When you think of a therapist’s office, what comes to mind?
Lying down on a couch, staring into space, and telling a bookish old man with thick glasses and an indeterminate European accent all about the inner workings of your unconscious mind. Or something like that. The point is, that couch is probably front and center in your mental picture. But why is that? Like many things in psychology, it all goes back to Freud. He supposedly received his couch (pictured) from a female patient who wanted to show her gratitude.
Freud quickly saw the potential benefits. A fully relaxed patient would be more willing to say what’s on their mind, providing the therapist with unparalleled, unfiltered insights. Freud called this technique “free association”, and it popularized both the ideas of psychoanalysis and the therapeutic couch. In fact, the couch became so central to psychoanalysis that a thriving industry popped up to meet the demand. In Brooklyn, the Imperial Leather Company made out like gangbusters, selling tons of therapeutic couches during the “golden age” of psychoanalysis that spanned the 40s, 50s, and early 60s.
With the rise of hippie culture and new, more effective mental health treatments, Freud’s ideas fell out of favor. But the couch lived on in the realm of pop culture. Cartoonists have used it for years, and still do. Why? Because the therapeutic couch is an enduring symbol. People immediately recognize what it is and what it represents.
Freud may not be the belle of the psychiatric ball anymore, but his influence lives on. The id/ego/superego, the Freudian slip, and a bevy of complexes are still part of the vernacular of mental health. As for the couch, it exists not as a physical presence in the therapist’s office, but as a metaphor for relaxation, openness, and healing.
Sometimes you’ve just got to relax and have a bit of fun. Stay tuned for more from the Couch of Ages blog series and please, feel free to email us if there’s something you’d like to see covered in this space. Have a great day and try to find a bit of time to relax.
Image credit: Freud Museum, London