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Just Talk

Just Talk: Narratives of Psychotherapy

Lilian R. Furst
Copyright Date: 1999
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Just Talk
    Book Description:

    While countless memoirs have been written about depression and therapy, no one has examined how the "talking cure" of psychotherapy is presented in novels and other works of literature. Beginning with an overview of the principles of psychotherapy and its growing use as a treatment for mental and emotional disorders, Lilian Furst addresses the patient's view of the value of talk.

    Patients' portrayals of psychotherapy in literary works range from serious to satirical and from comic to ironic, with some descriptions verging on the grotesque. Furst identifies the overtalkers, undertalkers, and duet voices that shape the individual experiences of psychotherapy. While the voices of the overtalkers overwhelm those of their therapists, undertalkers are reluctant to express or acknowledge their feelings. Particularly revealing are the instances where patient and therapist provide separate but parallel renderings of the same therapy.

    Just Talklooks at a wide range of questions about psychotherapy. Furst considers the patient's first impressions of the therapist and how the patient is prompted to engage in talk. She looks for signs of self-deception or self-betrayal on the patient's part and asks how the therapist's behavior affects the patient's responses and the ultimate outcome of the therapy.

    Furst examines such well-known works as Roth'sPortnoy's Complaint, Plath'sThe Bell Jar, and Lodge'sTherapy, as well as lesser-known novels, to discuss how patients react to psychotherapy as a cure for mental and emotional disorders. Her analysis of these narratives adds significantly to our understanding of the dynamic relationship between patient and therapist and reveals much about the healing process that is not addressed in technical casebooks.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5940-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. 1 Talking of Many Things
    (pp. 1-20)

    “But what is going to happen doctor? Is it just going to be talk?”¹ According to the distinguished British psychiatrist Anthony Storr, this is the “very natural question” often put by puzzled patients at their initial interview with a therapist. Actually, the first of these questions, “what is going to happen?” is neither so naive nor so easy to answer, for exactly what does transpire in psychotherapy—and even more so, how—is a matter of debate. The second, however, “Is it just going to be talk?” meets with an affirmative reply from Storr as he explains: “You have had...

  5. 2 From Eyes to Ears
    (pp. 21-42)

    In October 1885 the twenty-nine-year-old Sigmund Freud embarked on a five-month visit to Paris to study under the greatest neurologist of the time, Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-93). Freud was one of many foreign students who went on such a pilgrimage to further the training he had already had in the new science of neurology at the Viennese Medical School. When he entered it in 1873, the dominant paradigm among the faculty, in keeping with the most advanced medical thinking of the period, was decidedly physicalist in its emphasis on the role of the central nervous system as the source of many...

  6. Part I. Overtalkers

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 43-44)

      Overtalkers are those figures in any type of psychotherapy who require little or no prompting to just talk. On the contrary, they are voluble, at times to the point of compulsiveness, in their outpouring of their current thoughts, their retrieved memories, in short, the complaints, physical and/or psychological, that have impelled them to try the talking cure. Yet on occasion the overtalking may be an unconscious tactic to crowd out alternative perceptions of the speakers’ behavior as well as to uphold a self-deceptive posture. In saying too much, the overtalkers may simultaneously and paradoxically be saying too little.

      As overtalkers,...

    • 3 “Digesting” Psychoanalysis: Marie Cardinal’s Les Mots pour le dire
      (pp. 45-56)

      “The technical tools of analytic therapy such as free association, dream interpretation, resistance and transference interpretations produce a mass of data about the patient’s life history, the healthy and the pathological sides of his nature, which, due to its bulk, is unwieldy and, if written up in undigested form, unreadable.”¹ Anna Freud here reiterates, with an emphasis on readability, her father’s caveat about attempts to write up an analysis: “It is well known that no means has been found of in any way introducing into the reproduction of an analysis the sense of conviction which results from the analysis itself....

    • 4 “Ritualized Bellyaching”: Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint
      (pp. 57-70)

      “I hear myself indulging in the kind of ritualized bellyaching that is just what gives psychoanalytic patients such a bad name with the general public,” Portnoy laments to his analyst (105). The sentence suggests a certain ambivalence toward the therapy on which he has embarked; psychoanalysis seems to him to have acquired a tarnished reputation because it has come to signify self-indulgent complaining. This fundamental reservation sharply differentiatesPortnoy’s ComplaintfromLes Mots pour le dire,where the healing potential of analysis is unequivocally affirmed and demonstrated.

      Still, there are many parallels between the two works. Like Cardinal, Roth depicts...

    • 5 Resisting Psychoanalysis: Italo Svevo’s The Confessions of Zeno
      (pp. 71-83)

      “I remember very little about that re-education. I submitted to it, and every time I left his room, shook myself like a dog coming out of the water. Like the dog, I remained wet, but was never drenched” (358). These are the graphic words in which the narrator-protagonist ofThe Confessions of Zeno describeshis response to the “re-education” supposed to be achieved through his analysis by Dr. S. The comparison of the analysand to a dog undergoing training is a view of psychoanalysis not only reductive but quite mistaken since analysis seeks first and foremost to make patients recognize...

    • 6 Game for Therapy: David Lodge’s Therapy
      (pp. 84-98)

      “I’m game for almost any kind of therapy except chemotherapy” (67), Laurence Passmore declares, and indeed he has a full schedule: “On Mondays I see Roland for Physiotherapy, on Tuesdays I see Alexandra for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, and on Fridays I have either aromatherapy or acupuncture. Wednesdays and Thursdays I’m usually in London, but then I see Amy, which is a sort of therapy too, I suppose” (14-15). He has even tried “Inversion Therapy” (27) as one of several treatments for baldness; it consists of hanging upside down for several minutes to make the blood rush to the head so...

  7. Part II. Undertalkers

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 99-100)

      Undertalkers are often reluctant to just talk as a result of an upbringing that has conditioned them to reticence and repression. They find it extremely difficult to overcome a trait that has become ingrained in their personality because it is regarded as a virtue in their social context. They may also, consciously or unconsciously, shy away from confronting the potentially threatening revelations that might emerge from their talking freely. Frequently they are entrapped in unsatisfactory or destructive relationships, yet fear further destabilization, and cannot hope for radical reconstruction of their situation. But like the overtalkers, who seem to be pursuing...

    • 7 Amateurish “Heart-to-Hearts”: Jennifer Dawson’s The Ha-Ha
      (pp. 101-114)

      Theha-hain the title of Jennifer Dawson’s novel, which won the 1961 James Tait Memorial Prize in Great Britain, has a dual meaning. On the primary level it denotes a place, a sunk fence that forms a boundary to a garden.¹ The first-person narrator chances upon it on the perimeter of the hospital where she has been institutionalized in her early twenties after a breakdown while an undergraduate at Oxford.² The ha-ha is a refuge for her, a haven of privacy: “It was not hard to climb this wall, and you dropped down easily into the soft, long grass...

    • 8 Ritualized Roles: Penelope Mortimer’s The Pumpkin Eater
      (pp. 115-129)

      ‘“Well,’ I said, ‘I will try. I honestly will try to be honest with you, although I suppose really what you are more interested in is my not being honest, if you see what I mean’” (7). These are the intriguing opening words of Penelope Mortimer’s short but complex eighth novel, published in 1962 and made into a film in 1964.¹ Addressed by the firstperson narrator to her psychiatrist at her initial interview with him in his office, the phrase obviously serves to pique readers’ curiosity by creating puzzlement. Who is the speaker? Why is she there? What are the...

    • 9 The Ogre and the Fairy Godmother: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar
      (pp. 130-143)

      A bell jar is a cylindrical glass vessel with a rounded top and an open base used to protect and display fragile objects or to establish a controlled atmosphere or environment in a scientific experiment. Both these meanings apply approximately to Esther Greenwood, the first-person narrator-protagonist in Plath’s novel. She sees herself and is seen by others as a fragile young woman in need of protection, and she lives in a controlled atmosphere or environment in a number of senses: under her mother’s sway, under the peer pressures of the women’s college she attends, under the cultural expectations for women...

    • 10 Petrified Feeling: Robertson Davies’s The Manticore
      (pp. 144-158)

      A manticore is a fabulous beast with the head of a man, the body of a lion, and the tail of a dragon or a scorpion. The combination suggests intellectual power, physical strength, and the capacity for a damaging sting from the tail. In Davies’s novel the creature is identified in the interpretation of a dream told by the analysand, David Staunton, to his therapist, Dr. Haller. David has seen himself with a man’s face and a lion’s body that ended in a kind of spike or barb. Dr. Haller comments that this is not a bad picture of him...

  8. Part III. Duets

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 159-160)

      Duets are those narratives of psychotherapy where both patient and therapist have written an account of their transactions so that two distinctive voices are heard coming from different directions. Such duality is particularly interesting for the insights it may give into not only the patient’s responses and transference to the therapist but also the latter’s tactics of treatment and countertransference. To what extent do the two partners in psychotherapy experience the process in congruence, or are there significant discrepancies between their perceptions?

      In the occasion and disposition of duets there is a wider range of format than in the more...

    • 11 More than Just Talk: Irvin D. Yalom and Ginny Elkin’s Every Day Gets a Little Closer
      (pp. 161-177)

      The subtitle of this unique narrative, “A Twice-Told Therapy,” is much more apposite than its puzzling main title, which was chosen by the patient for personal, sentimental reasons.¹ For the therapy is literally twice told as patient and therapist each write an independent rendering of their apprehension of every session right after it has taken place. So the process of psychotherapy is recorded here literally as a “symbiotic drama” (x) and as an immediate eyewitness experience. The narration is simultaneous with the therapy, not retrospective from a temporal distance, as inLes Mots, The Bell Jar,orThe Pumpkin Eater.Because...

    • 12 Containing the Break: Fayek Nakhla and Grace Jackson’s Picking Up the Pieces
      (pp. 178-192)

      The “pieces” in the title of this twofold, collaborative account of “a psychoanalytic journey,” as it is described in its subtitle, are to be read at once literally and metaphorically. On the physical plane, pieces refers to the shards of glass and paper that the patient scatters during her destructive and self-destructive phase. Figuratively, the pieces to be picked up denote the reconstruction of her identity and her life after her spectacular breakdown. In a third meaning, perhaps slightly more remote, pieces could be taken to signify the repeated stitching up of the cuts she inflicts on herself at her...

    • 13 The Elusive Patient and Her Ventriloquist Therapist: Ludwig Binswanger’s “The Case of Ellen West”
      (pp. 193-209)

      The voice of Ellen West, crying out from her wilderness, has attained considerable fame. She speaks out from Ludwig Binswanger’s sequence of four long articles about her published in theSchweizer Archiv fur Neurologie und Psychiatrie (Swiss Journal for Neurology and Psychiatry)in 1944-45. She reached a wide audience after their appearance in English inExistence,an exposition of the existentialist approach in psychiatry, edited by Rollo May in 1958. In the fall of that year at a conference held by the newly formed American Academy of Psychotherapists May organized a symposium to discuss the case; three psychiatrists, two psychologists,...

    • 14 Collecting and Disposing of Garbage: Frieda Fromm-Reichmann’s Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy and Joanne Greenberg’s I Never Promised You a Rose Garden
      (pp. 210-226)

      “Psychotherapy with schizophrenics is hard and exacting work for both patients and therapists,” Frieda Fromm-Reichmann declared in her Academic Lecture read at the hundred and tenth annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in May 1954.¹ This proposition is reiterated several times inI Never Promised You a Rose Gardenas the doctor tells her patient, “with your very hard work here and with a doctor’s working hard, I think you can get better” (24); “this science where the two of us work together” (94); “We will work hard together, and we will understand” (96). Always the emphasis is on...

    • 15 The Chemistry of Healing
      (pp. 227-236)

      If, as Socrates averred, the unexamined life is not worth living, what about the life examined in psychotherapy? The metaphor of correcting the proofs in a second edition, enunciated by the poet John Clare (1793-1864), who was himself mad, posits the possibility of amending misguided patterns of thought and behavior, of making another, improved start. Does psychotherapy foster such a positive change and enhancement of the patient’s life? If so, what are the salient characteristics required on the part of both the therapist and the patient to bring this about? By what chemistry does just talk effect healing? The word...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 237-248)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 249-260)
  11. Index
    (pp. 261-266)