email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNever EnoughNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
I had been in therapy a couple of years, during my time in graduate school and I was in my mid-twenties, when I confronted my roommate. With my new confidence in voicing my emotions, I explained to him my resentments. Our shared apartment was full of his possessions - his TV, his VCR, his microwave, his espresso machine, his couch, his phone, and so on. I felt like the apartment was hardly my own. Of course, I was not offering to replace his possessions with my own - I could not afford that - I simply wanted to tell him how I felt. He was extremely gracious in his response, and even encouraged me to dredge up other resentments. He empathized and acknowledged my feelings.
Looking back on that episode, I feel rather embarrassed. How ungrateful I was! How childish! But then, therapy can lead one to be like that. Nearly all modes of psychotherapy emphasize the identification of previously unacknowledged emotions, their articulation, and an exploration of what they mean to the client. Therapy didn't create those feelings of resentments in me - they had been there previously, and I think it probably was helpful for me to learn to express my feelings rather than hide them. I can't remember exactly how I went about my self-revelation, but I hope that when I did it, I at least did so with a sense of humor, rather than in dreadful earnest.
Therapy led me to other confrontations too, more personal ones I don't feel like making public, but they were the type one might expect - revisiting the past of my family history and old girlfriends. In those cases, my statements of how I felt were greeted with far less enthusiasm and sympathy. I don't think I permanently damaged my relationships, but I certainly created some tensions. It was probably healthy for me to learn I could voice my negative feelings and have my relationships survive. But I still have a sense that the therapy was causing me to act like a five-year-old, maybe learning the skills I should have learned at five years old. Nevertheless, when I see a young child whining with such righteous indignation, it's unattractive, and it's much more unattractive when an adult acts that way.
It's been several years since I was in psychodynamic therapy, and I confess I miss the comfort of the experience. I liked going over the past, whether it was my childhood or the past week's events, contemplating what happened, how I experienced it, and what I made of those events while I was sitting in the chair in my therapist's office. Sometimes I think about going back into psychotherapy, but I have mixed feelings about it, and besides, I doubt that my medical insurance would pay for it now. After all, if I have any problems, I can take some pills. And anyway, these days I don't have the time to devote to seeing a therapist once a week.
I say all this because reading Emily Fox Gordon's Mockingbird Years made me think it. It's a great book for anyone who has been in therapy, or who is a therapist, to read. I'm less sure if I'd recommend it to people contemplating going into therapy - the insights it gives are probably the sort that one has to learn through the hard toil of analyzing one's experience on a weekly basis, and then reflecting on the whole process afterwards.
Gordon, who describes herself as middle aged, spent many years in therapy, starting when she was a child. Her first therapists were psychoanalysts on whose couches she lay, and talked, (or didn't), while they remained mostly silent. It was when she had been at Austen Riggs Hospital in Massachusetts for a year that she met her most important therapist, Dr. Leslie Farber. She was then nineteen years old. She had been admitted to the hospital after cutting her wrists, and before that, she had had difficulties in high school and she had been a rather wild teenager. From her account, it seems that her therapy with Farber changed her life. Years later, she underwent the longest period of therapy in her life, with the only therapist she really chose for herself, and she seemed to find it useful, despite her misgivings and disdain for her therapist, "Dr. B."
This is not the standard sort of tale of a psychotherapy in which the therapist serves as a guide through the forgotten past, uncovering painful experiences and helping Gordon come to terms with herself. Nor is it a sensationalist exposé of malpractice, although her therapists were certainly imperfect. Gordon's attitude towards her therapists, even her much admired Dr. Farber, is critical, and indeed occasionally verges on the scornful, but most of all it is reflective-Gordon acknowledges that her husband, the philosopher George Sher, now at Rice University has influenced her thought considerably. What especially gives the book its power is the figure of Dr. Farber, and the contrast between his methods and those of other therapists.
Farber was an existentially inclined therapist, but Gordon suggests that really Farber didn't aim to be a therapist at all, in any conventional sense. Farber wrote a great deal about therapeutic method, and Gordon has read his work repeatedly, both while she was his patient, and also in the years since she last saw him. She characterizes him as a friend, and in her sessions with him, they talked about the world around them (it was during the late 1960s and the 1970s that they had their sessions), and about Farber, as well as about herself. On one dramatic occasion, during the middle of a session Farber received news that his father had just died. Gordon offered to leave, but Farber told her to stay, and he went on to talk about his father. In countless other ways, Farber broke with ordinary therapeutic standards about the boundaries between patients and therapists. He talked about his previous divorce; he asked for a ride to his home with her after a session; he got her jobs with his acquaintances and his brother; he allowed her to become friends with his wife, and she visited his house frequently, mixing with his family and friends. He was rude to her sometimes, once asking her, "Can't you ever be quiet?" He allowed himself to get angry with her, and allowed her to beg for his forgiveness. In short, he violated the ethical codes that govern the patient-therapist relationship.
Gordon says that for many years she refused to accept any criticism of Farber, but now she is somewhat shocked when reflecting on his actions. Nevertheless, she remains respectful of his goal, which was to make the interaction between himself and his clients an ethical one rather than a therapeutic one. What alligns her with Farber is his skepticism about psychotherapy, and his attempt to formulate a different form of meeting between two people. He wanted the meeting to involve real talking, rather than the all-too-formulaic exchange that often occurs in therapy. It seemed that partly this meant that he made less effort to hide his own thoughts, flaws and problems, and his behavior towards Gordon was highly questionable. Nevertheless, the idea that there is something problematic in looking at the world from a therapeutic stance is one that is rarely articulated these days, even though psychotherapy seems to be in decline.
When, little more than ten years ago, I explained to my roommate my resentment of his crowding our apartment with his possessions, many of the people I knew were in counseling or therapy. Today I can't remember the last time a personal acquaintance told me that he or she is in therapy. I haven't seen the statistics, but I imagine that the number of people in long term therapy has declined significantly in the last decade or two. These days, my students talk about their "chemical imbalances," and plenty of people I know take antidepressants, while on TV I see figures like Oprah Winfrey get respect for her talk of "spirit." Speaking personally, I hope that we don't forget the therapeutic stance, because for all its problems and awkwardness it is one of the best approaches we have to understanding our lives. And even with all her criticisms of psychotherapy, I suspect that Emily Fox Gordon might agree that it can enrich one's life.