Sometimes an office is just an office. But if you’re a psychoanalyst, the presentation of your work space has to be impeccably thought out, designed to foster a sense of sanctuary and privacy. Since Sigmund Freud’s Victorian consulting room, with its oriental rug-draped couch, analysts have learned to use interior design as a therapeutic tool. In his ongoing series "In the Shadow of Freud’s Couch," Mark Gerald, who’s both a photographer and a psychoanalyst, offers a look inside the offices of analysts all over the world.
"One of the things I’m interested in with this project is showing the diversity within the field of psychoanalysis," Gerald tells Co.Design. "Not every analyst is a bearded white man with a European accent in a Park Avenue office. Though there are certainly some that are like that."
Although many feature some variation of Freud's famous couch, the offices are as diverse as the practitioners. "In some cases, the analyst creates a space consciously and intentionally," Gerald says. Some Jungian therapists, for example, go so far as to use window-less spaces in order to create a womb-like atmosphere. "But there are other subjects I shot where the office has sort of grown around them, filled in organically," Gerald says.
The psychoanalyst's room has often been described as a blank screen upon which patients may transfer their feelings. Some practitioners go with this "blank screen" theme, leaving the walls, for the most part, empty and painted in various shades of neutral white. Gerald himself opts for walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s creamy "Sweet Innocence," a color he finds conducive to deep listening.
The choice reflects research in color psychology about how the color of a room plays a role in how we feel. Studies show that blue walls foster creativity; red walls inspire vigilance and passion; and green creates a sense of calm. Psychologists discovered in 1979 that painting prison walls the Pepto-Bismol-like hue known as "Drunk Tank Pink" calms down even the rowdiest of inmates—but thankfully, none of Gerald's subjects chose this particular hue for their therapeutic spaces.
The other trend in these analysts' offices: flowers. "Flowers are restful to look at," Freud himself once said. "They have neither emotions nor conflicts."
Not all analysts want their offices to channel "Sweet Innocence," though. One New York City practitioner chose to hang four pictures of the Hiroshima atomic bomb explosion on the wall above his couch. Not exactly soothing, but Gerald says some clients find it "permissive"—the imagery can inspire them to "welcome something very eruptive in themselves." One Mexico City analyst has a collection of conch shells on a shelf—and we can all guess what Freud might've had to say about the symbolism there.
Gerald has been fascinated with offices and what they say about their owners since childhood. "When I was a boy, I had a very romantic notion of having an office that was mine, where patients would come visit me and I’d help them, sort of like Humphrey Bogart did as a detective in The Maltese Falcon," he says. Gerald started this ongoing series in 2003 and he's currently working on publishing the photographs in a book, accompanied by interviews with the analysts. For more pictures, check out Gerald's website.
[h/t: It's Nice That]