Probably because I haven't experienced it myself, I love therapy memoirs, a quirky subniche of the mental illness autobiography field. Probably the best therapy memoir ever written is "The Day I Went Missing" by Jennifer Miller, which I reread lately. God, I love that book. I would love to know the acerbic and brilliant Jennifer Miller (a Los Angeles writer, maybe the tireless Hughman can track her down for us), survivor of one of the strangest analyses ever.
Even more recently I read "Group: Six People in Search of a Life" by Paul Solotaroff. The concept of group therapy makes so much sense to me: misery always does love company, and it can be highly motivating to get stuff done if you know you'll have to report to a group, all those judgmental eyes looking at you as you stammer out your lame excuses. Solotaroff was a lonely failed writer suffering from panic attacks when he joined a group facilitated by a charismatic Manhattan analyst. He attributes this group therapy with changing his life, giving him the ability to become a successful magazine writer with a happy marriage. Years later, Solotaroff was granted access to a new therapy group to write about what would presumably be a life-changing experience.
As a therapy memoir, this one was okay, gripping at times but irritating or boring at others. Some of the group members did transform their lives, but it's not clear why the group experience was so valuable for them. Others were unchanged and unaffected.
What drove me insane about this book was the philosophy of the therapist. Parents, it would seem, are to blame for just about everything wrong with a person, because we mold our children to meet our approval. It turns out that mothers harm the authentic personality of their children as babies and implant "false story" in them:
False story begins in the first year of life, when we learn that doing 'X" gets Mom's attention. . . . Soon, though, we discover that there're two kinds of attention -- Mom's approval and Mom's disapproval. She likes us when we're quiet and eat all our peach sauce, and allow her to get us changed without a battle. But, oh, she's angry and withdraws her love when we wake her for the fifth night in a row, or hurl that nice, new bowl from Mikasa halfway across the kitchen from our high chair.A mother who takes a negative tone "when things go wrong" will "pollute" her child's identity. I found this profoundly irritating. So, when a child breaks something or misbehaves spectacularly, if I, the parent, respond with irritation or, god forbid, anger, I am polluting her identity and implanting "false story'(but imagine the authentic monsters I'd produce if I never reacted with disapproval to bad behavior).
But yet the therapist himself, without irony or awareness of his hypocrisy, enlists the group to pressure one of the members to fit into a particular mold. Rex, a wealthy financier with a major bad boy streak, is in therapy as part of a marital treaty after his wife's discovery that he had been supporting a stripper in an apartment and taking her on European vacations. He's torn between being a dutiful husband and church-attending father and his secret life of cocaine and strippers. Lathon, the therapist, enlists the group in pressuring Rex to pick the life of a family man: "Yes, it's true he's been on his best behavior lately, but his language tells a different story. It says that, underneath the piety, he's got a foot in each camp, and is having a hard time making a choice. So over these next months, I want you to press him on it, and don't let up till you've got an answer. Because either way it goes, that answer's going to mean a lot to" Rex's baby daughter. What if Rex's true personality is that of a skeeze? Isn't the therapist polluting Rex's identity?
So, as far as I'm concerned, this therapist is a mother-blaming hypocrite, but it is all fodder for thought. What scares me is that inevitable day in the future when the ever articulate Iris Uber Alles comes after me with her laundry list of ways in which I'll have fucked her up. I have a cousin who, urged by her therapist, wrote her parents a 23 page letter detailing all the wrongs they committed against her. Sadly no one in the family is circulating that gem (my uncle, who told me about receiving this letter, just gazed off into the middle distance and fell silent as he recalled reading it). I'd pay to read that letter... but I'm not looking forward to getting my own.