And Other Stories of Unconventional Therapy
By Stanley Siegel and Ed Lowe
Perfectly sane people sometimes adopt odd strategies to cope with life’s vicisitudes, but the answer isn’t always extended therapy. In this lively, thought provoking book, I look at patients and the dilemmas they face. Challenging conventional therapeutic thinking, I offer an unorthodox approach – and in the process provide some revealing glimpses into the human psyche.
Instead of trying to “fix” clients. I encourage them to appreciate their own adaptive ingenuity. In the process, something remarkable almost always happens – as in the case of the couple who were able to build a stable relationship only after they acknowledged its value by literally building a wall within their home.
Sometimes my unorthodox techniques can lead to amazing quick and lasting results. Most therapist, for instance, would have prescribed years of therapy tor the apparently troubled couple who wanted children but confessed that after six years they still ad not consummated their marriage. In one dramatic session, I helped them recognize the value of their abstinence and then face the consequences of a more conventional marriage. I received a birth announcement from them the following year. And in the title story. “The Patient Who Cured His Therapist, I instigate a reversal of roles for a stubbornly uncommunicative client who then solves his therapist’s problem.
In this book I demonstrate my conviction that therapy is a two-way street where the therapist has as much to learn as the patient. By taking you behind closed doors, I show you that real healing is possible only when the healer truly respects his patients.
Review by New York Times Book Review
A CURIOUS CALLING Unconscious Motivations for Practicing Psychotherapy. By Michael B. Sussman. 304 pp. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson. $40. SHRINK DREAMS Tales From the Hidden Side of Psychiatry. By Wayne A. Myers. 252 pp. New York: Simon & Schuster. $20. THE PATIENT WHO CURED HIS THERAPIST And Other Tales of Therapy. By Stanley Siegel and Ed Lowe Jr. 196 pp. New York: Dutton. $20.
LEAVE it to psychotherapists to make a fetish of their own feelings. In different ways “A Curious Calling,” by Michael B. Sussman, and “Shrink Dreams,” by Wayne A. Myers, argue that a therapist’s unresolved personal feelings are an important, if not primary, obstacle to effective treatment.
The authors also hold that once the therapist’s conflicts are resolved, his newly cured psyche becomes a potent instrument of cure. As Mr. Sussman points out, some therapists even believe that someone who has never been emotionally unbalanced is unqualified to practice psychotherapy. Reviewing 45 years of professional commentary, the author concludes, “Personal suffering is a prerequisite for the development of the empathy and compassion that characterize competent therapists.”
“The Patient Who Cured His Therapist,” by Stanley Siegel and Ed Lowe Jr., a columnist at Newsday, offers in its title story an important corrective to these viewpoints. The authors’ approach — based on Mr. Siegel’s experiences as a family therapist — dispenses with hand wringing and soul searching. It also, refreshingly, dispenses with blaming and criticizing the patient.
Instead of trying to convince the patient that he is prey to thwarted infantile impulses, relationship failings or an impaired self-concept, Mr. Siegel empowers him by telling him that his “problem” really isn’t one; it represents a constructive decision made to solve a difficult conflict, to make the best of a bad situation.
All three books concern the reasons therapists fail their patients. Both Mr. Sussman, a psychologist at the Stony Brook Counseling Center, and Dr. Myers, who teaches clinical psychiatry at the Cornell University Medical Center, present the psychoanalytically oriented view: the ultimate fault is that the therapist has been insufficiently analyzed, and therefore his problems intrude upon his psychoanalytic work with the patient. Regrettably, they neglect other reasons for therapeutic failure, which may range from rank inexperience to avoidable error to faulty technique to the limits of science.
Mr. Siegel is less self-involved. For him, therapy fails because the profession has been too infatuated with finding that patients are at fault. He asserts that therapists ought to learn to respect their patients’ motives, and their own; thus he believes that symptoms are not necessarily signs of degeneracy. There is a difference between an honest mistake and a sign of pathology.
It appears that the profession’s new motto is going to be: “We know that you’re not O.K.; does it make you feel any better to know that I’m not O.K. either?”
Oriented toward professionals, “A Curious Calling” provides an excellent review of how therapists have understood their own motivations for practicing therapy. One gains the impression that psychoanalysts, weighed down by the Freudian legacy, almost unanimously agree that there is practically no good or altruistic motive for engaging in the profession. A tone of moral masochism pervades the book, to the point where one feels it must be a primary reason for the profession’s dour and dispirited mood. Motives like wanting to do a good job or even enjoying one’s work are excluded out of hand.
Mr. Sussman concludes that therapists are narcissists — they are motivated by a basic wish to cure themselves. This assertion is neither useful nor encouraging. The event that incites one to choose a profession is ultimately of little interest or importance. Dragging it into the light of day sounds like a convenient rational-ization for failure: my repressed infantile traumas made me do it.
Review by Booklist Review
An odd little book, yet one with its own rewards. Part voyeurism, part New Age wisdom, it transmits one important message: the “problems” people bring to therapy are often ingenious coping mechanisms, however seemingly unhealthy, for dealing with difficult situations. Therapist Siegel (Lowe’s his journalist-scribe) relays his own case studies with great respect for his patients as he tries to share his insight and communicate his tactic of helping patients see the wisdom in their coping mechanisms in order to understand their situations. These true stories not only illuminate the process of therapy but show how therapists can learn from their clients. If this all sounds very Southern California, it is; and if Siegel sounds a little self-congratulatory, he is. Nonetheless, his book valuably balances traditional psychotherapeutic approaches and valuably exemplifies profound respect for the human experience. ~–Mary Ellen Sullivan
Review by Publisher’s Weekly Review
Siegel and Lowe’s collection of provocative case histories offers readers an insightful angle on psychotherapy and human behavior. (Aug.)
Review by Library Journal Review
Those seeking therapy to change behaviors that are traditionally thought to be maladaptive (e.g., extreme aloofness, celibacy in marriage) should be praised rather than thwarted for finding a creative way to cope with difficult life circumstances, says Siegel, director of education at the Ackerman Institute for Family Therapy in New York, and Lowe, author of the New York Newsday column “Fathering.” Therapists, the authors also believe, can learn much about themselves when confronted with such behaviors. In the title story, a female therapist seeks Siegel’s intervention when she is unable to break down an impenetrable wall of reserve in a male client. The therapist soon realizes that her intense need to change him mirrors her attempts to change her unresponsive father. Siegel contends that his unorthodox method of seeing dysfunctional behavior as an asset has helped when other therapies have failed. While general readers may enjoy and even benefit from these humorous, compassionate accounts, this title may better serve professional counselors or those interested in new or experimental modes of therapy. Purchase for such a demand.– Linda S. Greene, Chicago P.L.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Revisionist forays into family therapy, by therapist Siegel and Newsday columnist Lowe. The main message in the dozen-or-so cases presented here is that the patient is always right and that the therapist (or the person urging the patient into therapy) creates resistance by hoping to impose change and by refusing to acknowledge the positive values in what seems a negative situation. Many of the cases become resolved as patients see the wisdom of their illnesses: If they wish to change, that’s up to them. One woman’s shoplifting lands her in weekend detention for a month and threatens much worse. Her father, it happens, is in and out of psychiatric institutions. She supports the family, has three children (one with Down’s syndrome), and is burdened with boundless hardship. Siegel points out to her that only her father has found a way out of the family bind, by vacationing in asylums, and that her shoplifting, which helps to support the family, is a positive act–despite the bad spin put on it by other therapists. The author restores her by not trying to change her. In another case, a richly loving couple has not had sex in six years of marriage. Siegel reflects that this is absolutely marvelous for them and, given their family backgrounds, assures their perfect marriage, with the wife as the perfect mother the husband has never known and he as the perfect, adoring son. Sex for them would be incestuous (although they later have a child). In the title story, a patient reverses roles with his therapist, who finds out that she’s as bad as he is. And in another case, an AIDS patient cannot die until he relieves his lover of guilt about not having attended his mother’s funeral. Much to chew on as conventional therapy is stood on its head, though no doubt many therapists will sneer nervously at Siegel’s “dizzy” ideas.
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