Leibert Award Lecture • Embedded and Couched: the Function and Meaning of Recumbent Speech

April 7, 2015
Lecturer: Nathan Kravis, MD

The use of the couch in psychoanalysis is unstudied and under-theorized. Yet the couch is iconic, a universally recognized symbol of psychoanalysis. The couch’s iconic status has outstripped its theoretical underpinning, though not necessarily its practical utility. The couch has become the emblem of a cultural narrative of self-knowledge. As this richly illustrated presentation demonstrates, an inquiry into the origins of the use of the couch in psychoanalysis reveals links between recumbence and evolving notions of leisure, pleasure, comfort, privacy, and interiority. The complicated and changing social meanings of recumbent posture are examined with special attention to traditions of recumbence in the healing arts. The meaning and function of recumbent speech cannot be understood outside of its social history.

Dr. Kravis is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Associate Director of the DeWitt Wallace Institute for the History of Psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical Center, and Training and Supervising Analyst at the Columbia University Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research.

Learning Objectives: After the lecture, participants should be able to

  • Describe clinical theories on the use of the couch in psychoanalysis.
  • Recognize the impact of cultural and historical associations with recumbent position on the analyst’s and patient’s fantasies about the use of the couch.