Lying on the Couch with Masud Khan

I’m currently reading Irvin Yalom’s novel about psychoanalysts, Lying on the Couch (ISBN 0060928514), and have noticed that a key character bears a striking resemblance to one of the most controversial people in the history of psychoanalysis, Masud Khan.

Psychoanalysis is both the talking therapy and the set of theories about the human mind that were originally created by Freud. Both have a colourful history owing to the controversial ideas and the eccentric people involved.

In Yalom’s book, Seth Pande is introduced as a senior Indian psychoanalyst who is dying of lung cancer and is being censured by the psychoanalytic society for bringing the profession into disrepute, owing to unethical conduct such as sleeping with patients, financial irregularities and, worst of all, writing about what he does!

Perhaps the real-life inspiration for Pande, Masud Khan, is discussed in an eye-opening article from the Boston Review that looks at his life and also gives an insight into the turbulent world of 20th century psychoanalysis.

Initially a student when he came to the UK, he ended up training with some of the leading psychoanalysts of the time, notably being analysed by Donald Winnicott.

Khan was known for his brilliant writing, but also slept with his patients, insulted them and largely lacked ‘therapeutic boundaries’ (i.e. a responsible doctor-patient relationship) even with those patients whom he didn’t so obviously abuse.

Later in his life, Khan wrote a book called The Long Wait which detailed his anti-Semitic views and outrageous behaviour with a number of patients.

Although it has been suggested that the case studies in his book are fake, it is now well established that Khan was regularly drunk and abusive with his patients, and was kicked out of the British Psycho-Analytical Society. He later died of lung cancer.

A famous 2001 article and subsequent letters published in the London Review of Books ‘outed’ Khan to the general public, who were mostly unaware of his previous misdeeds.

Interestingly, both the fictional Pande and the real-life Khan inspired considerable devotion in some of their patients and trainees. It’s been noted in recent biographies that Khan seemed to behave more responsibly with some people, whom he reportedly genuinely helped.

One of the most interesting things about both Yalom’s enormously fun novel and the Boston Review article is that they give a fascinating insight into the world of psychoanalysis past and present.

One of the great ironies is that for a profession that prides itself in resolving conflicts, psychoanalysts have a long history of stabbing each other in the back.

Link to great Boston Review article on Masud Khan.
Link to (closed access) LRB article on Khan by former patient.
Link to LRB post-article letters page.

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