MY DOG AND BUDGET PSYCHOTHERAPY




MY DOG AND BUDGET PSYCHOTHERAPY

Ever heard of Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson? Back in the Eighties, he made a name for himself by claiming that Sigmund Freud might have suppressed key research findings, in order to preserve the intellectual purity of his theories.

That may explain why, in his book Dogs Never Lie about Love, Masson questions the supremacy of laboratory research as the way to knowledge. He does so by defending the value of personal, anecdotal evidence about dogs and their feelings:

“Since we can never know for certain what another person is feeling, anything we say about his inner world is, in a sense, pure speculation.” This being the case, Masson tells us, “Why should we not be permitted to similarly speculate about dogs? We watch their eyes and their ears and their tails, we listen for sounds.” Same with humans: we watch their faces, their eyes and mouths, listen for inflection in their voices, etc (p. xxii of the preface).

Those reading this don’t have to be told such things. We know it’s true as certainly as we know anything. Our dogs are not just humble beasts, not organic things among other organic things in the world, like tomatoes or worms. Our dogs are variations on personhood. They are sentient, perceptive beings who look straight at us, and do a remarkably good job of communicating without access to human speech.

What’s also true is that when I stop to reflect on how I respond to my dog, doing so opens a window on me, to me. I consider my border collie mix, Chelsea, to be something like a Freudian psychoanalyst.

I mean “talk” therapy, the kind in which the patient speaks freely, on whatever he chooses. In so doing he reveals information to a person trained to analyze what’s meant but is not being consciously presented in the patient’s monologue.

I talk quite a bit to my dog. This morning, I told her about a couple at dinner last night, people my wife Barbara and I have known for years, but only casually. Last night was different: they were part of a group that went to dinner, and my wife and I sat with them.

The following day, I found myself trashing these people to Chelsea. True, our exchange wasn’t exactly the same as it would be in a Freudian analyst's consulting room. I wasn’t lying down or sitting in an easy chair; my dog was doing the lying down, on an oriental rug. She’s blind in one eye, and when I looked at her, the good eye was trained exactly on me as I talked.

She didn’t understand me—not entirely--but she was listening. This fact caused me to stop and think, to analyze why I was going on in such a hostile way about this other couple.

And after I think about it some more, I’ll explain what I’ve come up with.
HERE'S THE BOOK


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