Dr. Claudia Luiz

About Dr. Claudia Luiz

Once upon a time, there was a man in Argentina who was violent and manic, who was my grandfather. He died in a mental hospital in Santiago, Chile, in 1969. My mother didn’t cry.

In fact, my mother had gotten away from South America in her early 20’s because despite his tendencies, he helped her escape. She was gifted at the violin and so he promised her to send her to the Juilliard School of Music in NY if she could hold a concert and get a positive review in the papers. And she did, finally escaping her life as a battered child.

At Juilliard, she met my father, a pianist, whose own father had died of cancer when he was just 19. There was quite a bit of illness on his side too, mentally. He had a sister who was borderline, and his mother (my Granny) was big on touching.

Together, my parents got Fulbright grants and moved to Italy where they gave birth to me, in Rome, in their early 20’s. 20 months later, my sister Giulia was born. Their concertizing career across Europe had begun, and my sister and I were left with Italian nannies who, like them, did not believe in talking to children about what was happening. I never knew when my parents were leaving or returning, and, because we cried when they called, they tried to spare us that contact too.

After almost ten years of life in Italy, my mother started noticing that my sister and I weren’t well. The Italian women who had cared for us in their absence were bitter, impoverished people. They hit us if we didn’t do as they said, pulling us by the hair if we resisted going places, force-fed us if we had no appetite, and soon, we started to show signs of instability. We had night terrors, and wet our beds regularly. We hallucinated that bees were coming after us or that body parts were blowing up. We had become secretive, and prone to our own violent tendencies.

Putting a stop to their musical careers, my mother brought us to the US, and began a new career interpreting French, Spanish and Italian into English at the United Nations. And she got into analysis. My father started teaching piano, and joined her in classes to study psychoanalysis.  Thus began the reckoning of their own pasts and ours.

It was like magic for me, at 12 years old, to suddenly have my mother sit by my bed and ask me about myself. That’s when my gradual resuscitation as a child truly began. At 16, I formally entered into my analysis, as I had gradually thawed out and begun feeling things which were, at times, unbearable. By then, I was a drug addict and school truant who had no focus but a lot of pain.

I knew almost as soon as I started my own analysis that I would become an analyst. My entire life was softened, buoyed and dependent on that truth. It was the only thing I had ever known, save for my parents’ unspoken love, that felt really good.

For the next 20 years, often the youngest student at two standalone lay institutes (CMPS.edu or BGSP.edu) I studied psychoanalysis before it had become an accredited discipline or licenseable degree. As a graduate of either institute all you got was a “certificate.” But I didn’t care. All that mattered to me, was understanding how talking could expand the cage of my own emotional illness: trying to connect and re-connect to something better.

In my late 30’s, the slow, invisible progress I had made being able to think, feel and manage my life, gained quick momentum. Within a year and a half of one of the lowest periods of my life, when I felt I had nothing to show for all my work, I met my husband, John, and found myself in a beautiful house with new cars, a handsome man, and two beautiful daughters. There is no telling when the investment in your own psyche will finally come to fruition.

And then, things only got easier. Psychoanalysis became an accredited discipline! BGSP became the first accredited degree-granting school in the country to offer psychoanalysis and I got a PsyaD. In New York, psychoanalysts get licensed.

It’s amazing how much you can do with your life when you can think clearly, and find yourself, finally in the driver’s seat. In my 30’s I won writing awards, published books, developed a successful practice, and was increasingly recognized as a voice worth listening to. I’ll never forget offering a talk at the Boston Public Library in a small room with a dozen chairs, when people started swarming in. My husband John started scrambling frantically for more chairs but ultimately, they had to move us into an auditorium to accommodate almost 130 people who showed up. My legacy of performance was realized, all energetic systems pointing to creativity and love.

Over time, the cage of emotional illness I had grown up in gradually expanded. I would still pace anxiously back and forth in it sometimes, or could be found retreating, weary, in a corner.  At other times, I could be seen to rage against the bars. But at other times, the cage was so expanded I couldn’t even see or feel it, busy taking care of my two daughters and being in the world productively, reaching for life.

And then one beautiful day, I discovered I could see my cage. The cage was so depressing; a stone cold, but hot, hard, dark place. It was a cage of my own hatred and rage, of my own capacity for destructiveness and pain. I had seen the cage before, but never like this. Before, what I had seen had shattered me with shame, guilt and remorse. But not this time.

This time, seeing the cage was transcendent, like an emotional re-birth.  I could see everything with complete clarity and peace, without defensiveness and dread: my thoughts and feelings, my effects on people, the characters and defenses of people who mattered to me (my husband John,  my parents, my sister, my children, my friends, my patients, my colleagues) and was in a place of total and expansive compassion, without my heart quickening, without my blood boiling, without my lungs constricting, without my nerves shaking, without a lump in my throat choking me, without my stomach turning, without endless tears or bottomless sadness. Seeing the cage, I finally experienced a deep, abiding calm. And I was free.

Analysis is a slow process. It is not a process of growth as much as it is one of constant expansion. You enter into the cage-free jungle of analysis, and sometimes stay there, as I have, for good. You search for what your mind hides from you, and you slowly discover hidden bits and pieces of what you think and feel along the way. You speak the unthinkable, and discover that it’s not so bad. You live in perpetual suspended animation, and discover that it’s not so bad. You’re an open book and there’s no certainty anywhere, except, perhaps, in the knowledge of your own ignorance, and discover that it’s not so bad.  Everything that had to become disavowed becomes re-integrated meaningfully and lovingly. The split brain no longer finds itself at war, the struggle for health and wellness finally reflexive.

I love psychoanalysis for where it’s taken me. The theory and methods are vessels. Navigated by the right people, they can take you places. I hope my stories, my reports and my advice will help you expand your consciousness a little more, and I welcome the engagement.

Thanks for reading this, I look forward to more.

Claudia Luiz Bio

Dr. Claudia Sheftel-Luiz, Ed.M, Harvard University (1982), PsyaD, Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis (1997) has been in private practice and serving as a consultant to profit and non-profit corporations for over 40 years. A frequent contributor to news and radio shows, Dr. Luiz is the first-place winner of the 2006 Phyllis W. Meadow Award for Excellence in Psychoanalytic Writing (published in Modern Psychoanalysis) and first place winner of the 2008 Reader’s Digest Best Writer’s Website Award.

Dr. Luiz is the author of a new introductory textbook in psychoanalysis, written as a set of stories about treatment, called: “The Making of a Psychoanalyst: Studies in Emotional Education” (2018 Routledge Press.) The book illuminates the innovations to theory and clinical method that have revolutionized psychoanalysis. New Books in Psychoanalysis called the book “a tour de-force poised to create a shift in the cultural consciousness” and the Journal of Modern Psychoanalysis called it: “arguably the best lay book written about Modern Psychoanalysis.”

Dr. Luiz is on the faculty of the Academy for Clinical and Applied Psychoanalysis in Livingston, New Jersey, and has offices in New York City and Tarrytown, NY. She lives with her husband John Luiz, a writer, with whom she shares two college-age daughters.