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Robert Schreur, LCPC, PhD-Lit


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Recent therapy books I've read and enjoyed

Posted on July 1, 2015 at 4:07 PM Comments comments (199)
Wilfred Bion,  Attention and Interpretation  (Jason Aronson).  I find Bion very difficult and often inscrutable, but I keep coming back to him.  I admire how honestly he attempts to apply his intellect to understanding the work of being together with a patient in psychotherapy.

William Lindsay Gresham,  Nightmare Alley  (New York Review Books Classics).  Not a book about therapy, and maybe the most misanthropic novel I've ever read.  A pulp classic that Milton Erickson said every therapist should read.  Perhaps because it shows the the dark side of human nature.  It's all about influence and manipulation, things Erickson knew a lot about, and sought to use beneficently.

Leston Havens,  Making Contact: Uses of Language in Psychotherapy  (Harvard University Press).  Brilliant.

Peter Lomas,  Doing Good?: Psychotherapy out of Its Depth  (Oxford University Press). Seriously considers whether and how psychotherapy is an ethical endeavor.  I'd love to use this book in a professional ethics class.

Irvin Yalom,  The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients  (HarperCollins).  Inspiring advice to test oneself against.   A very enjoyable book.  I found myself agreeing with at least 80% of Yalom's views, maybe more, and being challenged by the rest of them.

"Therapy can do many things."

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 10:46 AM Comments comments (261)
I recently came across this list in Robert Karen's book from 1994, Becoming Attached.  He writes that "Therapy can do many things," and then launches into a sentence containing seven semicolons.  I'll break the sentence into bullet points:

  • It can provide a new model of what a close relationship can be;
  • it can teach one to reflect on feelings, events, and the patterns of one's own behavior in a way that one was unable to do before;
  • it can compensate to some degree for nurturing experiences one never had as a child;
  • it can provide the guidance, persuasion, and pressure one needs to break an addictive pattern and attempt something new (such as recognizing, tuning in to, and beginning to use the strong, nourishing parts of oneself that have been disavowed and seen as existing only in yearned-for others);
  • it can be an opportunity to face some unpleasant facts about how one really operates in relationships;
  • it can provide a context where that portion of the self that has always been ready to relate in a new, more trusting, more direct and healthy way can emerge and take what may be its first tentative steps;
  • and it can offer a safe haven where feelings of shame no longer present such a terrible barrier to self-exploration.

Karen's list is quite comprehensive, but seems to me overly weighted toward insight and self-reflection.  His last item, for example, emphasizes how facing and freeing oneself from shame allows for greater "self-exploration."  This is true, but I think the real goal here is greater self-expression, more expansive experiences in relationship not just with oneself but with others and the world.

Psychotherapy can't be all things to all people, but it can be many things to many people.  In addition to each of the benefits in Karen's list, the profusion of his list (and more points could be added to it) suggests that a further benefit of therapy is the strength we can gain to realize and celebrate how manifold each of us and each of our relationships always are.


Posted on March 19, 2012 at 11:02 AM Comments comments (640)
Today's New York Times has an eloquent opinion piece on pscyhoanalysis called "Freud's Radical Talking" by a Columbia graduate student, Benjamin Y. Fong:

Fong nicely describes how psychoanalysis provides an open field in which two (or more) sides of ourselves can be safely welcomed and heard. While psychotherapy is not psychoanalysis, that is where its roots are.  And even when psychotherapy is focused on problem-solving and coping-strategies, its value, Fong implies, runs deeper, providing open spaces for change and growth.  

Learning skills like how to overcome anxiety or manage anger are highly valuable.  And their greatest value may lie in helping us achieve a "free relation" (a term Fong takes from Martin Heidegger) not only to our anxiety or our anger but by extension to other parts of ourselves and our world.

Psychotherapy in movies and fiction and on TV

Posted on March 9, 2012 at 10:14 AM Comments comments (1234)
Here are some of my favorite depictions of psychotherapy in movies and books and on TV:

"Spellbound," directed by Hitchcock.  A strangely wooden representation of classical American psychoanalysis, with with moments of great depth and beauty.  My favorite scene is the conversation on the train between Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck.  

"What About Bob?"  Bill Murray can be hilarious just standing perfectly still, and he does much more than that in this film.  

"Harriet the Spy," by Louise Fitzhugh.  I was captivated by this book thirty-five years ago.  Harriet's notebooks made me wish to be a writer, and her sessions with the psychologist -- where she takes notes about him -- planted seeds of a life-long fascination with psychotherapy.

"A Charlie Brown Christmas." The scene with Lucy in her psychiatry booth is endlessly charming.  

"Does Couples Therapy Work?"

Posted on March 7, 2012 at 10:07 AM Comments comments (460)
Last Sunday's  New York Times (May 4, 2012) included an interesting article on couple's therapy, "Does Couple's Therapy Work?"  It began, in good journalistic fashion, by claiming that it is "an open secret" that "couples therapy stresses therapists out."  It made me wonder if writing about psychotherapy stresses journalists out.  For myself, I have have found couples therapy to be some of the most rewarding and invigorating work I do in my practice.

I appreciated the observation later in the article that couples who seek therapy early have a much better success rate.  The article refers to research that "the average couple is unhappy for six years before seeking couples counseling" -- at which point the patterns of discord can be firmly embedded and difficult to address.  But I think the opposite can also be true: after such a length of time, the patterns can be clearly visible and ripe for change.