The Holiday hotel as a “Psychic Retreat”: What time are you checking out?

We all need to "retreat" from time to time, but what if this becomes a total way of being? Some thoughts about our desire for hotel rooms, and the importance of checking-in and making sure to check-out

The psychoanalyst Jon Steiner termed the phrase “psychic retreat”; he believed that to some extent we all try and avoid reality as it is too complicated and painful.  Of course, this can be a good thing, at least for a short time.  For those of you who have enjoyed a summer holiday, there may have been a desire to seek such a retreat from the demands of everyday life.  A silent hotel room, with the curtains drawn, and a DO NOT DISTURB sign outside, may offer such a dreamed for and hard earned escape.  You can pad around in your pyjamas, or cover your head with a thick duvet, without the need to be seen or to see anyone else.  The outer world is shut out.  Breakfast in bed may make it even more retreat-like.  The room service adds the final dimension.  Someone to make the bed, clear up after you, pick up the crumbs and wipe down the surfaces. 

You are relieved of the need to shop, cook, clean and even think too much.  Perhaps it reminds us of our very early life, when we were taken care of by our parents.  Such an experience can be very important and relaxing.  No wonder we try and delay check out for as long as possible!  Pandering to this wish, Booking.com even has an option to choose "late check out".  However, for Steiner, it could also be extremely worrying, on a psychological level.  If you never “checked out of the hotel,” you would be hiding from real life, and avoiding important and difficult aspects of real life.  In his clinic, he often worked with adults who stayed in a hotel room inside their minds, never venturing out.   He considered the experience of being in a psychic retreat like being in a “marsupial space”, rather like a baby kangaroo in a pouch.  This sounds rather cosy and involves being carried by and close to the mother.  However, for a human being, he believed, it was crucial for them to check-out of the pouch and find their own space.  Therefore, he would advise that psychologically, we can only use “psychic retreats” on a very temporary basis, because there is a cost in terms of our real world adaptation.  Just like in holiday hotels, the bill at the end of stay, once the taxes and extras are added, is always much greater than we bargained for.  Once we are out of the cosy marsupial hotel room, and regain our senses, we would do well to triple check the bill, line by line.

Dr Ajay Khandelwal, Psychoanalyst

I have 25 years experience in the mental health field running addictions and psychotherapy services. I have a BA from Oxford University and a PhD on family dynamics from Essex University. I am registered member of the College of Psychoanalysts, UKCP and BACP and the Guild of Psychotherapists. I work face to face. My consulting rooms are in SE1 (Borough High Street/ Southwark Tube) and W1 (Regents Park, Harley Street). I also offer consultations by telephone.

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