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The couch and the chador



The authors present a clinical discussion of the psychic functions of the chador, a veil-like outer garment worn in public by some Iranian women. Drawing on Anzieu’s theoretical concept of the skin ego, the authors suggest that the chador does not just cover the body; it may also envelop the psyche and function as a second skin for the ego. The maternal function of a holding environment is symbolically displaced on any clothing that ‘hides,’‘covers,’‘veils,’ or ‘dresses’ the body. The skin’s containing functions are extended through sensory and metonymic mediations to clothes, thus providing an imaginary maternal sack for the person. The clinical vignettes presented here suggest that for some Iranian women the chador may work, on one hand, as a second skin ego and a shield against a perceived intrusive world. On the other hand, it may work as a punitive maternal superego, a ‘holding cell’ in a jail that paralyses the separation/individuation process. Operating in the service of the patient’s resistance and defense, the chador may also function as a psychic refuge and a place to hide on the couch.