While the tragic tale of Marilyn Monroe has been written many times over, her impact on her psychoanalyst, the eminent Ralph Greenson has, until now, been largely unexplored. In The Misfit (RosettaBooks, 2011), Steven Poser tries to understand how Greenson treated Monroe by putting himself in Greenson’s milieu. He attempts to find out what Greenson knew, what he thought, what he felt and how he used it all to help Monroe. What we discover is that Greenson essentially adopted Monroe, creating psychic confusion for a vulnerable woman who lacked a sense of belonging in the first place. Poser details how, in eliding the negative aspects of the transference-countertransference matrix, Greenson lost a patient and lost his own way as a clinician.
In addition to discussing this tragic analytic dyad, Poser also shares his thoughts about psychoanalytic writing and research. He argues that then-current psychoanalytic theory did little to aid Greenson, or to help Greenson treat Monroe. That theory did not allow therapists to use their patients’ hateful feelings toward them to help said patients cohere. This important technique was not developed theoretically until the later twentieth century. Poser reminds us, then, that we are in a sense prisoners of contemporary practice, however flawed it may be.