Have you ever wondered what’s going through your therapist’s head? Or, if you are a mental health professional yourself, have you ever wondered if you were alone in your thoughts about your job? Whichever side of the couch you’re from (and as this book shows, it’s quite likely you’ve been on both sides), you will find Dr. Rob Dobrenski’s latest work to be an insightful, honest, often funny, and thoroughly engaging look into the daily life of a psychologist. In Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch, Dr. Dobrenski uses a multitude of clients from his experience to give the reader a broad overview of the types of situations a therapist has to contend with. But this book is not a typical scholarly compendium of “case studies.” What makes this a refreshing read is that it is as much about the author’s own thoughts and feelings during the therapy process as it is about the therapy itself.
As a mental health professional (I am a counselor at an inpatient psychiatric center), I was immediately intrigued by the concept of this book. There are many books about therapeutic techniques and how to diagnose disorders. There are also many memoirs written by people who have suffered from various types of mental illness.
However, not many therapists have written books about the realities of the profession’s day-to-day grind. I was interested to see if Dr. Dobrenski would actually be able to give the reader an honest portrayal of the life of a mental health professional. Luckily for us, Dr. Dobrenski does not pull any punches in this memoir. When an author drops an f-bomb in the prologue, you know you are not in for a dull, textbook-like read. As they read the author’s thoughts about some of his clients, those in the profession will probably find themselves nodding in agreement or reminiscing about a similar experience. On the other hand, those who don’t have experience in the field might be surprised to learn the kinds of thoughts that might be going through a therapist’s mind as they listen to their clients’ stories. Yes, underneath that professional demeanor we can be just as shocked, scared, and confused as anybody else.
The book is formatted such that each chapter represents a story about a different client (or a particular group of clients). Dr. Dobrenski does a good job of choosing enough of a variety of cases to give the reader an appreciation of the wide spectrum of issues a psychologist might have to work with in their practice. We are provided with glimpses of what it is like to work with a person suffering from disorders such as OCD, schizophrenia, and PTSD. Also, Dr. Dobrenski delves into couples therapy as well as group therapy (in this case with sex offenders and their significant others). Each chapter gives the reader a well-balanced mix of personal observations along with practical information about therapeutic techniques being used so that the uninitiated can gain a better understanding about the therapist’s role in each situation.
It is also important to note that the author does not seem to be exploiting his clients through the telling of these stories. Of course, the clients’ names have been changed to preserve confidentiality. In addition, at no point did I feel like Dr. Dobrenski was merely sharing an anecdote just to put a person’s bizarre behavior on display. In fact, he does not shy away from sharing some of his own personal issues, as well as those of some his colleagues in the profession. Much of the memoir involves a discussion of the author’s own anxieties and insecurities as he developed his career. The use of the word “crazy” in the title is not meant to label the people that Dr. Dobrenski provided services for, instead it signifies how we may all be “crazy” in one way or another.
Overall, Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch provides an entertaining, fresh perspective on the daily life of a mental health professional. I believe that anybody interested in the field of mental health will find it to be an enjoyable read. Dr. Dobrenski has an impeccable way of being able to share his clients’ stories while still being respectful of their circumstances. In the same way, he is able to discuss some of the absurd, sometimes comical situations in which therapists can find themselves while at the same time explaining the wonderful benefits that therapy can provide. We may indeed all be “crazy” as the author suggests. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Maybe all we (therapists and clients alike) can hope for is a helping hand to get us through the craziness, leading to a more fulfilling life. Dr. Dobrenski makes this apparent in this intriguing memoir of his life as a psychologist.
Crazy: Notes On and Off the Couch
By Rob Dobrenski, PhD
Hardcover: 224 pages
Lyons Press, June 2011