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An Interview with Adam Phillips

Article  in  Psychoanalytic Perspectives · September 2014

DOI: 10.1080/1551806X.2014.939550


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Jill Choder-Goldman
National Institute for the Psychotherapies


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An Interview with Adam Phillips

Jill Choder-Goldman LCSW
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Perspectives, 11:3, 334-347, DOI: 10.1080/1551806X.2014.939550

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Psychoanalytic Perspectives, 11: 334–347
Copyright © 2014 National Institute for the Psychotherapies
ISSN: 1551-806X (print) / 2163-6958 (online)
DOI: 10.1080/1551806X.2014.939550



In Global Perspectives, we bring you interviews with psychoanalysts from around the world in an effort
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to explore the influence of culture on training, theory development and adherence, clinical technique
and psychoanalytic practice in general.

Keywords: England, psychoanalysis, writing, potential, missing out, Freud, child psy-

Although Adam Phillips was scheduled to come to New York for a conference and
to meet with me in person, he had a family emergency and had to cancel his trip.
This interview took place over the phone from his office in the UK.

Jill Choder-Goldman (JCG): I know you began as a child analyst, and you’ve
said one of the pleasures of child psychotherapy is that it’s psychoanalysis for
a nonpsychoanalytic audience. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Adam Phillips (AP): Well, there are lots of striking things about doing child anal-
ysis. One is that it’s often more fun, in an obvious sense, because children, no
matter how unhappy they are—they’re more evidently wanting to have fun. The
other element is that if you say something that engages them, they are alert and
they respond, and if what you say is of no interest to them, they take no interest
in it. So in some ways, child analysis is easier, providing you can create a setting in
which the child feels at ease.
My experience of it, and of course you can’t really generalize because it’s
different with every child, but broadly speaking, it seems to me children take to
psychoanalysis much more easily than adults do. It’s not exactly that doing child
analysis is easier, but it’s as though children speak psychoanalysis in a way that
adults don’t. And it’s not simply that they’re, in that sort of clichéd sense, less
defended, even though they have less sophisticated defenses. It’s more that it
seems to me they’re very often able to be receptive to what we might think of as
unconscious currents or unconscious attunements.

Special thanks to Rachel Sopher for all of her collaborative work on this piece.
Address correspondence to Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW, 250 W. 57th Street, Suite 501, New York, NY 10107.

An Interview with Adam Phillips 335

JCG: It sounds like you learned a lot from your work with children. Would you
say that experience influenced your work with adults?
AP: I don’t work with children any longer, but I think I learned really everything
about psychoanalysis from working with children. I mean I learned a lot from my
own analysis, of course, and my training, and so on, but I learned most of what I
supposedly know, in the seventeen years I worked in the National Health Service
as a child therapist. It’s partly because if you worked in Health Service, it meant
anybody could be treated. It cut across classes and obviously it was across genders
and across generations. So I saw a very large range of children and families, and
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mothers and children. And for me one of the most interesting things is mothers
talking about their children. I find that absolutely absorbing. Totally absorbing.

JCG: What about when you became a parent? Do you think your work with
children influenced you as a parent?

AP: Yes, it did, but, in a way it had a sort of countereffect which is that once I
had my own children, I found it much more difficult to do child therapy. When
I started as a young person I felt I could listen to anything, and I sort of had the
ability to listen to anything. When I had my own children, the emotional impact
of listening was more powerful, in the way in which having one’s own children
makes one extremely vulnerable. In some ways it made me a better child analyst,
but it also made me gradually less and less able and willing to do it.

JCG: So did that experience play a part in your decision to work with adults?

AP: Well, there were two things that were coincidental, but they had a tremen-
dous impact on each other. The first one was that the Health Services began to
break down. So, for example, in the first seventeen years of working, I could see a
child for as long as it took. By the end, they were saying they would pay for three
sessions. Increasingly, it was a setting in which you couldn’t do the work, so me
and my colleagues had to leave the Health Services. At around the same time I
had my own children, but I suppose I should say just as an as an answer to your
previous question, that with my own children I obviously don’t do anything akin
to psychotherapy. That is to say, I want to amuse them, and have a nice time, and
to look after them—but, no more, no less.
JCG: That’s an interesting point of view, because I remember when I was in train-
ing, my child . . . I think she was 10 or 11, she said to me, “Mom, I’m so glad you
weren’t an analyst when I was growing up.”

AP: I’ve seen a lot of analysts’ children in therapy, and one thing that almost all
of them say is how very difficult it was growing up knowing that their parents were
spending so much time looking after other people.
336 Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW

JCG: You mean looking after other people and therefore not as much time for
AP: Or just simply, left out in a sort of primal scene fantasy, where the other
people are getting better attention.

JCG: I’ve read that as a child your first interest was the study of tropical birds?

AP: Not the study of them, the keeping of them. I was very, very fascinated by
tropical birds, and by the Amazon and read National Geographic. I was fascinated
by just looking out the window and watching the way in which birds would arrive
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in the garden, and then would fly off. I ended up keeping tropical birds.

JCG: This may sound a bit far-fetched, but do you think there were any links
between that and you becoming a psychoanalyst?

AP: I’m sure there are connections, but I’m not sure what they are. I do know
that when I was a boy, I lived on a road, and part of the land around it was unde-
veloped, a forest, and I would go into the forest often, sit there by myself, and
listen and watch. And, the more I looked and listened the more I would realize
how much life there was there. And I think there’s something of that in listening
to other people talk.

JCG: Mm, and the sense of observation.

AP: And attentiveness. A certain quality of attention.

JCG: So what you’re saying is that those early experiences helped shape your
path towards psychoanalysis, if you think of it that way. Didn’t Carl Jung’s
autobiography also contribute to your choice to become an analyst?

AP: Yes. Growing up, I never knew any analysts. They weren’t in our social worlds;
but I came across Jung’s autobiography when I was about seventeen and it had a
tremendously powerful effect on me. It seemed to me a tremendous adventure
and a tremendous romance and he was interested in what he then called “the
depths.” I had a very strong feeling then that that was the kind of thing I wanted
to do. Quite soon after reading that, really by chance, I read Winnicott’s Playing
and Reality, and I had a tremendously strong feeling of affinity with the book. I felt
I really understood it. I can’t have actually understood it, but I felt the book was
written for me, to me, almost by me. And the voice was really powerful—once I
read that I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
JCG: Do you mean psychoanalysis or writing?

AP: Psychoanalysis, but perhaps the writing as well.

An Interview with Adam Phillips 337

JCG: I know when we’re in training our own analysts have a great influence on
what kind of analyst we become. I’m curious about your training analyst, Masud
Khan. How did he impact you and the way you work today?
AP: Oh, hugely. I mean I loved him, and he was wonderful to me and for me.
I don’t mean that I think all the stuff written about him isn’t true, because I
suspect that some of it is true, but the man that I knew was extremely warm,
extremely humorous, an amazingly good listener; and he created an ambiance,
a setting, a milieu, in which one had a real appetite to talk, and I felt amazingly
relaxed. I didn’t have an unhappy childhood, so to speak. I mean a child is always
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unhappy, but I didn’t have a particularly traumatic childhood. And I didn’t con-
sciously feel a need for an analysis. I was very young when I went into analysis.
I was 22.
I can remember vividly that I had no idea who he was but was given a list of
analysts to phone up, to go and see. I had his number, and I went into what was
then a phone box, and I rung this number, and said “Hello, I’m Adam Phillips,
I’m about to start a child-analytic training and I wonder if I could come see you?”
He said in a very polite, courteous way, “you need to understand, Mr. Phillips,
I would charge you fifty pounds a session.” And I said, “How about five pounds?”
And he said, “Come and see me.” When I went to see him, we just immediately
got on, and I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was extremely sensitive to my
being young, so he was absolutely unpatronizing and took me seriously, but he
also allowed for my youth and my arrogance. It was a wonderful experience, and
he was for me a wonderful analyst. I learned so much from him, and he both
analyzed me and taught me psychoanalysis

JCG: That sounds like a really rich, wonderful analysis. I understand that some
of his favorite characters from literature were Dostoyevsky’s Prince Myshkin and
King Lear?

AP: Yes, Prince Myshkin in particular in The Idiot.

JCG: What about that character do you think was so intriguing to him?

AP: I think the idea of something akin to a holy fool. Something about the idea
of a kind of wisdom that comes from a certain kind of naivety, but a demonic
naivety—naivety not exclusively as a gentle thing, but as a canny, cunning thing
as well.

JCG: Is it true he was expelled by the British Psychoanalytic Society?

AP: Yes, it was true.

JCG: Are you able to talk a little bit about that at all?
338 Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW

AP: Well, I don’t know very much about it, except that he was, I think, expelled
for having an affair with a patient. But more than that I don’t know.
JCG: I’m guessing all of that happened after he was your training analyst?

AP: Yes.
JCG: Adam, your writing raises a lot of questions about what psychoanalysis pur-
ports ideologically. For example, you’ve called the wish to be understood a most
violent form of nostalgia, and said that “we’re better off not understanding our-
selves.” You don’t believe psychoanalysis is necessarily the best thing you can do
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when you’re in distress and instead you should try knitting or aromatherapy.
Would it be fair to say that you have a love/hate relationship with psychoanalysis?

AP: It is true, yes: I do have a love/hate relationship with it, but like all objects of
desire, it’s a very powerful, evocative object for me about which I have conflicting
feelings. For example, it’s not that I think people shouldn’t be understood, I just
think they shouldn’t only be understood, if you see what I mean. It’s in reaction
to an ethos that I was educated in and grew up in, which was extremely moralis-
tic, extremely omniscient, extremely authoritarian. There were some wonderful
people that I came across, but broadly speaking my experience of the institutes
was that they really didn’t know what psychoanalysis was, and it was obvious to me
as a young person, that you could have ideas about what it was, but that’s all you
could have.

JCG: So based on those thoughts and your feelings of ambivalence towards psy-
choanalysis, what does your practice look like today? I mean is there a particular
theoretical influence that you’re drawn to?

AP: I had very good training in Kleinian, Freudian, and Winnicottian middle-
group psychoanalysis, and still love the British middle group. Of course, Bion
and Lacan have been important to me; Pontalis was very, very important to me,
along with Andre Green; so were several Americans, such as Searles and Loewald.
You know there are a lot of people I have read with a lot of pleasure, and so it’s
all part of the stuff that I digested. In terms of a short-hand description—it would
be sort of a middle group object relations, with a Lacanian influence.

JCG: I know you often talk about how the aim of psychoanalysis is not to cure
people but to show them that there’s nothing wrong with them. In One Way, and
Another, your latest book, you say that any psychoanalyst that’s worth his salt must
start from Hamm’s principle in Beckett’s Endgame: “you’re on Earth and there’s
no cure for that.” What did you mean when you said Freud knew this in his heart
of hearts?
An Interview with Adam Phillips 339

AP: Of course, this is my invention of Freud. I don’t want to be speaking on

Freud’s behalf, but it’s my reading of Freud, my sense of Freud, and it’s partly
wishful. I think one of Freud’s interesting ideas was the reality principle. And I
think Freud as he grew older had a sense of the limits of what psychoanalysis
could do, and he partly, understandably, thought this was to do with the limits of
psychoanalytic method. But he also saw it as a way of describing, as it were, what
he took for human nature.
Now one of the things that I take to be very important in this picture is that
we’re children for a very, very long time. Also, I assume that we have, as it were,
temperaments, so that there’s a sense in which we change hugely through the
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life cycle, and we also don’t change at all. So what I’m interested in is the sense
of finding out what can be changed by re-description, and finding out whether
people can coexist or bear to live with the things in their lives that they can’t
change. And there’ll be a lot of things in life that one can’t change, particularly
the past.

JCG: So, then you do believe that part of the work of psychoanalysis is to help
people rewrite their narratives?

AP: Yes, but rewrite their narratives with a view to opening up the future. That
psychoanalysis is actually about future possibilities. It’s about the possibilities for
my desire in an unknowable future. That, in a way, to put it in shorthand, would
be saying something like, it’s both enabling the patient to take risks, and to find
out what the risks are that they want to take, and why.

JCG: Which brings me to the question of a current debate in psychoanalysis where

one view is that the definition of mental health would be the capacity to tell a
coherent narrative, whereas from another point of view that would be a problem.

AP: Well, the bland answer is I’m on both sides, but if I had to choose, I’m def-
initely on the side of the idea that actually a coherent narrative is the problem,
not the solution. I’m interested in the psychoanalysis that’s about what is revealed
in incoherence and in the implausible. I think people are most defensive when
they’re most coherent and most plausible.

JCG: When they’re actually just telling the facts.

AP: Yes, when they’re producing a kind of propaganda of the self.

JCG: In Missing Out, you write, “What makes us think that we could have been a
contender?” I would wonder what makes us think that we can’t be a contender.
Or why is thinking that we can be a contender necessarily a bad thing?

AP: I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing at all. But I think we can get addicted
to wanting to be a contender when there are lots of other things we might want
340 Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW

to be. I mean, the book is not a council of limited ambitions at all. In some ways,
from my point of view, it’s a book very much on the side of people not knowing
what’s possible for them. But I think we can also get caught up in the idea of
success. You see, I think it’s more important to find out what really matters to you
than to be good at something.

JCG: Are you saying that in today’s fame-obsessed and addicted culture, we equate
achieving fame with realizing one’s potential?

AP: Yes, exactly.

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JCG: So can we be confident and strive for goals, yet still avoid being disappointed
when our expectations are unmet?

AP: No, we can’t do that. We have to be able to bear disappointment. But I think
everything hangs on how we respond to disappointment. Because the risk is that
we respond to disappointment with defeatedness or with cynicism. So, that would
be one of the things you’d be showing the patient, which is actually, their rela-
tionship to disappointment. And how much it’s an inspiration, and how much
it’s a defeat.

JCG: I remember someone saying to me once that I had to be willing to fail

completely to be able to come back up. And I wonder, is that a variant of your
words when you talk about how you must lose your life in order to find it?

AP: Yes, and I think if people can bear or let themselves feel how despairing they
really are, they begin to recover, whereas all the ways one has of warding off one’s
despair, actually sustains it. If one can fully acknowledge it, it’s sometimes possible
to recover a bit.

JCG: Do we all have missing potential in our lives?

AP: Yes.

JCG: Isn’t potential always something to strive for, though?

AP: Yes, it has to be. But I think with just two qualifications. One is we can’t
possibly know what our potential is, and the other is that in any life there’s going
to be a lot of wasted potential.

JCG: Can you say more about that?

AP: Well, apart from anything else, one’s life depends upon who one happens to
meet. Obviously, who one’s parents are, who one happens to come across, who
An Interview with Adam Phillips 341

one’s friends are, who one happens to fall in love with, who falls in love with
oneself. You know, all of it—a lot of it is very contingent and accidental.
JCG: It’s contingent upon circumstance?

AP: Yes, it is.

JCG: Do you feel like you’ve realized your potential?

AP: I feel like I’ve done as much as I could and more than I would have dreamed,
in the sense that I’m surprised in some ways. I’m entirely surprised at what I’ve
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made of my life, and in another way, not at all surprised. It’s a strange paradoxical
thing. I wasn’t as a boy, ambitious. I wanted to do something I really valued, and
I wanted to do it as well as I could. That was it. And, you know, I was of the
generation of people who were hippies. I believed all that stuff, and I still believe
a lot of it. So, in my world, people were not interested in becoming rich, or famous
or incredibly successful. They wanted to be able to be as kind as possible and to
do good things. And that’s what I expected, and that’s what I wanted to do.

JCG: From everything I’ve read, it feels to me that your passions have been
literature, philosophy, and poetry more than psychoanalysis.
AP: Yes, but psychoanalysis is part of all of those things. I see it as overlapping
with all of those things.

JCG: So do these other fields get incorporated into your psychoanalytic practice?

AP: Yes, I think they must, but I think again it’s difficult to discern, because all
I know is that I read a lot but I don’t practice what I would think of as a “literary
psychoanalysis.” But my practice must be informed by all the stuff I read and
experience and the people I know and so on. I love Freud’s idea of dream work.
The idea in a sense one is perceiving and receiving all sorts of things that one is
kind of digesting in one’s own way. It’s being sort of idiosyncratically metabolized.
And it all comes out in the wash somewhere.

JCG: You’ve also been referred to as “ludic” in your approach to psychoanalysis.

How much of that playfulness do you feel infuses your work with patients today?

AP: I find there’s something about the idea of playfulness that I find rather dis-
tasteful. Because it’s become so cliched and it’s got a sentimental aura. My work is
playful in the sense that I’m interested in looking at things from multiple aspects
and perspectives. There’s humor in it. It’s friendly. It’s about a conversation in
which, ideally, people can forget themselves when they’re speaking. So, it’s of
course like children’s play, but the way in which it’s most like children’s play I
think is that the aim is for the patient and indeed me, the analyst, to be able to
342 Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW

forget oneself such that one can have a different kind of exchange. So one can
be absorbed, basically, and analyze the obstacles to absorption. I think fundamen-
tally, what one’s doing in analysis is analyzing the obstacles to two people enjoying
each other’s company.

JCG: So then, with that in mind, do you feel that the relationship between the ana-
lyst and the analysand can be curative? That the analytic relationship can change
the patient?

AP: Yes, I can see that. I think if people don’t care about each other, nothing’s
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going to happen, and if people aren’t moved by each other, nothing is going to

JCG: With regards to that, you have talked about the unintelligibility of psycho-
analysis, and the institutionalized seriousness it has become.

AP: Well, I think there’s an earnestness, a seriousness, a lack of humor that is

very coercive, and is also very defensive. Because Freud showed us, if we needed
showing, that it’s not more truthful to be serious, and I would want to promote a
psychoanalysis in which people were free to be humorous, as well. That doesn’t
mean being facetious or defensively jokey. But it means that one of the ways that
we speak, is by being funny. And it’s very pleasurable, and psychoanalysis should
be as pleasurable as possible.
I think you could think of repressed humor like repressed sexuality, that is to
say, I think an awful lot of people have the capacity to be amused. They might
have lost it. They might be frightened by it. It might have been discouraged.
But, I think that it’s, as it were, a bad sign if somebody’s relatively humorless.
So a capacity for amusement would be something I would be attentive to in a
psychoanalytic treatment.

JCG: So would you say that would be something you look for when interview-
ing a person for treatment, that capacity for amusement? Are there certain
characteristics that move you when thinking about starting an analysis?

AP: I don’t know, but I know immediately who I like and who I’m moved by.
See, one of the advantages of working in the Health Services for all those years,
is that you saw everybody, whether you liked them or not, and that was a very
good education for me. And now, partly because I’m older, and my feelings have
changed, I feel like in private practice, it’s very important that I only see people
that I’m genuinely moved by, that I like in a fundamental way. Otherwise, it’s
going to be counterproductive.

JCG: I was an actor for most of my life before I became a psychoanalyst, and I
often wished that I had been trained in the UK, because it always felt like English
actors had more of a well-rounded training that included philosophy, history, and
An Interview with Adam Phillips 343

literature, which we did not get here in the States. Do you feel that the training
analysts get in the UK is well rounded?
AP: I don’t know because I’m not in touch with the world of psychoanalysis here,
in the sense that my professional life is seeing patients and writing. I can tell
you when I was in training, I was struck by how narrow the educations were for
many of the people who were practicing—they were either medical doctors or
they’d read psychology or scientific subjects at university. I think you’re right that
training in the humanities is a better preparation for being an analyst.
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JCG: Toqueville talked about the “longing to rise,” and today in our American
culture, which is intensely competitive and driven, many of my young patients are
dealing with the idea of being perfect. What would you say are some of the main
issues that you and your colleagues see in your practices in the UK today?
AP: Well, I think I couldn’t generalize, really. But most of the people I see are
dealing with, broadly speaking, difficulties in relationships. That it’s about on
the one hand obviously their relationship with themselves, but also their relation-
ships with their partners, or the absence of partners, and with their children, or
with the children they haven’t had. I think there’s a cultural disillusionment with
relationships and what they can offer us. And I think despair and uncertainties
about intimacy are definitely around. Basically, there seem to be questions about
exchange. You know, what people want to exchange with each other and how they
want to do the exchanging.

JCG: Is it still common for analysts to see people four or five times a week on the
couch in the UK?

AP: Yes, I think they do, but my practice is about half and half—half on the couch
and half face to face.

JCG: And what about the number of times per week?

AP: Again, half and half. About half come once a week, and about half come twice
a week. Some people come three times a week—and then there’s a whole range
of people who come when they want to.

JCG: Meaning?

AP: There are people who have stopped coming regularly and then will phone
me, and they may not phone me for five years or five weeks, you see, and I keep a
certain section of time free for them. And then there are people who come sort
of when they want to.
344 Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW

JCG: I think that’s a more contemporary way of understanding the needs of peo-
ple and a much more flexible stance, rather than the strict view that one has to
come so many times a week for so many years, and you don’t stop until you’re
fully analyzed.

AP: Yes, exactly.

JCG: You’ve stated that you feel that there’s too much emphasis on money in
psychoanalysis, and that psychoanalysts are greedy. What is your relationship to
money as a psychoanalyst, and do you have a view as to how psychoanalysts should
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be compensated?

AP: It’s not that I think psychoanalysts are greedy, I just simply think you shouldn’t
charge people much money, you see what I mean? I think it should be counter-
cultural in the sense that it should be the place where money is not the only
criterion of value, and I think one of the ways you get around that is by not charg-
ing high fees. Or, by subsidizing if you like, the poorer patients by the richer
ones. So for example, I charge people the whole range from no money at all to
100 pounds.

JCG: I see. So is there a better way to structure compensation?

AP: I mean it’s very difficult, of course, because people obviously have standards
of living that matter to them. But I just think if you want to be, as it were, rich, you
shouldn’t become an analyst. It’s not about that. That’s something else. Certainly
for earning your living, but it’s not about getting rich.

JCG: In the UK you have universal health care. How does that affect your
AP: Yes, we do, but increasingly, though, there’s less and less psychotherapy
available because of that.

JCG: Really? And what about people who have private insurance?

AP: You see, in England, hardly anybody pays with insurance. I mean I’ve never
had a patient who’s paid through insurance. It’s very different in that regard.
JCG: Yes, and different from the US, where a lot of people will only see you if you
take their insurance. Adam, you’ve written volumes about so many things, from
madness, to kindness, to money.

AP: I think that the things I want to say, I write. I think that’s how I do it.
I mean, I’m happy to be interviewed and speak, but broadly speaking, I write
and I practice psychoanalysis, and that’s fine.
An Interview with Adam Phillips 345

JCG: And I understand Wednesdays are your writing days?

AP: Yes, I write one day a week.

JCG: So if a patient needs to be seen on a Wednesday ?

AP: Psychoanalysis is more important to me than the writing.

JCG: From the amount of material you produce, I’m surprised you can do all of
that that in one day a week, and I have to say that I thought your writing was your
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AP: I mean it’s odd to me, because it’s very easy for me to write, and I know
it’s perplexing to other people and partly to me, that I’ve written so much in
so little time. But it’s just something that I can do. You know I wanted to be
a psychoanalyst; I didn’t want to be a writer, and I still think of myself as a
psychoanalyst. The people I see are more important to me than the writing I
do. The writing matters a lot, but it’s not more important than the people I see.

JCG: I’m interested in how you feel that “psychoanalysts don’t know how to write
essays, so essayists and psychoanalysis don’t really go together.” Can you talk a
little about that?

AP: Well I think psychoanalytic writing has been cramped by the genre of
psychoanalytic writing, which has been too much based on a sort of quasi-
scientific paper; whereas literary essays are freer. And I think psychoanalysis would
gain from a more essayistic approach to writing about psychoanalysis. That may be
simply my personal taste, if you see what I mean. But I think that one of the things
I’m very dismayed by is how poor most psychoanalytic writing is. There’s no rea-
son, of course, why people should write, and writing only matters to people who
love reading, and love writing. But, it seems to me that psychoanalysis changes
and evolves through people’s writing and talking, but that it’s also, importantly,
a literate culture, and I think it would be good if people would write a bit more
experimentally, and a bit more impressionistically, and with less anxiety about
being right. Really, the essay is about a loosening of something, I think.

JCG: Are you talking about a more creative versus academic view and more of an
ability to take risks?

AP: Exactly. Something more speculative, and conjectural, and risky, so that peo-
ple can literally try things out. Because I don’t know the value of what I’m writing
until somebody responds to it. So often, something will occur to me when I’m
writing, and unless it’s patently false to me, I leave it in, and I’ll find out what it’s
like when somebody else tells me, because I can’t know. There’s a limit to what I
can know.
346 Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW

JCG: What is your process when you start to write a new book?

AP: In a way, the experience is that there’s no process, which is that I literally
sit down and write. Sometimes of course it doesn’t work, in which case I go to
something else, but I don’t have writer’s block; I don’t struggle. If it doesn’t work
I don’t do it, and if it works, it really works, and it writes itself. But the writing is a
facility for me; it’s just something I can do.

JCG: Are you saying that there’s never any struggle with it?

AP: Very, very rarely. I love writing; I like the process of doing it. That’s why I do it.
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I mean, obviously, I like being reviewed, I like people being interested, and all that
stuff, but what I really love is the actual writing. And I love the writing because in
it I have a kind of fluency. Now, it isn’t everybody’s taste, but that’s really why I do
it. I’m not clearly one of those writers who is struggling to articulate something.
It just isn’t like that for me.

JCG: You’re a lucky guy, Adam Phillips, that it comes so easily to you.

AP: It comes very easily, and that’s why I think I do it. Whereas psychoanalysis is
more difficult for me.

JCG: So Adam, we’re close to the end, and I’m just very curious about not only
why but how is it that in the 21st century, you don’t do e-mail, you don’t have a
cell phone, or anything related to the world of technology?

AP: Because I want less communication, not more. And because I feel like I don’t
want to be in easy contact with lots of people I don’t know. I’m not boasting about
this but I’m not excited by the World Wide Web, if you see what I mean. I don’t
feel like I want many, many more contacts. I want to live in the actual world that
I’m living in. This aspect has historically evolved because when I first told people I
didn’t do e-mail, they’d treat me as quaint, and cute, and obviously a little willfully
Now when people ask me whether I’m on e-mail and I say no, they almost
invariably say how lucky I am. That they’re tyrannized by it. I would find it really
horrible to wake up in the morning and have loads of e-mails to answer. It’s just
that there’s no pleasure in the prospect of it for me.

JCG: You are one of a kind, and although I really wished we could have done
this interview in person, I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to talk to you this
morning. Thank you for sharing your Wednesday with me.
An Interview with Adam Phillips 347


Adam Phillips is former Principal Child Psychotherapist at Charing Cross Hospital, London
and is now a psychoanalyst in private practice. He is a visiting professor in the English depart-
ment at the University of York and was the general editor of the new Penguin Modern Classics
translations of Sigmund Freud. His most recent books are Missing Out, One Way and Another:
New and Selected Essays and Becoming Freud: The Making of a Psychoanalyst.

Jill Choder-Goldman, LCSW, is the Interview Editor for Psychoanalytic Perspectives and a board-
certified psychoanalyst and psychotherapist. She received her graduate degree from NYU
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and her postgraduate analytic and supervisory training from the National Institute for the
Psychotherapies Training Institute. She has a private practice in New York City, where she
treats individuals, couples, and groups and currently is a clinical supervisor and advisor for
NIP-TI. She additionally devotes a part of her practice to those in the arts, having also had a
successful career as a performer for 30 years.

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