Endings & Beginnings
An article from The Candidate Connection Newsletter - January 2015 / Volume 17, Issue 1
As candidates in psychoanalytic training, we experience the cycle of endings and beginnings repeatedly. Whether we begin or end a class, an analytic case or an analytic hour, we repeatedly shift gears as we end one thing and begin another.
Endings and beginnings are certainly not easy. They involve change, loss, uncertainty, and flux. We seem to thrive on the familiar and resist change; we are very much creatures of habit. And yet, while change is hard, be it beginning something new or ending something known, once things settle in, what has seemed so difficult and fraught with fear becomes more familiar and comfortable. When we experience these shifts and changes as we cycle through the many beginnings and endings we experience during training, not only do we survive, but we thrive.
What I am saying is that endings and beginnings are both painful and enlivening. I see them as two sides of a coin— leading to change (no pun intended). We begin something with an awareness that one day it will end. We try to live in the moment, but it’s hard to dim our awareness that this moment, this session, this year, will end. And yet, when something ends, something new begins—and along with fear of the unknown comes excitement and growth, and the promise of new possibilities.
I often think back to the time when I graduated high school early. I left my home and my country to spend six months along with 20 other American students on a program in Israel where we lived with host families in Tel Aviv and took classes at the university. I managed to quell my fears and anxieties as I immersed myself in learning a new language. Yes, the beginning was rough. But, by the end of the program, I so fell in love with the land and its people that I scrapped my plans to return with every- one else and began my studies at Hebrew University. I had no regrets.
I imagine ending my own analysis, but with mixed feelings. Going four times a week has become a seamless part of my weekly schedule. Once I stop, I wonder how strange it will feel to have these analytic hours free. Loss looms large. But looking on the bright side—at the glass half full—when I end, I believe I will have earned enough stripes, strengthened enough defenses, and learned to make good enough compromises so that my loss is counterbalanced by my gain. And, at the next fork in the road, I envision myself taking the path that is not only less traveled, but more challenging and more exciting. I tell my analyst that when I end, it will feel like a win-win situation—for both of us. Maybe this is a rationalization. I want to smooth the rough edges of ending. Or, I could see it as both: loss and gain.
Having the experience of being in an analysis and thus on both sides of the couch, it makes it more possible to empathize with our patients what the experience of beginning and moving toward ending treatment is like. Since termination is an inevitable part of treatment, an essential task of ours is to help our patients do just that and we must follow our patient’s lead in deciding when that time has come.
With our patients, whether they come weekly or several times a week, we build deeper connections over time. Inevitably, there will be ruptures and attempts to repair these ruptures, a cycle that begins and ends many times throughout an analysis. We might miss or misunderstand something our patient has said, or done any number of things that result in a rupture in the analytic relationship. It helps if we revisit that difficult moment and look at it together in a way that opens up a space for shared meaning. When we inquire of our patients what we missed or misunderstood, we pave the way for them to clarify their meanings, intentions, thoughts, and feelings. In the process, our patients are more likely to feel heard, felt, and understood. I believe that it is in the repair of these very ruptures that significant therapeutic gains are made.
We do well, as candidates, to embrace both the endings and beginnings and all that takes place in between during analytic training and beyond. When we meet the challenges inherent in navigating these difficult transitions, both in our training and in our work with our patients, we stretch and tone our analytic muscles greatly. We learn that we can not only survive the strain and tension of an ending or beginning, but we can also thrive.