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Kelly, K.V. (2012). Beyond the Reach of Ladders. By Elizabeth Goren. London: Open Gate Press, 2011. 257 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 81(4):1020-1024.

(2012). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 81(4):1020-1024

Beyond the Reach of Ladders. By Elizabeth Goren. London: Open Gate Press, 2011. 257 pp.

Review by:
Kevin V. Kelly

The fact that this book is not intended as a work of psychoanalytic scholarship is evident even from the subtitle: “My story as a therapist forging bonds with firefighters in the aftermath of 9/11.” The informal, personal style of this phrase continues throughout the text, and the usual trappings of scholarly publication—footnotes, citations, bibliography, index—are absent. The intended audience is clearly the lay public, people familiar with the events of September 11 but not especially knowledgeable about either firefighting or psychoanalytic therapy.

The work might best be classified as a “psychoanalytic memoir,” and therein lies a problem. Prospective lay readers are likely to be attracted more by the prospect of reading about the 9/11 experience of firefighters than about that of therapists, but the book focuses at least as much on the author and her story, from childhood to the present, as it does on the firefighters. The first sentence announces “I am a New York City psychoanalyst” (p. 1), establishing both the first-person focus and the author's emphasis on her psychoanalytic identity. Later she specifies her allegiance to “the Interpersonal Relational School,” characterized by the belief that “countertransference reactions can end up being therapeutic” (p. 183), apparently implying that other contemporary analysts would not share this belief.

Despite this distortion, Goren presents a very attractive, if somewhat romanticized, vision of analysis to the lay reader:

My patient and I bond in a way that eases the pain and isolation of human separateness, as we search together for the unforeseen ways that the past wends its way into the present, and create new paths for a more fulfilling future. [p. 1]

One might ask, then, what picture this work as a whole gives the lay reader of the psychoanalyst. Such a question would have to be subdivided, because the analyst in this case is both an actor in the drama and the author of the report. We should examine how the analyst appears as a therapist and as a reporter.


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