How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch is the ultimate tell-all book for our times. The people sharing secrets include psychotherapy clients, who let readers in on the most intimate conversations they’ve ever had, and, perhaps even more remarkably, therapists who have been trained to maintain boundaries.
It’s a brave new world, in which clients can access information about their therapists with the click of a mouse, and some therapists are questioning the wisdom of the most rigid edicts on boundaries. Among the therapists who contributed essays to Sherry Amatenstein’s edited collection are ones who cry during sessions, hug their patients, and one who has her own radio show.
The patients aren’t staying in their places either. In the most remarkable example, a patient who had seen her therapist for 38 years returned to befriend her after the therapist suffered a devastating stroke.
The authors are men and women, young and old, who hail from different social classes and ethnicities. They include people who grew up thinking that being in psychotherapy was shameful and those who always wore it as a badge of honor. Many have experiences both as therapists and as clients in therapy.
All 34 contributors to How Does That Make You Feel? are gifted writers. The essays have the resonance of beautifully crafted short stories. They all pack an emotional punch. A few were even creepy, as authors skillfully conveyed that growing sense that something was very wrong with the way their therapists was treating them. Yes, the book includes stories of bad therapists who should never have had a license to practice, as well as remarkably talented and compassionate ones.
Fittingly, the most valuable insights don’t always come from the therapists; sometimes they come from the people in therapy. Consider, for example, Laura Bogart, whose therapist (Roberta) told her she “would never have a loving husband” because of her weight. Bogart took that possibility seriously, but ended up with a different conclusion: “…sitting down to dine and letting the strain of the day melt into the soft, earthy pleasure of a meal I’d prepared just for myself felt, at my core, like the self-care Roberta believed I’d only enact on a StairMaster.” That was inspiring! As for Roberta, I was appalled not just by her faith in the importance of weight, but also in her assumption that a husband would be a necessary component of a psychologically healthy life.
I suspect that people who are in therapy or have been in therapy or are contemplating starting therapy will inhale every page of How Does That Make You Feel. The questions they have longed to ask will at last be answered, though not always in the ways they might hope. For example: “Does your therapist like you?” After an introductory chapter, the book begins bracingly with an essay titled, “I really, really hate you.” (In other chapters, therapists really, really love their clients, and not inappropriately.) Other examples of questions that are addressed: Does your therapist think about you after your session is over? Does your therapist care about what you think?
Therapists, too, may embrace this book that tells them what they always wondered about their fellow practitioners. Do others also feel like impostors? Have others been convinced they chose the wrong line of work? Maybe they will also welcome with relief Jonathan Schiff’s observation that “You try to like every one of your clients, but there is no clinician who has succeeded in doing so.”
The last chapter, on ending therapy, was the perfect ending — full of wisdom, insight, and heart. It left me feeling the way both therapists and clients are likely to feel when therapy ends well — sad that I had reached the end of the book and there was no more to come, but grateful for the depth and breadth of the experience.
How Does That Make You Feel? True Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch
Seal Press, September 2016
Paperback, 302 pages