Already a pick for Reese Witherspoon’s book club, Tate’s memoir of her years as a patient of Jonathan Rosen contains plenty of secrets, some salacious. “I’d just joined a group full of people who knew everything there was to know about my anal sex résumé,” Tate laments early on. But she’s not the only one feeling vulnerable. It’s titillating and sometimes shocking to read the specifics of what these upscale and once-uptight men and women discuss, but is it more than that? Does it serve them?
The answer might not lie in Tate’s narrative. Rosen seems to follow the therapeutic teachings of group-therapy innovator Irvin Yalom, the author of 1970’s “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy,” whom Tate thanks in her acknowledgments. Rosen believes that the only way for people stuck in shame-based personal histories is for those people to be completely unburdened of their secrets. By having the hidden become public knowledge, Rosen tells his groups, patients stop suppressing and start engaging — first with each other, then with their therapist and finally with loved ones.
Tate looks back at the nearly two decades she spent in “Rosen-land,” weaving together anecdotes from those fraught group sessions with her quest for an integrated life. Readers may experience whiplash, toggling between her personal journey and the outrageous vignettes starring her fellow group members. (Evidently, there’s a large contingent of long-winded patients in the Windy City.)
While Tate, a high-powered attorney who gained writing experience and notoriety as a mommy blogger with few boundaries, wants us to share her therapy experience, she also wants us to pay attention to her therapy arc. The latter narrative supposedly brings her from hideous one-night encounters to equally hideous longer relationships to a meaningful, fulfilling marriage and motherhood.
It’s not that Tate doesn’t show the steps; she does, sometimes in excruciating detail. The smutty mantra she adopts with Rosen — which revolves around the kind of sex she wants to avoid — will make more than a few readers shudder in distaste. Others may nod their heads empathetically. Looking for love as a professional woman in a large city isn’t easy, nor is it always pretty. But it also isn’t particularly novel. What’s most fascinating is the dynamic of members of a psychotherapy group determined to strip themselves bare in front of an audience, and every time we’re pulled back to Tate’s search for a partner, we miss that other setting: a strange, foreign land, even for people who have spent years in more traditional therapy. According to Rosen, group-therapy dynamics are all about individuation, but “Group” may be most compelling when Tate focuses on collaboration.
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”
By Christie Tate
Simon and Schuster. 288 pp. $27