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The Long Conversation

Today, discussions about the treatment of mental health problems usually focus on medications and short-term therapies. It is almost as though we have forgotten the matchless healing power of relationships, a power that I can attest to, since I have been on the couch for almost 45 years with the same person.

The long conversation began in the early ’70s, when I was a 19-year-old undergrad at Columbia University. Back then, when the froth of my inner life came to a boil, I had no way of calming myself down and would invariably transform inner theater into street theater. One evening the play took the form of an overdose of Valium, a half-gallon of wine, a street brawl and being clubbed unconscious. Another night, it was something darker. I was on the brink of a transfer from Columbia to Rikers Island.

Now and again, like a somnambulist who finds himself on a ledge, I would be jolted awake to the wisdom of fear and come to my senses about getting help. On one such day, I swaggered over to the university counseling service and signed up to see a therapist.

I was assigned to Beatrice Beebe, who I would come to find was a mere six years older than me and had only to log a certain number of clinic hours in order to take her Ph.D. in clinical psychology. In his Symposium, Plato teaches that erotic desire is the initial pathway to wisdom, perhaps to self-knowledge and a semblance of self-control as well. Beatrice was attractive. After glimpsing her figure, mischievous smile and warm brown eyes, I figured I had hit the jackpot.


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