on 27 February 2013
Distilling decades of therapeutic work into a slim volume that reads like a collection of short stories, Grosz offers an intriguing insight into contemporary psychoanalysis. A married father-of-four announces that he is thinking of coming out, aged 71, while a woman who has just celebrated her 50th birthday realises a sexy dream that bothered her was about her son.
Anger, boredom, self-delusion, lying, being stuck, Grosz even shows how boredom is worth thinking about. He draws not just on his patients, but literature too - Scrooge shows us how we can't live a life without loss, a Herman Melville character reveals how `we all have a cheering voice that says "let us start now, right away"' and an opposing, negative voice that responds "I would prefer not to."'
But the real joy of this book is that all this is done with such a light touch. I'd take issue with the other reviewer who suggests we go and read Freud instead - many who are attracted to this book are unlikely to, and that's the very point. It avoids jargon, and in an era when CBT is frequently hailed as The Answer to mental health problems (it's just about the only therapy one can get on the NHS these days, though it's still a postcode lottery), it's a timely reminder not to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Don't get me wrong, I think CBT can be invaluable tool, but let's remember looking at our entrenched patterns can help patients who suffer too. To have made complex theories accessible to a mainstream audience is a fine achievement, and to Mr Grosz I'd like to say: THANK YOU.
To be honest, I am not a fan of Freudian analysis, regarding CBT as a less fanciful, if blunter tool for quickly fixing unwanted behaviour. However, I am fascinated by what people do, why they do it and how they think. I am pleased to say that the author does not shoehorn established Freudian ideas on to individual cases but is more intent on squirreling out a unique reason, based on the client's personal history, to account for their idiosyncratic behaviour. To me, this reflects more what true psychological analysis should be. The author does not confine himself purely to relating the details of his clients. He also describes an intriguing case he learned about while chatting to somebody on an aeroplane flight, proving that the author delights in the machinations of the human mind to the extent that he takes his work home with him.
Each account is gripping in its own right and each gives an insight into human nature and the sometimes obscure reasons which may cause it. As you read, you will recognise the behaviour of friends, colleagues and loved ones of your own and start pondering just what makes them tick... Whether you are a champion of Freudian psychoanalysis or not, there is plenty to enjoy in this book because the stories are well told and intriguing. Whether you agree with the author's reading of the situation is of course open to debate but nevertheless it will get you thinking, and that cannot be bad. I found this to be an absorbing and entertaining read and one that I would highly recommend.
on 6 April 2013
Looking through the numerous and wide ranging reviews this book has already attracted, if you are still considering whether or not to buy it you might find the following explanation useful.
If you buy this book for the wrong reasons you won't get much out of it, and that might help explain the 1-3 star reviews. For example, if you think you are going to get just over 30 sessions (the number of chapters in this book) of psychotherapy on the cheap (the price of this book), think again. Being a fly on the wall during an intimate session between patient and psychotherapist isn't how psychotherapy works.
Nor is there any value in reading it as though this was an exercise in `spot-the ball'. For example, as you read each Chapter you may start to identify with a few of its symptoms or circumstances. You say to yourself `oh, I suffer from that', or `I'm a bit like that'. Well don't think you will find the answer to your problems by the end of the chapter.
But if you buy this book for the right reasons, expect to get a great deal out of Grosz's distillation of some 50,000 hours of conversation in his consulting room over a period of the last twenty-five years, covering a wide range of topics including: telling lies, loving, changing, and leaving. This might help to explain the numerous 4-5 star reviews.
The main benefit of the book lies in his prompting questions, and a few of the generalised lessons he draws out for himself. For example, ask yourself `what haunts you?' after reading his chapter on `How lovesickness keeps us from love.'
Grosz argues that effective desire to change our lives does not come about from fear or other negative emotions, but rather from things that haunt us. For example, we might be frightened of gaining weight, but that alone is unlikely to cause us to change our diet. "Haunting is different." he argues. It makes us feel alive to some fact about the world, or more likely about ourselves, or something we've experienced in the past that we're trying our best now and in future to avoid.
Each chapter is a narrative, sometimes focussing on one individual, sometimes a composite of his clients. In some cases, for example `A passion for ignorance', it reads like a fictional and fascinating short story during which you have to pinch yourself to remember it's based on fact.
The narrative style is deliberate as Grosz want to emphasise his view that we are all storytellers because we want to make sense of our lives in the stories we tell.Understanding ourselves by storytelling is one thing, but it soon becomes clear to the reader how important it is to be listened to (not merely being heard), i.e. being understood.
In his introduction, he sums the book up succinctly by a reference to the philosopher Simone Weil. She describes two prisoners in adjoining cells who learn to talk to each other over a very long period of time by tapping on the wall that divides them. The wall that separates them is also the wall that facilitates their communication. This book is about that wall.
on 6 January 2013
I loved this book - reading these short stories ( based on sessions between patients and psychoanalyst) is like lifting the curtains on the lives of your friends and neighbours and, yes, even yourself... To this end I have been posting this book through the doors of aforementioned friends in the hope that we can pepper our walks and talks with some of the insights offered by author Stephen Grosz. Have we over-praised our children? Have we invented fantasy escapes from our everyday lives? Does change scare us? And if, like me, you suspect that psychoanalysis might be a bit of a magician's art, you will be won over by the clarity and humility of the writing and the fascinating insights into how psychoanalysts actually work. The great joy of these highly engaging stories is that, unlike reading fiction where you might think, do I really believe a character would have acted like that, or, is this plot really believable, you know these stories are true: how satisfying it is to be presented with a character in crisis only to discover exactly what precipitated the crisis and how resolution might - or might not - be achieved; such a joy! If I was pressed, I would say this book is a meeting of Jane Austen, Tolstoy and Hello magazine. What a treat.
on 12 January 2013
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this on my Kindle. Whilst I appreciate that the focus of the book is observations from analysis, I would have liked the book a little better if it had given a bit more information at the end of each chapter (regarding what happened next) which the author did do with the patient who had AIDS - I laughed out loud at the triumph in this patient's comment to his medication ! (and it is to, rather than about his medication!)
However, I do also appreciate that these are real people and as such they are not fictional short stories with neat endings. Additionally, I also know that whilst some patients return to therapy with further problems later in the transit of their lives, some do not and the series of sessions during a current issue is sometimes all that the analyst gets chance to work on/with the patient.
The only chapter I had any concerns about was the one associated with closure. I completely agree that dealing with death does not in any way have neat endings either, but I do sometimes think that with counselling or analysis or any kind of talking therapy, the patient can gain insights into their grief, especially if the person who died was someone with whom the patient had a particularly difficult relationship. Then, as a result of those insights, they are able to find the bereavement process slightly easier.
However, I do think closure is more useful as a concept when people are recovering from serious assaults etc rather than for bereavement so in this respect agree with the author.
I was really glad I had read this book and would recommend it to anyone for the author's insights and honesty - the chapter with his father moved me very deeply. It is one of those few books I've read where I felt I wanted to talk to the author afterwards !
on 8 January 2013
Reading this book has helped me understand me and in turn understand others. This may not happen to you admittedly but, I believe there would be a few readers that do change as a result of reading it. I hope that is you.
on 7 March 2013
Case studies and biographical accounts can be rich reading experiences but this compendium of short selections was very disappointing. The accounts are too short and the anonymised characterisations too generic to amount to much beyond a series of anecdotes. Searching analysis and interpretation is not what you will find here. The sections hardly amount to 'examined lives' and this is an easy and undemanding (also superficial and unsatisfying) read for the most part.
on 17 January 2013
I was moved to order this book after having heard only a single episode broadcast on Radio 4's 'Book of the Week'. The physical book has not not disappointed and, having so enjoyed Peter Marinker's reading of the story, I now find myself reading Stephen Grosz's words through Marinker's perfectly-cast voice. In the same way as other reviewers, I have already bought multiple copies of this book and given it to those friends whom I know would appreciate its thoughtful and sensitive style. This is a quiet book that tells you much about the human condition with a calm, non-judgmental and compassionate voice. I recommend it very highly.
If like me your childhood was not great, this book might possibly even give you an insight into how it has affected you.
The book deals, among other things, with how our childhood experiences can mean that we 'find ourselves acting in ways we don't understand' (a quote from a couple of paragraphs after the free sample ends - if you read the free sample, you will understand the relevance).
The book deals with issues such as a person using laughter as a defence mechanism. That does not seem like a revelation at all - clearly laughter can be used as a defence mechanism - but the explanation in the book as to why a patient acts in the way that she does employs a very different mechanism. I found it profound.
This book does that. It makes you stop and think.
I was particularly interested in the chapter dealing with how praise can decrease a child's confidence. The author goes on to answer the question "if praise doesn't build a child's confidence, what does?" It would be unfair of me to tell you what the answer is but when I read it, it seemed so obvious yet I had not realised before. I am applying that lesson with my own daughter.
I understand the negative reviews of this book (though I still like it). Some chapters are far less fulfilling than others, as they seem to leave things hanging in the air more than others. But then life is like that. I count the good chapters instead.
What strikes me is the number of chapters addressing an issue where I could not understand why someone might act as described; then the author proffers a reason and it seems so patently obvious with hindsight. Consequently I feel that I have learned something - both about myself and others. I will give one example of that, and the proposed psychological theory behind it (so do not read the next two paragraphs if you do not want to know the theory).
One chapter addresses paranoia and paranoid fantasies - the author gives an example of a patient who, returning from a business trip abroad, inserts a key into her front door and fantasises about her flat exploding due to a bomb that terrorists had planted in order to kill her. The author reassures us that paranoia and paranoid fantasies are not unusual, yet we rarely talk about them 'even to spouses and close friends... ...We don't know what they signify or say about us. Are they a sign that we're breaking down? Momentarily mad?' He briefly describes various theories and then elaborates on one of them - namely that they are 'often a response to the world's disregard. The paranoid knows that someone is thinking about him'. Applying that to this particular case, the patient lived alone and her heart would sink when she returned to an empty flat ("I'm unimportant, and lonely") after a business trip abroad (which possibly made her feel "I'm important") - hence the fantasy (if someone wants to kill you, you're not unimportant and your life isn't dull). As the author puts it: 'the fantasy frightened her, but ultimately this fear saved her from feeling alone'. In other words, anyone who suffers from such paranoid fantasies can relax - no, they aren't going mad. Yes, it is normal. It's just a symptom that they feel lonely and unimportant, and the fantasy for a moment counteracts that.
This explains why 'with old age, the likelihood of developing a serious psychological disorder decreases and yet the chance of developing paranoia increases'. The elderly were formerly important in society but, in old age, are far less so, and are likely to be more lonely. Hence how they can complain that 'The nurses here are trying to poison me' and 'I didn't misplace my glasses, my daughter has obviously stolen them'. If you have elderly relatives, that might ring a bell. (Incidentally, if you don't follow those two paragraphs, please forgive me - it is because I am trying to summarise an entire chapter).
Ironically I suspect that this book will have the greatest impact on readers who either have issues of their own e.g. a dysfunctional childhood, or who come into contact with people with issues (e.g. elderly relatives, as above). If you think this book is poor, maybe it's because you have been blessed with a normal life.
I suggest downloading the free sample - it is a flavour of what is to come.
A great book.
This is a book equally easy to underrate as to overrate, though I do think whose who have given it two or three stars on the basis that it offers no answers are missing its whole point. Surely it isn't - nor does it set out to be - a book of answers, but rather a series of examples with a view to prompting our own responses, our own questions.
For example, there is a brilliant section on grief, in which he talks about coming to terms with it, coping with it, and - in a riposte to 'grief guru' Elisabeth Kubler-Ross - accepting it, rather than seeking 'closure' (dreadful word).
All the sections are kept short, some only two or three pages, others half a dozen, but rarely more. Using aliases, he takes real cases from his own work as a psychoanalyst (more Freudian than Jungian, one guesses) and either takes wing and improvises on the theme introduced by the patient's problem, or uses it to highlight what might be the problem itself. Sometimes he simply tells us the bare bones, leaving the reader to make up his or her own mind, or ask more questions...
It feels like Grosz has been very careful to write this illuminating book in a certain way - almost like a poem at times, as some have pointed out - and with respect for his readers' intelligence. I was captivated, and only wish it had been longer. It also made me think and feel, much as, say, Oliver Sacks does.
I believe reading this frequently beautiful book about our fellow humans and their/our everyday troubles, some familiar, others much stranger, will move many and make them think and feel as I did, and be grateful too, as I was.