In her introduction to “How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch,” Sherry Amatenstein says she wants to illuminate both the “shrinks” and the “shrunks.” She succeeds with the 34 essays collected here, written by patients, therapists and people who have been both.
“I’m not supposed to have any feelings for you,” writes psychotherapist Nina Gaby, addressing an imaginary composite of a career’s worth of patients.
“I’m not your friend or your mother. You hire me to have a cold, clinical eye and to keep you safe. . . . And I need to keep me safe. Because we know how messy emotions can get.” But of course, she admits, love absolutely is “woven into” her work — “because without it I wouldn’t be able to finish out the afternoon.”
Estelle Erasmus recalls being exploited by a therapist when she was 16; Ron “(name kept the same to protect no one)” told her he was going to help her “become a woman” by getting in touch with her sexuality — and she’s explicit about things he said and asked her to do. But then she relates how he led her to insights that rescued her troubled relationship with her family.
Dennis Palumbo, a mystery novelist and Hollywood screenwriter, describes how he left a successful career and launched himself into six years of training to become a licensed psychotherapist. His friends said that proved he’d lost his mind. “I pretty much thought the same thing.”
“I grew up believing blacks buried our emotions and held secrets close,” writes Jenine Holmes. But her friendship with a woman who happened to be a psychoanalyst led her to seek help. Her account of her experience with two therapists concludes: “My black family taught me how to survive and thrive, but three white people [including that first shrink] taught me the importance of feeling the good, the bad and the in between.”
And Martha Crawford writes about how she and her clients manage the end of therapy, what some professionals call “the termination process.” “I prefer to think of it as being released into the wild.”
Most of the contributors to Amatenstein’s book have done some professional writing, and it shows. And some are noted authors: Beverly Donofrio, whose essay is called “My Serial Therapists,” wrote “Riding in Cars With Boys”; Charlie Rubin, who wrote “Why I Didn’t Enter Therapy Sooner,” has written for “Seinfeld” and for Jon Stewart.
Their essays are alternately thoughtful, funny, horrifying and tragic. Most important, they’re insightful.