In these times of subjective emergencies, I will attempt to circumscribe how a phone call can constitute an intervention outside-of-the-norm, in different contexts. I will take three examples.
The Voice That Disanguishes
Firstly, an institutional experience made me sensitive to the precise effectiveness of this type of intervention. I worked there only one day a week, which could prove to be insufficient. When one of my patients became too anguished, it happened that a colleague proposed a brief telephone meeting with me. I was amazed by the relief produced in just a few minutes. Almost nothing was said. But the voice was pacifying.
Contraction of Discourse
At the beginning of my private practice, I had a telephone conversation with a patient’s mother, who drowned me in a flood of demands: How come I didn’t give receipts? Doctors did it, to her knowledge (implying: what kind of charlatan was I then?) I stammered that I wasn’t a doctor and that, with me, that’s the way it was… She calmed down instantly and showed no concern for me for the next fifteen years. Where did this reversal come from? Perhaps it was precisely from the unsteady tone of my voice. But I think the radical effect of this response has to do with the telephone itself. If I had received this person in my office, we would have been led to say more. In this case, this way of handling the cut was only possible on the telephone.
Minus Times Minus Equals Plus
The last example comes from my own analysis. One day when I arrived for my session, I found the analyst in the waiting room, ready to leave. Had he forgotten me? He simply tells me that he cannot receive me and that I will have to come back in the evening. I object that I work very late and that it is impossible. He maintains that he will be waiting for me. In the evening, I telephone to say that I am still in the suburbs and that I will not come. I add: “Besides, I already saw you this morning.” He replied that in that case I should pay for the session.
My hypothesis is that it was indeed a session, in two steps. The first step, in a hurry in the waiting room, aimed at cancelling it. The analyst’s words sounded like an order. Second step: the phone call. This time, I make myself heard, and it’s my turn to cancel. Do two cancelled sessions equal one session? The phone call alone would not have been enough to register it as such (there were others, which I considered simply as… phone calls). The effect of surprise played its part, this session coming to cut across the routine of analysis. What are the arguments against this? The place is not the analyst’s office, but first his waiting room, then my office.
The analysand is generally expected to travel. Indeed, I travelled the first time, and the act of phoning can require more effort than an hour on the metro. What about the extreme fleetingness of what took place? This session, hardly shorter than others at this time in my treatment, differed through having touched a time limit, by virtue of its own vanishing character. But above all, on the phone, the bodies are not in each other’s presence, “presence (which) is indispensable for touching (the) real” (1). What conclusion can be drawn from this? Determining whether, in a specific case, there was a session or not, is it not measured by the effects produced? I would say it was a session because that was what I made of it. The analyst confirmed: “You will pay for it then.”
What these examples have in common is that they were very brief exchanges and exceptional situations. What happens when the exception is made to last? Would it be better to wait for the end of confinement, after which “the unconscious will be there and the analyses will naturally resume their course”?(2) It nevertheless seems accepted that “using the means of remote communication seems to be indicated in certain cases, provided that we have an idea of what we are doing”(3). It is a matter of taking things case by case. However, in our current situation, is not anxiety the rule? Isn’t everyone more or less overwhelmed, even if the defences that are mobilized are diverse?
Translated by Janet Haney
(1) Caroz, G., “Recalling Psychoanalysis”, LRO, 18 April 2020. Available online.
(2) Amirault, M., “Welcoming Contingency”, L’Hebdo-Blog 198, 5 April 2020.
(3) Caroz, G., op. cit.