Sensitive accounts of unusual cases on the frontiers of psychotherapy.
“One of the dangerous seductions of being a therapist,” avers Rubin (Sociology/Berkeley; Intimate Strangers, 1982), “is the kind of authority our patients give over to us and that we too often encourage.” This stance informs her project, as she seeks to demystify aspects of contemporary psychotherapy in a work intended primarily for nonpractitioners. She begins by discussing the clinical training that all therapists undergo, noting that while certain boundaries are crucial, traditional psychotherapists rely unduly on inviolate rules (e.g., never hug a patient) and on securing a firm, unambiguous diagnosis for each patient. Six chapters illustrate the limits of this stance by focusing on patients who brought both seemingly intractable problems and unforeseen twists to the analytic process. In one, Rubin treats a young woman unable to progress past childish, petulant paranoia by gradually coaxing a history of childhood trauma from her in exchange for rituals of friendship the patient sorely needs. The title essay refers to a man born without use of his legs due to his mother’s thalidomide use; his formidable hostility towards the world at large and therapists in particular (for their perceived hypocrisy) make him a difficult patient, but Rubin connects with him via his raw, emotional painting. Two essays depict seemingly successful professionals whose secret lives blow up dramatically during couples therapy. One is a woman concealing her actual husband from Rubin in favor of a pretend spouse; the other is a light-skinned black man who has “passed” for years without telling his colleagues or girlfriend. The woman ultimately flees, while the man’s startling admission ultimately resolves many personal difficulties. Rubin considers her own responses to these patients, a process termed “countertransference.” Although her techniques seem unorthodox, she argues persuasively that intensive psychotherapy remains a successful defense for the individual against the traumatic complexities of our lives.
A good introduction for the curious.