The Dreaded (?) Time-Check

I have a love/hate relationship with the so-called “time-keeping function of the analyst.” Years ago, I surveyed colleagues about how they keep time in sessions.  Like me, some of them felt at least mild unease with the end-of-the-hour time check.  They’d wait for the patient’s eyes to be averted before checking the time. They setup clocks on the floor, on a book shelf over patients’ shoulders, read the time off their patients’ wrist watches–or, like my analyst, look at their own wristwatches with extravagant boldness. Maybe because of my own fears of abandonment, I was keenly aware in myself of guiltily abandoning my patient, as if it were a crime, a little homicide. Even with patients on the couch looking at the ceiling, the impulse to check the clock was accompanied by this squirmy guiltiness. 

So, in those early days of my practice, to ease my discomfort I arranged a timer that would set off a light when the time was about up. As the years passed, and then the decades, I changed technologies.  Now, I use an iPhone that buzzes silently in my pocket and that synchronizes with my Apple Watch that buzzes silently on my wrist.  But, also true, I no longer feel that barrage of guilty abandonment when I do check the time.  I write process notes on an iPad. The time is always right there – if I dare look.


Douglas H. Ingram, MD

Douglas H. Ingram, MD maintains an analytically informed practice on the upper east side of Manhattan.  You can visit his web page, www.dhingrammd.com or contact him at (212) 289-4022.