With no claim to presenting a paradigm, a pro-talk-therapy journalist provides a close-up view of six articulate, unhappy individuals as they evolve during a year of group therapy.
Four years after his own positive experience in group with the same therapist, identified here as Charles Lathon (all names and identities are disguised), the author obtained permission to observe a newly formed group of four men and two women especially selected by Lathon for their thoughtfulness and intelligence. Although scheduled to meet for two and a half hours every two weeks for 40 weeks, interruptions and extra sessions kept the group together from January to December 1995. In addition to observing the group sessions, Solotaroff met separately with Lathon and with the individuals: Sara, an unmarried 37-year-old fashion editor desperate for a husband; 45-year-old Lina, going through a messy divorce; Peter, a rather shy and nerdy 38-year-old accountant; Rex, a 31-year-old high-roller whose marriage is in tatters; Dylan, 48, with a messed-up career and marriage and a propensity for alcoholic binges; and 60ish Jack, a one-time Broadway producer whose career has been trashed by cocaine, alcohol, and embezzlement. Lathon lays down the rules, teaches the group his vocabulary (pain is not to be confused with suffering), and instructs them in distinguishing false stories which lead to “suffering conversations” from true stories, which lead to “effective conversations.” Gradually a bond of sorts forms among the members as they talk, probe, share, and listen. Occasionally sharp comments are exchanged and a few tears are shed, but Lathon holds animosities in check and keeps the group on an even keel. Essentially, they plod along, learning to listen to themselves as they listen to each other. In an epilogue written two and a half years later, Solotaroff learns that, for several, their lives have changed for the better; the stunner is that Lathon, once an effective therapist has become an alcoholic with a failed practice.
No high drama here, but a closely detailed picture of how tedious talk therapy can be.