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Miller, J. (1997). A Safe Place: Laying the Groundwork of Psychotherapy by Leston Havens. Published by Harvard University Press, London, 1996; 162 pages: £7.50 paperback.. Brit. J. Psychother., 13(4):566-567.

(1997). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 13(4):566-567

A Safe Place: Laying the Groundwork of Psychotherapy by Leston Havens. Published by Harvard University Press, London, 1996; 162 pages: £7.50 paperback.

Review by:
Juliet Miller

I approached this book anticipating a sympathetic and straightforward guide to the basics of practising as a psychotherapist. Both the title and the cover of the book encouraged me in this idea. Instead I found I was grappling with a very different and sometimes strange book. A Safe Place is a mixture of anecdotal musings and clinical material interwoven in a rather uncomfortable way with an attempt to explain and justify the profession of psychotherapy. The author is Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and I finally decided that this book is written for students of psychiatry who are sceptical about the field of psychotherapy. The book is written as if the field of psychotherapy was a foreign and unknown territory to the reader.

The author says, however, that he writes for the general reader as much as for the professional, but on two readings of this book I found it difficult to relate to from the point of view either of a psychotherapist or a general reader. It is a book which is wide ranging in its attempt to draw on the psychoanalytic psychotherapies, psychiatry and the social sciences, but as it is a short book the author is unable to develop these ideas fully. The author places some clinical material in each of his chapters and then weaves a discourse around each one, encompassing bits of theory, speculations on the reader's understanding of psychotherapy and brief historical reviews of the history of psychoanalysis, all of which adds up to an uncomfortable patchwork with no overall design.

There are four sections to the book whose titles suggest common overall themes to the chapters: ‘Making a safe place’, ‘Reinventing the interview’, ‘Dangerous places’ and ‘Today and tomorrow’. This categorizing feels like an attempt to draw together some very scattered ideas. In ‘Making a safe place’ we have one chapter describing the author's work with a patient for whom a safe place is a place without interpretations. There is also a brief look at Freud and what the author calls his passive stance, and a chapter in which he discusses the therapeutic use of performative statements.

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