Nov 09

Group Therapy Saved Christie Tate’s Life

People who knew Tate probably didn’t see her as the sort who hoped that “someone would shoot me in the head.” Kirkus Reviews, regarding Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life

What’s it like to be in group therapy? Christie Tate tells readers about the importance of her own experience in her new memoir, Group: How One Therapist and a Circle of Strangers Saved My Life. “Tate sets a positive example by destigmatizing and demystifying group therapy, but she is careful never to present herself as an expert” (NPR).

How did she make the decision to try group therapy? At the time a high achieving law school student, Tate had hit a depressive low. A therapist recommended she enter one of his therapy groups: “Christie is skeptical, insisting that that she is defective, beyond cure. But Dr. Rosen issues a nine-word prescription that will change everything: ‘You don’t need a cure, you need a witness’.”

An excerpt from Chapter One describes her mental state before making her decision:

In my journal, I used vague words of discomfort and distress: I feel afraid and anxious about myself. I feel afraid that I’m not OK, will never be OK & I’m doomed. It’s very uncomfortable to me. What’s wrong with me? I didn’t know then that a word existed to perfectly define my malady: lonely….

I was already in a 12-step program….Twelve-step recovery had arrested the worst of my disordered eating, and I credited it with saving my life. Why was I now wishing that life away? I confessed to my sponsor who lived in Texas that I’d been having dark thoughts.

‘I wish for death every day.’ She told me to double up on my meetings.

I tripled them, and felt more alone than ever.

From Publishers Weekly:

Tate delivers a no-holds-barred account of her five-plus years in group therapy in this dazzling debut memoir….[She] ended up in group therapy with Jonathan Rosen, a quirky but wise Harvard-educated therapist who insisted that his clients keep no secrets—neither from him nor the group (‘keeping secrets from other people is more toxic than other people knowing your business,’ he reasoned). Tate then unveils the intimate details of her romantic life….Through therapy, Tate found a sense of self-worth, and eventually a lawyer named John at work (‘I felt something I’d never felt with a man before: calm, quiet, happy, and excited’). Readers will be irresistibly drawn into Tate’s earnest and witty search for authentic and lasting love.

Selected Reviews of Group

Kirkus Reviews: “Tate documents her alternately loving and confrontational encounters with fellow group members, but most of the book focuses on her many attempts to find the perfect man.”

Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (see previous posts, “Therapist in Therapy” and “What Is Therapy?“) : “It takes courage to bare your soul in front of a therapist, but when you add six strangers to the mix, it becomes an act of faith. In Group, Christie Tate takes us on a journey that’s heartbreaking and hilarious, surprising and redemptive—and, ultimately, a testament to the power of connection. Perhaps the greatest act of bravery is that Tate shared her story with us, and how lucky we are that she did.”

Ada Calhoun, author of Why We Can’t Sleep (see previous post here): “In this therapeutic page-turner, a boon especially to women struggling with loss, loneliness, or imposter syndrome, Christie Tate tells the story of how she overcame trauma and found love. Her hard-won strategy is as simple to say as it is tough to do: keep showing up.”

Aug 28

“I May Destroy You”: The Therapy Scenes

Michaela Coel‘s powerfully told HBO series I May Destroy You is now fully available to stream. Its description on IMDB: “The question of sexual consent in contemporary life and how, in the new landscape of dating and relationships, we make the distinction between liberation and exploitation.”

Several episodes feature snippets of therapy received by lead character Bella (full name Arabella), a writer. Some thoughts on these follow. Thus, spoilers ahead.

Episode Four: “That Was Fun”

Arabella has been drugged and raped. Sometime later she meets with a counselor. Monica Castillo, Vulture, describes what we see:

She wants Arabella to start talking about her sexual assault, but unfortunately, Arabella still struggles to find the words to recount her experience…Eventually, Arabella begins to open up about how she’s coping, mentioning the flashbacks that continue to interrupt her thoughts and how she’s struggling to focus on the next draft of her book. Her therapist suggests taking care of herself even under pressure, listing a number of soothing activities like coloring…

This form of treatment is often labelled crisis intervention, in which the therapist is providing a directive response to a client’s recent trauma. The aim is to support the client’s efforts to stabilize and to feel better in her current life, not to delve deeply into the issues.

Episode Six: “The Alliance”

Meghan O’Keefe, Decider:

This week’s episode opens with Arabella visiting a sexual trauma support group run by an old school mate, Theo (Harriet Webb). She opens each session by saying, ‘I hate abusers. I think that abuse, grooming, assault, domestic violence are the most abhorrent qualities of our species.’

Group support, whether led by a therapist or a peer—in this case, a peer—can be one of the most powerful ways to heal following trauma. It decreases emotional isolation by connecting a participant to others who share common issues.

We learn over the course of the episode, however, that in addition to Theo having a history of victimization she has also been a perpetrator—not that group members are aware of this.

More on this important plot point from O’Keefe:

‘The Alliance’ might offer the clearest articulation of I May Destroy You‘s central thesis: abuse is everywhere and there is no obvious way to fix it…In most television betrayals of assault, we have an obvious idea of whom to condemn. I May Destroy You is unflinching in its refusal to give us an easy out with Theo’s story. That’s why the episode is so haunting and so necessary to watch.

Episode Nine: “Social Media Is a Great Way to Connect”

Bella freaks out late at night and shows up at the Episode Four counselor’s home. The reaction of Micha Frazer-Carroll, Independent, is similar to what I had. She also makes an important clarification about therapist boundaries.

…’Night-time therapy?’ I thought, half-expecting the scene to quickly reveal itself as some sort of metaphor, hallucination or dream sequence. But it wasn’t…

At some point in the scene, there is a faint acknowledgement that this is unusual – Arabella apologises for ‘turning up’, to which her therapist responds that that’s what the ’emergency line’ is for. This struck me as incredibly odd. Yes, in very rare cases it might be possible that therapists would allow this kind of emergency session (distinct from crisis lines). But make no mistake, in the context of the real world, rocking up at your therapist’s house in your Halloween costume after a failed night out would be highly, highly unusual.

And therefore, as Frazer-Carroll adds, this is yet another in a too-long list of annoying and/or unrealistic portrayals of therapist boundaries in TV series and movies. (See previous posts here, here, here, here, and here for some other examples).

Jul 03

“Anger Management” TV: Managing My Anger About It

According to IMDB, Charlie Sheen‘s new series on FX, Anger Management, is “(a) TV sitcom-version of the 2003 feature film about a guy sentenced to anger management counseling with an aggressive instructor.” It premiered last week with the episode “Charlie Goes Back to Therapy,” and, as expected, it drew tons of viewers.

In brief, his character, Charlie Goodson, is a former baseball player with anger management issues who’s now an anger management therapist—with—guess what—continuing anger management issues.

Because there’s a group therapy focus, many reviewers have compared Sheen’s show to someone else’s from way back when.

Ken Tucker, Entertainment Weekly:

The locus of most of this show’s comedy…is the therapy sessions Charlie conducts. Watching him referee a group of recalcitrants and oddballs, you recognize the true template for this series: The Bob Newhart Show (1972-78), with its bemused therapist surrounded by his wacky clientele.

But they’re not as vividly drawn as Newhart’s patients…

Instead, the troubled souls in Anger Management are all less pleasingly complicated types, familiar to sitcoms current and past: the cranky old man (Northern Exposure’s Barry Corbin), the sarcastic gay man (Michael Arden), the sexpot (Noureen Dewulf), and a dope (Derek Richardson) who likes goading other people…

And for we therapists it just gets worse. Charlie’s best friend Kate (Selma Blair), with whom he’s having a sexual relationship as well, is also a therapist. And they try to be each other’s therapists before taking off each other’s clothes?

Where do I begin…???? The ethics against having sex with a client? The inability of a colleague-who’s-also-a-best-friend to be an objective-enough therapist? The no-way-can-your-client-also-be-your-shrink and no-way-can-your-shrink-also-be-your-client?

Apparently, here’s how this all develops: First, there’s Charlie’s realization that he needs his own therapy because of his still-unresolved anger stuff. The Washington Times:

‘Why do you need a therapist? You are a therapist,’ his neighbor asks.

Goodson responds this way: ‘Did you ever see a tow truck hauling a tow truck?’

Of course, Charlie being Charlie, there’s a problem.

‘There’s only one tow truck I trust,’ he sighs, ‘and unfortunately, I’m having sex with it.’

How ridiculous. A therapist actually believes he needs to have a developed and trusting relationship with his shrink before he starts therapy?!

When Charlie’s neighbor then asks why this is problematic, he replies, “It’s unethical for a therapist to have sex with a patient. They teach that Day One. It weeds out half the class.”

Ha ha. Good riddance to them. Charlie, it’s not too late for you to weed yourself out.

By the way, there are actually plenty other ways to make fun of therapy and therapists than to continually give the public the completely wrong impression that therapists may have sexual relationships with their clients.

What about Kate?

Jace Lacob at The Daily Beast points out that Kate: “…willingly throws away her professionalism and morality to continue to have sex with Charlie, even as she ‘treats’ him. She’s said to be brilliant, but we’re shown no examples of her intelligence, just her sex drive.”

In conclusion…

Refreshingly, David Wiegand, San Francisco Chronicle, aptly sums things up: “Two things are relatively safe bets about the new sitcom Anger Management…The ratings are likely to be strong, especially for the first few episodes, and Charlie Sheen probably won’t make the American Psychological Association’s short list to keynote its next convention.”

Well. Thank you for your support. 

Jun 29

Nora Ephron, Heroine Known For Her Humorous Writing

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Nora Ephron

This is just one of many serious quotes that have been attributed to writer Nora Ephron (1941-2012), who died this week after a secret battle with leukemia.

But Nora Ephron was also known for her sense of humor. And one of her friends has publicly noted that even as Ephron was dying, she was still cracking jokes. Not that she wasn’t also showing sadness. She could do both.

“My mother wanted us to understand that the tragedies of your life one day have the potential to be comic stories the next.”

I don’t know if she was ever in therapy, but she did seem therapy-oriented in some ways. For example, in her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Heartburn (1983), group therapy figured prominently. The movie version, which featured Meryl Streep as lead character Rachel, contained a scene in which she and others get robbed during a session.

Actually, it’s quite possible that in real life Nora Ephron spurned shrinkage in favor of something else. According to the New York Times, she once said about her choice to engage in twice-a-week professional blow-drying of her hair:

“It’s cheaper by far than psychoanalysis and much more uplifting.”

Also on the topic of hair, she had stated:

“…the amount of maintenance involving hair is genuinely overwhelming. Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.”

Other Nora Ephron quotes of interest:

“Insane people are always sure that they are fine. It is only the sane people who are willing to admit that they are crazy.”

“[A successful parent is one] who raises a child who grows up and is able to pay for his or her own psychoanalysis.”

“When you’re attracted to someone, it just means that your subconscious is attracted to their subconscious, subconsciously. So what we think of as fate is just two neuroses knowing that they are a perfect match.”

“Sometimes I believe that some people are better at love than others, and sometimes I believe that everyone is faking it.”

“Never marry a man you wouldn’t want to be divorced from.”

“You always think that a bolt of lightning is going to strike and your parents will magically change into the people you wish they were, or back into the people they used to be.”