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Couch Therapy: Why Lying Down Helps You Express Yourself

Whether in real life or in the movies, we’ve all seen how it works: Someone lies down on an old leather chaise in a darkened room, and before they know it they’re spilling the beans to some guy in a smoking jacket with a notepad.

What’s the secret? Is this the best therapist in the world, or is there something else going on?

According to numerous health and science professionals – as well as the historical record – there is reason to suspect a good sofa can be very therapeutic.

Sigmund Freud is credited with introducing a couch to the world of psychoanalysis.

Many of Freud’s theories have been dismissed as junk science, but one of his greatest contributions persists as a cornerstone of modern medicine – a sofa for patients to use during analysis.

Freud was the first to draw a spotlight to psychoanalysis in the late 19th century, and before that time the idea that you could cure someone of an ailment through communication alone was a foreign concept.

Ergo, there weren’t a lot of patients lying around on couches expressing their feelings. That was Freud’s idea, in large part, but it wasn’t entirely motivated by his desire to help people. In fact ...

He didn’t like his patients staring at him.

That’s right! Freud didn’t come up with the couch idea right away, and when he first started analyzing people he’d sit with them face to face. But, he soon realized a huge disadvantage – he didn’t enjoy his patients’ constant gaze.

And, that makes sense. Not many people enjoy being watched while they work, and that probably goes double when you’re working on the person doing the watching. But, it wasn’t just Freud who was discomfited …

His patients didn’t much like it, either.

Freud decided early on that his stare likely made his patients as uncomfortable as theirs made him, and the couch quickly became an extension of his analytical method.

Soon, it was made apparent that the arrangement – with the patient relaxed and disengaged from the analyst – was a critical element of the therapeutic process. It allowed patients to speak more freely, with less of a feeling that they were being … well … analyzed.

Freud’s couch became a marketing force and cultural totem.

Much like a viral hit on social media, but all the more impressive in an age before the Internet, “analytic couches” became a sensation, and manufacturing boomed for 30 solid years.

That all came to a close in 60s, but the meaning of being “on the couch” – and images of an analyst sitting alongside her tool of the trade – persist in popular culture today. 

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