Article — From the January 1955 issue

The Jet-Propelled Couch

Part II: Return to Earth

Last month, Dr. Lindner, a Baltimore psychoanalyst, described how Kirk Allen, a young research physicist, was sent to him by the doctor at the top-secret installation where Allen worked. Allen suffered from the delusion that he was spending part of his life on another planet. As the first step in his treatment, Dr. Lindner got his life history: Allen was the only child of an elderly father, the U.S. Commissioner of a small Pacific island, and a young mother who neglected him. As a small boy he had an affectionate Polynesian nurse, and at eleven he was prematurely introduced to sex by his white governess. At twelve he stumbled on a series of science- fiction books whose interplanetary hero had the same name as his own. Identifying himself with the legendary Kirk Allen, he began to believe the books were his own life history. Then he invented new adventures for this Kirk Allen which he believed he was “remembering.” He continued these fantasies through school and college in America, and even after he became a scientist. At last he found that he could at will “become” the other Kirk Allen. And, his analyst discovered, this conviction had become essential to his life.

A more extended account of this case history will appear in Dr. Lindner’s forthcoming book, The Fifty-Minute Hour.

For many days I pondered the question of how Kirk Allen could be restored to sanity–and yet remain alive. For there seemed to be nothing that could compete with the unending gratifications of his fantasy. Meanwhile Kirk turned over to me all of his records.

It is impossible to convey more than a bare impression of these. There were, to begin with, about 12,000 pages of typescript comprising the amended “biography” of Kirk Allen. This was divided into some 200 chapters and read like fiction. Appended to these pages were approximately 2,000 more of notes in Kirk’s handwriting, containing corrections necessitated by his more recent “researches,” and a huge bundle of scraps and jottings on envelopes, receipted bills, laundry slips.

There also were a glossary of names and terms that ran to more than 100 pages; 82 full-color maps carefully drawn to scale, 23 of planetary bodies in four projections, 31 of land masses on these planets, 14 labeled “Kirk Allen’s Expedition to —,” the remainder of cities on the various planets; 161 architectural sketches and elevations, all carefully scaled and annotated; 12 genealogical tables; an 18-page description of the galactic system in which Kirk Allen’s home planet was contained, with four astronomical charts, one for each of the seasons, and nine star-maps of the skies from observatories on other planets in the system; a 200-page history of the empire Kirk Allen ruled, with a three-page table of dates and names of battles or outstanding historical events; a series of 44 folders containing from 2 to 20 pages apiece, each dealing with some aspect–social, economic, or scientific–of the planet over which Kirk Allen ruled. Finally, there were 306 drawings of people, animals, plants, insects, weapons, utensils, machines, articles of clothing, vehicles, instruments, and furniture.

The reader can imagine my dismay at the sheer bulk of this material; I do not know if he can appreciate with what misgivings I approached the task of weaning this man from his madness. Aside from everything else, he was my patient under the most inauspicious possible conditions, for he had not come of his own volition. The authorities had sent him, demanding he be treated not only for his sake but because they feared that in his disturbed condition he was a poor security risk who could neither be kept on the job nor discharged.

In his dealings with me Kirk acted the part of a noble opponent who courteously permits his antagonist to choose the time, the place, even the weapons of their encounter. Unfailingly polite, he submitted to my ministrations, attempted to follow my instructions to the letter, and gave me every possible scope for my activities. But I understood at once that his courtesy was only the mask for a deep antagonism–and, perhaps, fear. In a dim way, I saw, Kirk too appreciated that his very life depended upon the maintenance of his psychosis. The small doubt implanted by the action of the authorities as well as my decision to treat him threatened the structure essential to his existence.

So far as I could, I tried to avoid giving Kirk any impression that I was entering the lists with him to prove that he was psychotic. Instead, because it was obvious that both his temperament and training were scientific, I set myself to capitalize on the one quality he had shown throughout his life: curiosity.

On the pretext of discovering how he did all the remarkable things he reported and just why it was he, Kirk Allen, to whom these special gifts were given, I strove to enlist his active participation in treatment. This meant, of course, that at least for the time being I “accepted” the validity of his experiences, and the “truth” of the material in the records. When Kirk appreciated that we had achieved a common ground where we could work together on a problem that intrigued him, he dropped his defenses and fell to the mutual task with enthusiasm.

For many months we progressed swiftly toward the goal we had set ourselves: to find out what had happened to Kirk to render him “sensitive” to the extraordinary experiences he reported. Our emphasis was on his actual biography, on the formative events, relationships, and associations of his childhood and adolescence. Nevertheless, so that he should know that no detail was being overlooked, I consented to–as a matter of fact, urged him toward–the exploration of additional means of discovering the source or sources of his “sensitivity.”

Accordingly, from time to time Kirk submitted to various examinations I arranged for him. Under an assumed name he put himself through the Diagnostic Clinic at the Johns Hopkins Hospital; received a thoroughgoing neurological examination including electroencephalogram, air injection engrams, and X-ray studies of his cranium from an outstanding neurologist of my acquaintance; was surveyed thoroughly by an endocrinologist; and even studied in meticulous detail by a physical anthropologist. The outcome of all these elaborate tests was nil: in every respect save the psychological Kirk was distressingly average.

By the end of the first months of Kirk’s treatment I was in a position to formulate, at least to my own satisfaction, the underlying psychic factors in his psychosis. Quite likely the incident that was to prove traumatic for him and determine, to a great extent, his future pattern, occurred when his family so abruptly severed his almost symbiotic relationship with the Polynesian nurse, Myna. Until then all his needs, biological and emotional, had been gratified. After the separation he was not only denied access to what had become the fountainhead of his security, but also lost the pivotal point of his contact with the universe. He could not even communicate with others, or employ any of his former techniques of behavior to obtain what he–like any child–required for normal development. His infant mind, threatened with permanent engulfment, strained to master it by the only means available at that stage: fantasy.

The first world Kirk built for himself was constructed at an age when most children are consolidating the gains of infancy and passing into a childhood in which the chief mental operation is the testing of reality. This was a phase through which Kirk never went; and it left him with a stunted capacity to distinguish between the real world and his own fantasies.

What followed generated the elements responsible for the two most intriguing and characteristic qualities of his fantasying: the qualities of time and distance.

Myna’s return to Kirk and the removal of the Commodore’s family to the mandated island coincided, and were followed in relatively swift succession by Kirk’s mother’s virtual retirement and Myna’s death.

Frustrated in all of his affectional aspirations, Kirk began to nourish intense feelings of hatred which rapidly declared themselves in destructive fantasies. Because he could not tolerate the devastating emotions to which the continual denial of his natural needs gave birth–emotions that provoked urges to aggress, to hate, and to destroy–he began to employ, first, distance, and, later, time, as the central features of his fantasies. By converting his inner turmoil and accompanying negative feelings to the stuff of fantasy and then projecting such fantasies to distant scenes and other times he found he could tolerate his impulses.

His premature sexual experiences with Miss Lilian increased his burden of inner hostility, his smoldering aggressiveness, and his destructive urgings. The capacity to divert these thoughts and feelings through fantasy projection was breaking down–not because he lacked imaginative invention but simply because no fantasy structure he could then envision was powerful enough to carry the tremendous weight of his negative impulses. The discovery of the “biographical” books was a life-saving accident.

It needed no more than the fortuitous correspondence of names to create the bridge across which Kirk traveled from painful reality to all-satisfying fantasy. And in the years to come, he needed these light-years of distance, these eons of time; for, after his father’s death, during the lonely period that followed, his inner rage, bitterness, and fury grew to frightening proportions.

The shift from merely recalling what had been written in his “biography” to amending it by imaginative excursion beyond the confines of the books was, his analysis revealed, a natural psychic consequence of his strange development. The “biography” was unable to supply all his. requirements for discharging anxiety and mastering experience, and when he reached this point he was forced to invent new material that would take more adequate account of his needs.

The discovery of this mental “gimmick” carried us far along the path of reconstructing Kirk’s life in its finest details, for with this insight employed as a skeleton key to his past, it hecame possible to show him, eventually, how (and why) an almost one-to-one correspondence existed between his fantasy inven- tions and his actual past experience: in order to relieve its anxious consequences, he had transformed each significant event of his life into a bit of fantasy.

His second shift in technique–from recall of the future beyond the “biography’s” scope to a sense of actual experience–was also a defensive psychic maneuver, necessitated by a new element that entered his life soon after he settled in his job at X Reservation.

The Miss Lilian episode was Kirk’s first and only venture into sexual relations. Following his shattering encounter with her, he avoided, as much as he could, all relationships with women. In his fantasy life, however, he was not only sexually alert but a notorious and successful lover.

Among the scientists working with him on the project at X was an attractive geologist, recently divorced. She was slightly older than Kirk, intelligent, vivacious, and internationally famous for her work. The only unattached female member of the scientific staff, she was in great demand among the men, most of whom were bachelors. Nevertheless, it was Kirk on whom she exerted all her charm. Soon they were meeting frequently, attending occasional social functions together, and sharing as a couple whatever entertainments the isolated community had to offer. Kirk regarded this association as a pleasant companionship in which the gender of his partner was incidental; the girl had other plans. She began to behave in a manner that awakened once more his dread of sex. The more reticent he acted, the bolder her advances became. Kirk tried to dissolve the relationship, but she pursued him relentlessly.

On the night Kirk achieved for the first time the illusion of actually being the future Kirk Allen on another planet, he had dined with her in her apartment, and after dinner she had made a frank sexual overture which literally scared him out of his wits. In great agitation he fled to his own room and, in an effort to calm himself, turned to his “records.” The solution of complete flight into unreality suddenly appeared as the best available means whereby his threatened self could be preserved, and he unconsciously seized upon it. Thereafter, it became his “escape hatch” from intolerable actuality.

What is of great interest to the psychoanalyst is the fact that the solution of total flight into fantasy occurred to Kirk while he was consciously engaged in the preparation of a map. It is notorious that maps, charts, architectural plans, and similar materials are often symbols of the human form, especially of curiosity or perplexity regarding sexual details. In the incident that precipitated the new pattern of Kirk’s fantasying, the remarkable effectiveness of fantasy as a defense against unconscious pressures can be seen with unusual clarity: not only are problems or strains relegated to a time and place that render them harmless, but there, in addition, they are solved or relieved.

By the end of the first year of analysis, Kirk and I had been able to work out the entire mechanics of his gigantic fantasy; had traced its sources to their roots; and had even elaborated, in meticulous detail, the one-to-one correspondence of experienced fact with imaginative feature. But none of this affected my patient’s behavior to the slightest degree. Although he conceded that the foundations of his psychosis (which we still avoided calling by this name) rested in the past, although he recognized it as a self-salvaging maneuver of escape from reality, although he understood as well as I the why and how of its operation–he showed no inclination to abandon it. Almost daily he entered the strange realm of his elaborate preoccupation, returning therefrom each time with some exciting bit of news or some colorful item to add to the “records.”

Outwardly he maintained the facade of an integrated and well-functioning person. To keep himself busy he attended lectures at the universities in and near Baltimore, made acquaintances among the scientists there, and participated casually in the intellectual life of the community. In sum, he was quite content. I, on the other hand, was perplexed as I had never been before about a patient. The only success I had had–if, indeed, this paltry accomplishment could be attributed to the analysis–was the minor one of holding my patient in treatment and keeping his condition relatively stable.

For weeks I wrestled with the problem of what to do. In rapid succession I ran through every technique, device, even trick of therapy I knew or had heard or read about. More and more, between the times we met for his hours, I was preoccupied with Kirk’s analysis. Some readers may wonder why I did not admit failure and refer Kirk to a psychiatrist who might employ one of the more drastic methods such as shock treatment. This I could not do, because I could not conscientiously expose this patient (or, indeed, any other) either to the experience of such treatment or to its possible negative effects. I am one of the more vocal antagonists of such “heroic” measures. And especially in Kirk’s case would I regard their use with abhorrence. His psychosis notwithstanding, he had a fine brain, a basically well-motivated personality, and showed promise of being–when freed from the debilitation of his disorder–one of those valuable persons on whom the future of our civilization depends.

Why, then, other readers may ask, did I not employ hypnosis? Because Kirk’s hold on reality was tenuous enough as it was, and I frankly feared hypnosis might break the thin thread by which his connection with this world was maintained.

During one of Kirk’s hours at the time of my deepest despair it came to me in a sudden flash of inspiration that to separate Kirk from his madness I must enter his fantasy and, from that position, pry him loose from the psychosis.

This idea of participating in a psychosis is not new. Such brilliant workers as John Rosen, Milton Wexler, and others have formulated the principles of the technique and described its mode of operation, and I had read their papers with more than usual interest. But I had never utilized the method myself, nor had I as yet observed the work. Equipped, therefore, with only a handful of general propositions, I took my first steps. I began by steeping myself in Kirk’s “records.” Intensive study brought to light many inconsistencies, and with these I started again my new assault on his psychosis.

One morning when Kirk came into my office for his regular appointment, I was sitting at the desk studying his two astronomical charts and nine star maps, and the section of his “records” dealing with astronomical research. Since we were not using the couch in this phase of our work, he drew up a chair. My silent concentration on the materials before me eventually produced–as I knew it would–sufficient tension to cause him to break the quiet.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Plenty,” I replied. “These distances are all fouled up. Either your astronomical projection from Srom Norbra X is wrong or the star maps are way off. They just don’t make sense. Look here… “

F or the next quarter hour I reviewed an error in distance between certain suns in the fanciful galaxy where Kirk Allen’s home planet was located–an error I had happily discovered the previous evening–and showed him that his maps could not possibly be correct in view of this mistake. He was very upset by this and made many rapid calculations on the back of one of the maps.

“I don’t understand it,” he said. “I could swear I copied those maps exactly from the originals at the Institute.”

“Maybe,” I suggested, “you made your mistake in translating from Olmayan measurements to miles.”

He shook his head.

“How were the distances measured in the first place?” I asked.

“Well, until we had the Stardrive and could actually get close to some of these suns we used ordinary methods–you know, spectroscopic analysis of light and so on. But after the ‘Age of Interstellar Flight’ the errors were corrected by direct instrument readings.”

“How are the instruments calibrated? In miles, kilometers, or what?”

“The basic unit,” he said pedantically, “is the ‘ecapalim,’ an Olmayan word correspond- ing to our mile, actually about a mile and five-sixteenths. But because of the immense distances, instruments on space-ships register in ‘tonacapalim,’ or units of about 160,000 miles.” He thought a while, then, “Here, let me see if it’s just an error in translating to miles.” He worked rapidly and soon covered the back of the map with numbers. Finally, with a grunt of disgust, he tossed his pencil on the desk and paced the room.

“That’s not it,” he said. “There’s something fundamentally wrong.”

“Well,” I comforted, “it’s not very serious.”

“Not serious!” he exploded. “Why, man, these maps are used by my pilots. No wonder I’ve lost so mary ships!”

“Have you lost very many?” I asked inno- cently.

He passed a trembling hand over his face and muttered some words I couldn’t hear. Then he returned to his chair and collapsed on it. I repeated the question: “Have you really lost many ships?”

“I … I don’t know,” he faltered. “I’ll have to check on it when I go back.”

We sat in silence again. I had the almost telepathic impression that Kirk’s mind was a turmoil of questions about me. Heretofore, he had merely accepted my acceptance of his fantasy. Now, with his own faith in it slightly shaken and mine apparently unruffled, he was perplexed.

I picked up the maps and charts from the desk and examined them closely. When I felt his attention was sufficiently aroused, I asked, “Do you remember when you made these?”

“No,” Kirk replied. “Why?”

“Well, it occurred to me you might have marked a date on them. It would help.”

“How?”

“It’s just an idea,” I said casually. “I thought if they were dated you could find out when you examined the originals at the Institute.”

“What good would that do?”

“Probably none,” I said, “except that it’s possible these maps are based on information obtained before the ‘Age of Interstellar Flight.’ That may be what’s wrong.”

His eyes brightened. “You mean,” he said, “that maybe these maps are based on old ones and my pilots are using- corrected charts?”

“Sure,” I said. “After all, if you’d been losing many ships you’d have heard about it long before this.”

“That’s easy to check on,” Kirk said cheer- fully.

“Of course,” I agreed. “When you go back, get in touch with the Institute.”

I rose to signal the end of our hour. As Kirk was about to depart he paused in the doorway, and his eyes swept over me in a long, slow, quizzical gaze. I knew then that my participation in the fantasy, the evidence I had just given of total acceptance–even of conspiracy–had, for the first time, made him question it. On the following day, when he announced that during the night he had journeyed to Srom Olma and had found, as I predicted, that his maps were based on calculations made before the “Age of Interstellar Flight,” there was a new hesitant note in his voice. Further evidence that he was shaken accumulated during subsequent days. Despite my urging, he never got around to preparing new star maps, although he agreed with me that the job had to be done for the sake of maintaining the completeness and correctness of the “records.”

While this particular episode was crucial, it was merely one of many, each of which contributed a little more leverage for prying my patient out of his madness. It was as if his delusion had room in it for only one person at one time. Psychotic structures, too, may be rigidly circumscribed as to “living space.” When another person invades the delusion, the original occupant finds himself literally forced to give way.

Some years before, I had observed the same thing while I was on the staff of a psychiatric sanitarium in Maryland. We had a middle-aged paranoid woman there who clung to the delusion that she was Mary, Mother of God. Months after she came to the hospital, we admitted another patient with the same delusion. Both patients were mild-mannered, Catholic, and from similar socio-economic levels. On the lawn one day, happily in the presence of another staff member and myself, the two deluded women met. Before long each had revealed her “secret” identity.

The first, our “older” patient, received the information with visible perturbation. “Why you can’t be, my dear,” she said. “You must be crazy. I am the Mother of God.” The new patient regarded her companion sorrowfully and, in a voice resonant with pity, said, “I’m afraid it’s you who are mixed up; I am Mary.” There followed a brief but polite argument, then a long silence during which the antagonists inspected each other warily. Finally, the “older” patient beckoned to the doctor standing with me. “Dr. S.,” she asked, “what was the name of Our Blessed Mary’s Mother?”

“I think it was Anne,” he replied.

At once this patient turned to the other, her face glowing. “If you’re Mary,” she declared, “I must be Anne, your mother.” And the two women embraced.

As a postscript to this story, it should be recorded that the woman who surrendered her Mother of God delusion thereafter responded rapidly to treatment and was soon discharged.

Participation also serves another purpose. To paraphrase Dr. John N. Rosen, when the therapist engages in the same behavior as the patient–and expresses the same ideas in the same language–the patient’s own image and activities are projected before him as on a screen. He is thus, in one bold maneuver, thrust to the side of reality, forced to take up a critical position vis-à-vis what he observes, i.e. his own behavior, and compelled to adopt an attitude. This attitude is soon transformed into a therapeutic tool with which the clinician refashions the patient’s psychic structure.

These principles operated on Kirk and slowly but surely edged him out of his psychosis. Meanwhile, strange things were happening to me, his psychoanalyst (or, better, his psychotherapist, since the method I was employing was no longer strictly that of psychoanalysis); and it is to these unforeseen personal effects that I now wish to turn.

Like any other profession, the practice of psychoanalysis has its share of drawbacks and dissatisfactions. There are long plateaus of dullness and routine that tend to arouse all-too-human discontents. I have often thought that these occasional limbo-like periods–when daily journeys through the unconscious seem so tame–would be more tolerable were it not for the additional occupational discomforts of satiation and confinement.

In his work, moment after moment, an analyst lives intimately with the human passions, and the consequence of this incessant exposure is a feeling of satiety. An analyst reaches a satiation point where only a “surprise”–a sudden, unpredictable event–can restore the quickening of interest and sensitivity he must have if he is to perform efficiently. Fortunately, such “surprises” are not lacking.

Beyond this, psychoanalysts suffer from the actual physical fact of enforced immobility. Everything we do takes place in the consulting room. The great dreams of which we partake, the tremendous conflicts, the shattering experiences, come to the rooms in which we sit and listen. Eternally, we are spectators–rather, auditors. Sometimes, it cannot be denied, one chafes against the sheer physical constriction of such a life. Finally, one tires of words, words, words.

When I made the decision to participate in Kirk’s psychosis, I was in such a period of emotional satiation and bored with my work. I had not then the wit to comprehend that my boredom was a defense against unresolved personal conflicts, that I was placing a screen between myself and the emotional turmoil of my patients in order to protect myself from constant emotional stimulation. Moreover, I was physically restless. Always a rather vigorous person, I contemplated with angry disgust the slow but progressive degeneration of my flesh and muscle from long hours of sitting.

Yet these two factors do not, by themselves, even begin to explain the extraordinary thing that happened to me. There were other factors, too, at work–my fondness for fantasy, my taste for science fiction, and certain temperamental qualities that contribute to the making of my personality.

I have always been given to an active fantasy life, whose roots are to be found in a childhood solitude comparable, but not similar, to Kirk’s. Mine was more psychological than actual. Nor was my fantasying like Kirk’s, but rather of the common Walter Mitty type. As a child and adolescent it offered gratifications withheld by the tedious reality of school and middle-class family life. As an adult it provided–and still does–those harmless outlets for life’s ordinary frustrations that take the sting from events and can, if employed properly, be creative. Until the episode with Kirk, however, I had no idea what a double-edged tool it could be.

As for science fiction, I have always been an aficionado of the genre, and at forty I remain a rather reluctant addict.

From the moment I made its acquaintance Kirk’s case fascinated me. The dictionary meaning of the word “fascinate”–”to bewitch, to enchant, to cast a spell over, etc.”–perfectly describes my state. As my participation in Kirk’s grandiose delusion increased through the deliberate efforts I have described, the sharply defined edges of reality began to fade and I entered part way into the incredible universe of Kirk’s design.

In the beginning it was a game. My wholesale acceptance of the fantasy was no more than a device I had seized upon to try to save Kirk. But eventually it ceased to be a game, and the moves, maneuvers, and manipulations of the pieces passed from my hands to become the tools of forces of which I was then hardly aware.

I became intrigued by the prospect Kirk’s fantasy presented for realizing my dearest wish: to have sufficient time to know, to do, and to be all the wonderful things denied me and all men by temporal limitations. I possess a curiosity beyond the average, an almost boundless appetite for knowing and experiencing. My life does not provide sufficient scope to satisfy this hunger, but Kirk’s intricate fabrication did. By engaging in it, I could obtain the illusion of gratifying my immense curiosity. With but a small step of an already lively imagination, I could escape from the prison of time.

And there was yet another charm for me. My ego has more than a modest share of a need to assert itself in creative ways, and the opportunities that this unique situation offered were tempting. While the position of “Lord of a Planet” had already been preempted, my peculiar function, once I had forced my way into Kirk’s romantic creation, gave free play to every inventive whim, inspiration, and demiurgic notion I ever hope to have. The materials of Kirk’s psychosis and the Achilles heel of my personality met and meshed like the gears of a clock.

The early signs of my disorder consisted, by and large, of an increased interest in the details of the fantasy and a mild but persistent anxiousness about them. This interest and anxiety were no longer so much for the sake of the therapy as in the service of the fantasy itself. I continued my intense pursuit of error and inconsistency in the “records,” with the obsessive aim of “setting them straight.”

Sometimes a problem about the “records” could not be settled in discussions with Kirk, and I seemed to be compelled by rising anxiety to work out a solution on my own. When I managed such a solution the relief it afforded me was intense–so was the pleasure I took in Kirk’s liberal congratulations. Often, too, when neither discussion with Kirk nor the efforts I made on my own sufficed to clarify some point, I found it “necessary” for him to obtain the required information by “journeying” to the place where it could be discovered.

On occasions of this kind, I actually ordered Kirk to make these excursions into the fantasy, then discovered myself awaiting his “return” with extraordinary eagerness.

At this point I find it necessary to assure the reader that, despite the foregoing, I never myself became psychotic. My condition throughout was that of enchantment developing toward obsession. I never lost sight of the fact that the “trips” Kirk made were impossible. But, in my preoccupation with the fantasy as such, I found it convenient to overlook, so far as I was concerned, the manner in which its wonderful details were made available to me.

As the days passed, my symptoms increased in number and intensity. Whereas the fantasy had previously beckoned only when I was actually with Kirk, or in my spare time, it now intruded itself into moments when I was not fully engaged otherwise, and even, on occasion, when I was attending to affairs far removed from Kirk. I found myself, for example, translating certain words into the “Olmayan” language. Phrases in this weird tongue, unannounced and unbidden, often came into my thoughts and remained there like a haunting melody until I set them down on paper and transposed them into English. When I recall this period now it becomes obvious to me how I employed the rationalization of clinical altruism for personal ends and thus fell into a trap that awaits all unwary therapists of the mind. I remember clearly how, in those interim moments when I paused to ask myself what I was doing or to question the validity of my thoughts and feelings, I deliberately dismissed the evidence that I was succumbing to a potentially fatal fascination by referring my behavior to the therapeutic gambit necessitated by my patient’s disorder.

Finally a moment arrived when I could not ignore the telltale signs of obsession. This crucial period was signalized by an exacerbation of my symptoms to the point where they became psychically painful. My anxiety, for example, could no longer be passed off as inner excitement: it rose to a pitch of aching apprehension where it demanded recognition. The amount of my preoccupation with the fantasy, the time I had to spend on its details, and the efforts I was forced to expend for its sake, enlarged to a point where other areas of my existence were invaded.

The transformation of fascination into psychic distress alarmed me sufficiently to make me take the necessary steps for extricating myself from my predicament. It acted, first, as a spur to self-analysis. Gradually, by the use of this accustomed tool, I was able to allay the more acute symptoms and to initiate those insightful processes that lead to recovery. But before I had completed this task, an amazing event occurred which, in the space of one hour, not only broke what remained of my spell, but marked the successful conclusion of Kirk’s treatment.


The scene was the same: my office, high above the noisy streets of Baltimore. Outside there was a flurry of snow; inside it was warm and quiet. I sat at the desk. preparing for my session with Kirk by studying some drawings he had made. Suddenly, to the accompaniment of a pleasant tinkle of chimes, the door to the Hallway opened and I knew that Kirk had arrived for his hour. I was eager to see him, for on the previous day I had sent him on a “mission” and had since been awaiting his report.

Kirk entered and took his accustomed place in the chair by my desk. We grunted our usual greetings; then, without preliminary, urged by now familiar tensions, I began: “Did you get the information?”

He nodded, and took from his pocket a leather-bound notebook which he opened and placed on the desk. Quickly I thumbed through the pages. So absolute was my absorption that I did not notice when Kirk left his chair and stood by the window. When I turned to him, intending to make some comment, he was staring down at me with an expression of concern.

“Something wrong?” I asked.

“No,” he replied.

“Then why are you standing there? Don’t you want to work on this with me?”

“Not especially.”

“That’s odd,” I commented. “This material on Olmayan ethnic types is particularly interesting …. Don’t you find it so?”

He shrugged.

For the next quarter hour we “worked” together; I with lively absorption, he in a desultory fashion. Finally he again left his chair and began to pace the room.

“Kirk,” I said, “what’s wrong? Why are you so … restless?”

“Oh, it’s just–” his arms described a gesture of weary despair–”just that I’ve got something to tell you–and I can’t seem to get it out.”

“Something you haven’t told me?”

He nodded.

“Something about yourself, or the work?”

“About both, I guess.”

“Well,” I said, “after all this time I shouldn’t think you’d have any trouble telling me what’s on your mind.”

“I don’t usually. But this is different.”

“Tell me anyhow,” I urged.

“All right,” he said. “I’ll tell you–but you’re not going’ to like it …. I’ve been lying to you.”

“Lying to me? What about?”

He leaned across and picked up the note book. “About this,” he said, “and this,” indicating the papers on the desk, “and all the stuff I’ve been giving you these last few weeks. It’s a lie, all of it. I’ve been making it up … inventing all that-that-nonsense!”

I tried not to show what I was feeling–the disappointment and the triumph, the concern and the relief.

“You’ve been making it all up?” I asked.

“All of it.”

“Even the … trips?”

“Trips!” he snorted. “What trips? It’s been weeks since I gave up that foolishness.”

He seated himself on the edge of his chair, his whole body rigid. “I know what I’ve been telling you,” he said earnestly. “But, believe me, I’ve been pretending for a long time. There’ve been no trips. I saw through all that stuff, weeks ago.”

“What do you mean–you saw through?”

“I realized I was crazy. I realized I’ve been deluding myself for years; that there never have been any ‘trips,’ that it was all just–just insanity.”

“Then why,” I asked, “did you pretend? Why did you keep on telling me … ?”

“Because I felt I had to,” he said. “Because I felt you wanted me to!”

The last words echoed and re-echoed in the silent room. For many minutes I seemed to hear them. Then I rose and walked to my chair behind the couch. There I seated myself and indicated to Kirk that he should lie down.

When he had settled himself on it, I said, “Tell me about it, Kirk.”

Kirk’s abandonment of his psychosis had not been a sudden thing, but the result of a dawning understanding that he had begun to develop from the moment he became aware I was sharing–or at least appearing to share–his delusion. From that time forward the gratifications it gave him lacked their former charge of excitement. With this reduction in the fantasy’s appeal, the insights gained–but not employed–during the long months of our dynamic exploration of Kirk’s past at last came into their own. Slowly the whole amazing defense collapsed or, better, decayed, to be replaced, item for item, by reality.

But in these latter weeks, while he was daily becoming freer of his delusion, Kirk, so he now told me, was still obliged to concern himself with it for my sake. My enchantment and preoccupation with the fantasy not only puzzled him, they created a real dilemma. While he no longer believed in it, he thought I did, and his friendly concern for me was such that he could not bring himself to disclose his lack of faith for fear of “hurting” me.

Until Kirk Allen came into my life I had never doubted my own stability. Now, as I listen from my chair behind the couch, I know that the chair and the couch are separated by only a thin line; that only a happier combination of accidents determines who shall lie on the couch and who shall sit behind.

It has been years since I saw Kirk Allen, but I think of him often, especially on summer nights on Long Island, when the sky over Peconic Bay is bright with stars. And sometimes, as I gaze above, I smile to myself and whisper: “How goes it with the Crystopeds? How are things in Seraneb?”

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