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A Therapist's Best Friend: Couch Maker

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Here's a very different story about mental health. It's from New York City, where Prestige Furniture & Design has been making an item synonymous with psychoanalysis for more than 50 years. Here's Kathleen Horan of member station WNYC.

KATHLEEN HORAN reporting:

The analyst couch is not merely a piece of furniture; it's a chaise longue of dream interpretation and projection.

SOUNDBITE OF UNIDENTIFIED WOODY ALLEN MOVIE

Unidentified Woman: Anne tells us that you've been seeing a psychiatrist for 15 years.

Mr. WOODY ALLEN: (Coughs) Yes, I'm making excellent progress. Pretty soon when I lie down on his couch, I won't have to wear the lobster bib.

HORAN: The couch has come to symbolize Freudian psychotherapy.

SOUNDBITE OF SONG

Ms. BARBRA STREISAND: I don't how many hours on I don't know how many couches, to be able to sing and really mean it.

(Singing) On a clear day...

HORAN: But somebody's got to make them.

SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY

HORAN: Fred Brafman joined Prestige when Freudian psychotherapy was in its heyday. The demand for couches was so great they operated a separate factory in Midtown. Now they sell about half the amount of couches, and they're made-to-order in Queens.

Mr. FRED BRAFMAN (Prestige Furniture & Design): Many years ago, we used vinyl, Naugahyde. Now vinyl isn't too popular. We make them either in leather or we make them in fabric. You can't make it uncomfortable because the people are going to be uncomfortable. But you can't make it too comfortable because they'll fall asleep.

HORAN: The couches are made by hand. Joey Didilao(ph) guesses he's upholstered 500 couches in his decade at Prestige.

SOUNDBITE OF SHOP WORK

Mr. JOEY DIDILAO (Prestige Furniture & Design): We get a frame, we put springs on the cross wings, then we get twine and we tie it across, and then we got the burlap over it, then we put rubber, one inch, and then another one inch, then we put cotton on it, ...(unintelligible) top, and then we get the fabric.

HORAN: Brafman says when it comes to the textile, you gotta keep it simple.

Mr. BRAFMAN: We've had instances where a man sent in fabric and we made the couch for him. After having it for a short period of time, he told us we have to reupholster it. It seems that he had very troubled patients. Some of his patients saw faces in it, in the fabric that he chose. And we had to put it in a plain fabric because his patients were getting more troubled. So my recommendation to most analysts is just take a plain, ordinary fabric and it's not going to create any problems with troubled people.

HORAN: Fred Brafman is 75 now. He tried to retire 13 years ago, but he missed the job.

Mr. BRAFMAN: It's not only a piece of furniture; it's therapeutic. It's being used to help somebody, and that makes me feel good. What else can I tell you?

HORAN: For NPR News, I'm Kathleen Horan in New York.

SIEGEL: This is NPR, National Public Radio.

Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kathleen Horan