Friday, April 5, 2013

The Art of Psychotherapy -- Anthony Storr

"I once had a conversation with the director of a monastery. 'Everyone who comes to us,' he said, 'does so for the wrong reasons.' The same is generally true of people who become psychotherapists."

-- Anthony Storr, The Art of Psychotherapy (1990), p. 169

I picked up Anthony Storr's The Art of Psychotherapy while I was in grad school and found it to be one of the most useful, practical books I read during my training. I can think of no better introduction to the practice of psychotherapy. Storr devotes the first bit of the book to the "how" of psychotherapy -- chairs or couch? what kind of office decor? tissues? diploma displayed? Call me Dr. or Call me Tony? -- in a non-prescriptive manner that conveys how important all these details can be. This is an  appropriate prelude for Storr's discussion of how to attend to the details of the patient's narrative, how to listen to the slips, the silences, the misdirections. There is a great chapter on dream interpretation (Storr is a Jungian, but apparently not a doctrinaire one). Throughout, the reader gains an insider's look into what it is like to be a psychotherapist, and psychotherapists (even those with much experience) pick up practical tips on how to improve their craft. I used this as a text in my Introduction to Counseling and Psychotherapy course and it was one of the rare times that a text got rave reviews in my teaching evaluations. The chapter on The Personality of the Psychotherapist should be required reading for anyone seeking graduate training in a mental health profession.

Among the insights that stays with me is Storr's recommendation for what makes a good psychotherapist: "a broad-based liking for people." If you don't have that, do us all a favor and choose another field.
"In spite of Freud's hope that he would make it so, psychotherapy cannot be a scientific enterprise. Although the psychotherapist needs to retain a measure of objectivity in relation to his patient, he must allow himself to be affected by the patient if he is to understand him. Since the therapist forms part of the reciprocal relationship, albeit of a specialized kind, he cannot maintain the kind of detachment which characterises the scientist conducting a chemical experiment. Understanding other people is, inescapably, a different enterprise from understanding things; and those who attempt to maintain towards people the kind of detached attitude which they might adopt towards things render themselves incapable of understanding others at all." (p. 149)
By the way, I have no idea why the book is so expensive on Amazon. It's just a little paperback -- buying it used would probably be fine as long as it isn't marked up too much.

If you are an introvert (or a genius, or a genius-introvert), I also highly recommend Storr's book Solitude: A Return to the Self.

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