Dr. Orna Guralnik’s career is all about drawing boundaries. As a psychoanalyst, boundaries between herself and patients, in addition to the necessary space between her work and personal life, are in constant interplay. Pair that with hosting Showtime’s Couple’s Therapy—called “raw and delicious” by at least one prominent outlet—and you have quite the professional balancing act.
Dr. Guralnik’s work doesn’t stop when the cameras turn off; she’s still seeing clients and conducting research when producers and directors aren’t around, and seeking ways to inform her methods by expanding her mind through reading fiction, meditating, and practicing yoga. I asked Dr. Guralnik about continuously toggling between realms professional and private, and the very public forum of her Showtime series, which will see its second season premiere on April 18.
What’s different about relationship counseling compared to talk therapy with just one client?
I was drawn to working with couples because intimate love relationships (or the refusal to engage in them) is such an important driver and experience for most people. People express in their couplehood much of their essence—from their early histories of attachment to their politics and how they believe one should address difference and resolve conflict. In individual work, much of the work is reflective and contemplative, while couples quickly enact their issues in real time as opposed to thinking and talking about it. Couples work is a good balance for my deep psychoanalytic work with individuals.
How do you juggle the demands of counseling for a television show in addition to having more traditional clients?
Although the work itself is not very different, my work on the docuseries is also a major team effort as I work closely with the brilliant and talented group of directors and editors. That is a wonderful addition to my life as an analyst, which is typically much more solitary. As far as juggling the many demands, I work on keeping solid boundaries between different realms of my life. The preparation for the different modes of work is similar in terms of basically taking care of my mind. I read a lot of theory and discuss my work with colleagues, making sure I have a meaningful life outside of work. Plus, I create space to support my mind by reading fiction, meditating and practicing yoga.
What would someone who watches your show not see in terms of your average workday?
Being a psychoanalyst means one is always working to deepen and expand the mind. I belong to reading and writing groups that have gone on for decades, and I write academically and take courses—as do my colleagues. And I make sure to read poetry. It is all about being in a state of making space for the unconscious to show itself.
How do you separate yourself from work?
Boundaries are key to a proper psychoanalytic practice—good boundaries between analyst and patient, so you’re not flooding your patient with your own “stuff,” and vice versa, and boundaries between the space of therapeutic work and the rest of life. At this point, most of the time I can decide how much material I want to keep processing that comes up in sessions and when it’s a good idea to let go and return to it when I have the space.
When it comes to developing new means of conflict resolution, how much comes in actual practice with couples, versus by yourself when you’re reflecting?
It’s hard to separate. Many spontaneous new ideas emerge in sessions, but those are actually the result of much behind-the-scenes work that happens when thinking, reading, and talking to colleagues.