  But I was resolute.  So we worked on it, and he came round.  She said she felt as if she were doing couple's counseling.  She said, he and I validated each other.  She said, what we do is dance.

I learn from this man because he learns from me.  We teach each other.  Most of the time.  We learn how to change.  Slowly.  As a result of the other.  We accept each other's mistakes.  And our mistakes.  We accept each other's mentorship.
I know that as crushing an experience as we-ness can be, the intersubjective dynamic is essential for my creativity, for my writing and my art.  And that the analytic setting has provided me with a mentoring experience that I have not found elsewhere, certainly not in the academic milieu.  Nor in the familial. 

Psychoanalysis as process is, in itself, an art form.  And it is a mentorial tool.  It feeds my writing because it allows me to bring that which exists in the unconscious and preconscious realms of my mind into the conscious.  It forces me to retrieve hidden portions of myself.  It provides me with the ability to access memory I didn't know I had. 

Artists need to discover which learning forms most integrally reflect their thought processes--and, most, integrally, reflect their ideas concerning artistic being-ness.  Because a mentor is, after all, a facet of a particular learning field.  And, a mentor is a mirror to the self. 

Psychoanalysis reinforces my natural tendency to analyze.  It is my field for learning, for gathering myself up into my own voice.  The art of psychoanalysis allows me to examine my mental functioning--images, fantasies, repressions, defenses, hostilities, drives and dreams--with someone whose mind is entwined intensely with mine, whose insights and special knowledge of my personal history help me to arrive at a better understanding of myself in relation to the words I place on the page and the paint I place on a canvas. 

As my analyst and I interact, as transferences and countertransferences develop between us, as he becomes my parents and siblings, cousins, friends, uncles and aunts.  Husband, lover.  Children.  As I become whoever l become to him, as we even become each other, we also become the receptors of each other's selves.  And conflict.  And creativity. 

All that we have between us in that room--from each of our pasts--we take into ourselves.  All that I take from that room I place in my writing.  Is essential for my art.  All that I leave behind--is essential for his.

copyright1992,2005Esther Altshul Helfgott

copyright2005Esther AltshulHelfgott
From Psychoanalysis: The Magic and The Lie by Esther AltshulHelfgott
All Rights Reserved

Esther Altshul Helfgott:
"I underwent a four-and-a-half year five-day-a-week analysis with a traditional male Freudian psychoanalyst (or he tried to behave that way).  The maternal aspects of the analysis were wonderfully  gentle, but the paternal/fraternal aspects were horrendous.  He came to hold an incredible amount of power over me and would not help me leave, terminate, be done with the process that was, from the beginning, highly sexualized and erotic...  He refused to confront the "here and now" between us, always taking me back to my past; in so doing, he helped repeat/reenact a condition that brought me to analysis in the first place... In the end, I thought he would keep me there forever ... and so I left.  Eventually I came back to the study of psychoanalysis which is, with all its faults, one of my intellectual homes; another is poetry."
- Esther Altshul Helfgott

read Esther's

Review of D.M. Thomas'
Eating Pavlova

Review of Joan Fiset's
Now the Day is Over

Psychoanalysis as Place: Diary Entry

The Psychiatrist As Poet

At the Hospital

The Homeless One: A Poem in Many Voices

Analytic Entrapment, American Imago (Oct 2005)