A TRAINING ANALYST’S
Memories in Memorial to her
July was three too many months since I’d last been in touch with one of the most important people in my life, Dr. Ralph Obler. For those of you who have read my memoir, “The Most Beautiful Place In the World and the Realization of a State of Mind" you probably know something about
this man. For those of my colleagues who found me admirably capable of tolerating a negative transference and putting it to good use on behalf of my patients, I must admit that I believe that this quality was mainly owing to my nine years with Ralph. I will also confess that it was a stormy nine years from beginning to end. I had what one might call a chronic negative transference, and I felt myself to have been quite rude and verbally violent, and in my fantasies, physically so as well. Dr. Obler seemed to be siphoning off all the toxins from my relationship with Ted into the one between the two of us, which was probably what my then-wise fiancee knew would be the case, and why
Ted made me promise that I would enter into analysis immediately after our honeymoon. It was only several years after the termination of my analytic relationship with Ralph that I discovered that my recollections of what he thought of me hadn’t even been close to reality. He never thought of me as psychotic, but always wondered when I would outgrow the need for diapers. He surely had that right; I was a squalling screaming, fist-pounding infant in a grown woman’s body. Unfortunately he never quite found the words to sufficiently address that reality. Consistently, he was patient, profoundly empathic, and kept his good humor, while clearly taking me very seriously. Perhaps that was acknowledgment enough. My fantasy that he was against my training to become a psychoanalyst because I was not a medical doctor like him was one of those that evaporated post-analysis. On the contrary, I was later to discover that his own analyst, David Brunswick, was himself a lay person: a psychologist who had an interest in psychosomatics, as did I! After we terminated the treatment in a mutually satisfactory way, I completed my own psychoanalytic training and began a second analysis with Ralph’s wholehearted approval. He felt strongly that I was in need of analysis with someone toward whom
I would not have such strong ‘ambivalent’ feelings. My choice of Dr. Yvonne Hansen was met with his appreciation and endorsement. When I ‘grew up' to become a well-known and respected psychoanalyst throughout the international community, Ralph and I enjoyed a collegial connection and became friends in a manner of speaking, meeting four or five times a year for coffee and discussing what we had
learned from the work with his patients and mine, and what it was like for him to be a father of four and a grandfather of four times that number. He was always proud of each of his children and grandchildren and was delighted to announce nearly every year toward the end of his life that he had been once again made a great grandfather. His jewel of a wife, June, eventually also joined with my husband to make a foursome for an occasional dinner, which was a treat The Oblers were good-humored, athletic, full of energy, and the zest for life, and were clearly still lovebirds after decades of marriage. Until the end, Ralph looked a good 15 years younger than he was at the age of 95, and June looked even younger. Or perhaps it was my wishful thinking that they would be forever young, alive, and in my life, I’ll never forget the time when I was still in analysis with Ralph and I was sure I'd seen a woman leave his office building, and get into his car; A woman that looked just like Sophia Loren. My imagination had me believing that she was Ralph’s wife When I asked a mutual friend and colleague
if June looked like Sophia Loren, she replied “Exactly like Sophia Loren.” I didn’t catch on at the time that my friend was teasing me and trying to stir up my jealousy. In truth when we finally met, June reminded me of Jane Wyman, a beautiful and brilliant film actress since her youth, who for years had played the perfect wife and mother in the TV series “Father knows Best.” A few years after my analysis terminated, Ralph and I ran into each other in the neighborhood pharmacy. It was on the 17th of March and he was happily munching on a green bagel in honor of Saint Patrick’s day. I said hi and he offered me a bite. I guess that’s when we really knew that our professional relationship as analyst and analysand had been worked through and afterward, we were able to have a very ordinary liaison as senior and junior colleagues. I also discovered that his birthday was only a day after mine, so I always contacted him and sent him birthday cards. He never returned the favor, but I appreciated that separateness that remained in place: that healthy boundary that lasted until the end.
We were last together when the four of us had dinner just about a week before Ted and I left the States. Ever since our move to Paris, we kept in touch on Facetime. I last called him the day after his birthday this year. That was the first time I realized that something was wrong. Ralph seemed to have aged since I'd last spoken to him at the end of the previous year. Whenever we’d met on FaceTime, he never failed to tell me how really good I looked, and to me, he had always looked unchanged, that is up until this year. When I questioned him about it, he bluntly said, “Judi, don’t you know, I have cancer.” I don’t recall that we spoke about the details of his illness, although he did tell me that he had a treatment that seemed to be doing him some good according to the doctors. But I think unconsciously I realized that he was dying. Each week when I thought of him, I would tell Ted, “I think we should call Ralph & June on FaceTime." But something always came up, and I put it off time and again. I’m sure in part I was afraid to call and receive bad news. Sometimes I’d cheer myself up by telling myself that June would indeed have contacted Ted and me if something had turned sideways with Ralph Today, I finally got up the gumption to call, only to be confronted with an ominous message His phone had been disconnected. So I took a deep breath and called the home phone, hoping to get June. But instead, a younger voice answered and introduced herself as Elizabeth, whom I knew to be Ralph’s eldest daughter. June was on her way out the door to her doctor, and Elizabeth suggested that she assist her mother to FaceTime with me when she returned home in a couple of hours. Instead, I received a text putting it off until Saturday. I could only hope that June would not find it too burdensome to speak with me. I didn’t want to intrude. After all, Ralph may have been my psychoanalytic father, but I wasn’t really part of the family.
While I waited the following day, hoping to receive a call, so many memories cropped up in my mind. One was of a time when the session had ended, and I was so furious with Ralph that I marched off towards the door in such a way that he must’ve known what was on my mind, because he shouted, “Don’t slam the… “, just as I slammed the door, causing several of the acoustic panels in his drop ceiling to fall out of their frames, crashing to the floor. Such satisfaction! I recalled, very late in the analysis being rageful at the end of one hour, and as I passed Ralph’s desk, I suddenly became aware of a large bronze bull, quite well hung, situated right there. I glanced at it for some time and asked. “Has that always been there?” The next day it was gone, and I wondered if he might have been worried that I would soon weaponize that sculpture. He surely had a reason for concern, as I had done as much with so many empty Kleenex boxes that I had tossed over my shoulder while lying on the couch, furious that he could be so careless as to run out of such necessary supplies for the cry-baby that I was. I’m sure that there was really only one time that he retaliated: a rare occasion when his unconscious seemed to take the bit in its mouth and ran away with his analytic judgment. This was a time when he made an interpretation that nearly broke my heart and came very close to home in more ways than one. It occurred after one of those infrequent moments when I felt thankful and appreciative, even affectionate towards him, and I expressed my gratitude. He said, “I already have two daughters you know!” I hadn’t! Of course, this was very pertinent to my personal connection with my father, who seemed to be bashful and uncomfortable with me
as I grew to be a buxom and flirtatious teenager. I remember one day in particular I walked up to him as he sat waiting at a bar in a restaurant where we were all meeting for a family dinner. I threw my arms around his neck, kissed him on the cheek, and said, “You’re the best daddy in the world", to which he replied, “Cut the bullshit!" Of course, I actually did have two older sisters and he may as well have reminded me that he already had two daughters and would rather have had a son the third time around! This was a perfect example of Ralph's countertransference being acted out, but such acts were so infrequent that I actually have a distinct memory of this one, which may have truly been the one and only one that was out of line although full of reality. I can also remember that during the training analysis I was sure that he had no desire to be involved in training a lay person to become an analyst. I was certain that his reluctance to actually apply for the position of training analyst in my Institute in order to make my analysis kosher, had much to do with the fact that he was against non-medical people training as analysts. But I couldn’t have been more wrong in this transference assumption, as I found out years later that his own beloved analyst had been David Brunswick, better known in the United States before, during, and after World War II as ‘Affidavit Brunswick’ because he had taken responsibility for the welfare of so many immigrant Jewish psychoanalysts fleeing Europe to Los Angeles and Chicago. The reason this is such a significant fact is that David Brunswick himself was what Freud called a ‘lay analyst’: a psychologist with a doctoral degree who trained as a psychoanalyst and was famous for his work in psychosomatics. The 'uncanny' thing about that was that I had done my doctoral dissertation on the emotional etiology of asthma. This was something that Ralph and I spoke about and that impressed me as proof that much of what I thought was going on in those years on the couch was purely transference, and that he could take these misrepresentations with no hard feelings was unusual. I also had many memories of times when I would scold him for not being more well-read in the works of Melanie Klein, Wilfred Bion, Donald Winnicott, and Frances Tustin, which I insisted would make him a better analyst. It wasn’t until close to the end of our therapeutic experience that, in passing his bookcases, I saw that they were filled with books by these authors.
He had been an open-minded and a prominent role model for my way of working and understanding that I would later write in my own books. He wasn’t just an ordinary classical analyst. If truth be told, Ralph Maxwell Obler was the most profound influence on my comprehension of the importance of “taking the transference,” a concept for which my writings became so well known.
Last but not least, the spirit of Dr. Obler will always live in the
fictional character, Detective Ralph Orloff, in my murder mystery “Couched in Blood". It is no wonder that so many people have commented that Detective Ralph Orloff is the “nicest police detective” that they have ever known or read about!
Thank you, Dr. Obler, for being such a wonderful inspiration in so many ways. We will sorely miss you!