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Coles, P. (2015). The Therapeutic Imagination: Using Literature to Deepen Psychodynamic Understanding and Enhance Empathy by Jeremy Holmes. Published by Routledge, London and New York, 2014; 200 pp; £90 hardback. Brit. J. Psychother., 31(4):549-552.

(2015). British Journal of Psychotherapy, 31(4):549-552

The Therapeutic Imagination: Using Literature to Deepen Psychodynamic Understanding and Enhance Empathy by Jeremy Holmes. Published by Routledge, London and New York, 2014; 200 pp; £90 hardback

Review by:
Prophecy Coles

The Therapeutic Imagination is a collection of essays that Jeremy Holmes has written over the last 30 years. This assembly of ‘seemingly disparate writings’ (p. 181) nevertheless has a central question: how can the therapist be creative and help the creativity of the patient? The answer is through the use of ‘the therapeutic imagination … as celebrated in literature’ (p. 181).

Part 1, The Poetics of Psychotherapy, begins with an example of the structure and identity of the ‘therapeutic imagination’. Holmes takes George Eliot's Daniel Deronda who ‘… rescues a young woman [Mirah] from suicide’. This encounter has similarities to the rescuing of a patient by a therapist. Deronda is capable of being moved by compassion and desire and yet he remains restrained; he asks Mirah no questions but waits for her to talk first; and finally he takes her to a place of safety. This is not only an example of the ‘therapeutic imagination’ at work, but Deronda's actions are held in place by an internal structure; he has a primary attachment to people ‘in need of rescue or cure’ (p. 7); he is moved by Mirah's suicidal thoughts through the process of reverie; he waits for Mirah to talk before he puts the logos into words that connect them; finally he takes action based upon reflection and takes her to his friend's house.

There are other psychotherapeutic terms that define the ‘therapeutic imagination’. It is a journey of discovery of ‘… hidden patterns’ (p. 18). There is a structure to the therapy that creates a space, in which a ‘private shared language’ (p. 19) can be born.

[This is a summary excerpt from the full text of the journal article. The full text of the document is available to journal subscribers on the publisher's website here.]

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