UNIT 7 THE FAMOUS PSYCHIATRIST
When a woman is talking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes. (Victor Hugo)
His name was Charles D. and he was famous. People talked and talked about the miraculous results he got, and his methods were beginning to be copied by some
specialists. Only very well-off people could afford to pay his fees, and they
had to book at least six months in advance for treatment. Charles had truly
made it in life, but the secret of his success couldn’t have been more simple:
he just knew how to listen; in fact, he was the perfect listener. He was very
honest and straightforward with his would-be patients and they knew what to
expect when they came to his surgery: they bought an hour of his time and
during those sixty minutes he was there to listen to whatever they wanted to
say about themselves or about the world. And most of them did talk about
themselves and the problems that were worrying them. And he listened to them
attentively, interested, concerned, without ever asking personal questions,
passing judgment, or even giving an opinion. And it worked: people knew very
well why they were in his surgery and the high price they were paying for it,
but they soon forgot about it, and as they kept talking, they got to see
themselves as they really were, and they began to feel better, to relax.
Charles never pretended to be a confessor, a friend, a comrade, or anything like that. He was just a listener, the ideal listener. For him, his patients were people who needed medical help, true, but first and foremost they were human beings in search of their real identity, and they had to find it by themselves, the only way he could help them being listening to them for an hour a week. And during that hour they could say whatever they pleased. There were no constraints: they could speak, shout, whisper, cry, laugh, they could use foul language if they liked, curse if they wanted. He just listened and showed understanding. Not that he was always silent, he occasionally made casual remarks, asked them if they felt like a cup of tea or coffee, or a drink, and sometimes he went as far as asking them if they liked the pictures in his surgery, especially the Matisse he was obviously so proud of.
Sylvia, his 7 to 8 patient this evening, knew all this about the eminent psychiatrist whom a close friend had advised her to see, but she had hesitated to come to his surgery. She wasn’t sure if it had been a good choice. Her doubts had nothing to do with his qualifications for she knew she would be in the best professional hands; nor were there any money problems: she was the editor of a well-known women’s magazine, and she was wealthy enough to afford any whim, but still...It was the first time she had required the services of a psychiatrist, so that she was a bit nervous when she entered the surgery at seven sharp. And the first thing that struck her was the surgery itself, if it could be called a surgery, for it looked like an elegant living room in an elegant country house rather than a doctor’s consulting room. Comfortable armchairs, a sofa with plenty of soft feather cushions, a well-stocked bar, a hi-fi set, a glass-topped low round table with lots of trendy magazines, shelves filled with books, tasteful ornaments and family photographs – the personal touch -, good pictures on the walls – gosh, a Matisse! One felt immediately at ease in this atmosphere; and that was indeed the idea. That’s where Charles D’s originality lay. During their weekly session – and that was one of his golden rules: never more than one visit a week – patients were at liberty to do as they pleased: they could sit, stand, pace the room, lie on the sofa, even do push-ups on the carpeted floor if the fancy took them.
As she looked at the handsome middle-aged doctor in his mid-forties, his temples going grey already, she immediately realized that the rumours she had heard about his frivolity were entirely groundless. Word had got around that he chatted up some of his rich, beautiful patients, but it was obvious at once, just by looking at this discreet, reserved man, with that worldly half-smile on his lips, that if any of his classy clients had ever had designs on him and made advances to him, she would have promptly met with a barrier of ice. And those accusations of orgies being held in the surgery, simply ridiculous: people had evidently been misled by the group therapy sessions he sometimes organized...
Sylvia, a slim green-eyed blonde, going on for forty, but still extremely attractive, had dressed with special care for this first visit, and she knew she was looking really smart in her light grey tailored suit with handbag and shoes to match – not that she was out to seduce the doctor. Or was she? She lit a cigarette and started to tell him right away about her problems: she was quite worried, she felt off balance, had lost control of her own life, and she was beginning to fear for her peace of mind. She didn’t tell him much the first day, but she did tell him that her marriage was going to the dogs, that her husband had lost all interest in her, that he never looked at her, seldom listened to her, didn’t seem to notice her. She told him that much only, but she already felt relieved. She was beginning to think that it had been a good idea to come to this doctor...
On her second visit – there was no limit to the number of sessions Charles’s patients took, and it was the patients themselves who decided when they were cured – she was more explicit: she told him about the other man, Albert. He was her husband’s lawyer and intimate friend, so it was really no trouble at all for her to meet him as often as she liked. Albert had always flirted with her innocently enough, but recently since her marriage wasn’t working any longer, he had been more and more daring. They often played tennis together, and at that party two months ago he had made some overt passes at her. She had been flattered and faintly amused, but apart from that...Not that she would have any problems deceiving her husband if she wanted to. He was so busy, he lived in a world of his own, and she had all the freedom she wanted. The main obstacle to overcome was she, herself, her way of life, her education. Like most women of her age, she had been brought up to be a faithful wife and a loving mother, and adultery really went against the grain...The doctor listened to her, attentive, polite, concerned as he sipped his Scotch, and she could see why he was so fashionable, so popular with the members of the gentler sex. He sat there next to her, so close and yet, so distant...
Then the following week, on her third visit, she told him that it had happened. She was happy, she had found herself at last. It was great to feel desired as a woman again. She was cured, there would be no more visits...She had not thought it possible, but this afternoon at Albert’s office it had happened. Not everything, of course, just a few kisses and some hand holding – to think that not so long ago her husband and she used to hold hands in the cinema like a couple of teenage lovers -, but she had given him a date. He had been so insistent that she had finally promised to go to his apartment the next evening, not knowing at the time whether she would keep her word or not; but now she had made up her mind, now she was sure she would go. She would tell her husband that she was having dinner with some school friends of hers she had not seen for ages, and she would spend the evening and part of the night with Albert, in his bed, in his arms...”For goodness’ sake, Sylvia, spare me the details, I’m not made of stone”, the doctor interrupted her flow of words. She could not believe her ears: the man of iron had softened, the statue of ice had melted at last...and as she picked up her gloves and handbag to leave, she looked with playful eyes at her husband, who was no longer smiling, and she knew her choice of psychiatrist had been the right one...
7.1 reading comprehension questions
a.- Why had Charles D. become so famous?
b.- Describe his surgery.
c.- Was the doctor’s reputation as a libertine justified?
d.- What was Sylvia like?
e.- What do you think had been Sylvia’s purpose in going to Charles D’s surgery?
f.- What did she tell the doctor on her first visit?
g.- And on her third?
h.- Give your own ending to the story.i.- Are you for or against divorce? Why/why not? Discuss.