Mortality, Integrity, and Psychoanalysis

(Who Are You to Me? Who Am I to You?)

Ellen Pinsky, PsyD


In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Here is a fact: we all know that we’ll die—intellectually, anyway, we know it; it’s the definition of being “a mortal.” And the corollary is that at any moment we might die. Most of the time we don’t think about these facts: a necessary, protective forgetting. Forgetting—or in Freud’s term, repression—can be on the side of life, just as the River Lethe has two banks, one demarking the realm of the dead, the other that of the living.

Here are some questions that, to my mind, follow from what I’ve just said. If we analysts accept that we are mortal, our patients, then, are vulnerable—at all times vulnerable—to losing us, whether we’re thirty or sixty or ninety. Do we hold any responsibility to provide for them in that event? If we don’t hold a responsibility—and maybe we don’t—why not? And if we do have a responsibility, what constitutes reasonable provision? Finally, if we think there should be provision yet tend to neglect it, why is that?<…>


In Flirting with Death: Psychoanalysts Consider Mortality, edited by Corinne Masur. London and New York: Routledge, 2018, Chapter 8, p. 141-157. (Fulltext can be requested from the library). This article was also published earlier in Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 83(1):1-22. PEP Web Link.


About the Book

Flirting with Death: Psychoanalysts Consider Mortality, edited by Corinne Masur, is a collection of nice essays by psychoanalysts covering the denial of death amongst psychotherapists and psychoanalysts and the effect on clinical practice, the effect of early childhood confrontation with mortality on the professional development of psychoanalysts, illness in the analyst, the death of patients, and termination and retirement as symbolic harbingers of death. Available in the library.


About the Author

Ellen Pinsky is a psychoanalyst and faculty member of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, and a winner of the Deutsch Prize for writing. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, American Imago, Salmagundi, and The Threepenny Review.


Previous Posts:

Cordelia Schmidt-Hellerau, PhD (2018). La résolution par l’intégration: Une invitation à reconsidérer la théorie des pulsions (Resolution by Integration: An Invitation to Reconsider Drive Theory and a discussion with Michel Ody). Revue française de psychanalyse, 82/1: 179-197.

Alfred Margulies, MD (2018). Illusionment and Disillusionment: Foundational Illusions and the Loss of a World. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 66/2: 289–303.

Nancy J. Chodorow, PhD (2018). Love, Respect, and Being Centered Upon: Loewald’s Image of Development in Childhood and the Consulting RoomThe Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 71/1: 224-233.

Rodrigo Barahona, PsyaD (2018). Book Review of Una visión binocular: Psicoanálisis y filosofía (A Binocular Vision: Psychoanalysis and Philosophy). Bárbara Bettocchi & Raúl FatuleLima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú2014, 265 pp. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 66/2: 386-392.

Steven H. Cooper, PhD (2017). The Analyst’s “use” of Theory or Theories: The Play of Theory. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65/5: 859-882.

Ayelet R. Barkai, MD (2017). Troubling Gender or Engendering Trouble? The Problem With Gender Dysphoria in Psychoanalysis. The Psychoanalytic Review, 104/1: 1-32.

Morris Stambler, MD (2017). 100 Years of Adolescence and its Prehistory From Cave to Computer. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 70/1: 22-39.

Rita K. Teusch, PhD (2017). More Courtship Letters of Freud and Martha Bernays. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 65/1: 111-125.

Click here to see a full archive of featured papers. All articles can be requested from the library.