Psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson’s unconventional – and ultimately, disastrous – treatment of Marilyn Monroe has long been the subject of speculation. Dr Lucy Freeman – a student of Greenson’s – published Why Norma Jean Killed Marilyn Monroe in 1993, and Luciano Mecacci’s Freudian Slips – including a long chapter on Marilyn – was published in English in 2009.
Personally, I found both of these accounts disappointing. However, I can recommend Lisa Appignanesi’s Mad, Bad and Sad: A History of Women and the Mind Doctors (2009), which contains a very insightful study of Monroe.
‘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.’