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Schoenfeld, M. (1987). Beyond Case Histories. Better to Know Thyself: By Sumner L. Shapiro, M.D. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1984. 255 pp.. Psychoanal Q., 56:388-389.
(1987). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 56:388-389
Beyond Case Histories. Better to Know Thyself: By Sumner L. Shapiro, M.D. Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt Publishing Co., 1984. 255 pp.
Review by: Melvyn Schoenfeld
Sumner L. Shapiro has written a book of "stories" that are hard to characterize. They are not case histories in the classical sense, and yet they are drawn "from true experience." In his introduction, he tells us that he has written these stories "to teach. Painlessly, through the anecdotal mode. And entertain as well" (p. vii). He admits that he has an axe to grind. He wants "to demonstrate the power and refinement of the analytic tools, and what respect they earn" (p. vii), especially in the face of the claims of anti-analytic practitioners. He states that he tries to "add new depth and also to illuminate some long neglected areas; latent homosexuality, the common phobia, instinct theory, and traumatic war neurosis" (p. vii). So saying, he sets himself a large task.
The book is composed of ten stories and vignettes, ranging in length from 2 pages to 132 pages. The author as analyst (and perhaps as patient) is omnipresent. Sometimes he is doing therapy, sometimes analysis; sometimes he is helping friends to understand their daughter. He is always teaching. In fact, part of the pleasure in reading this book is the opportunity to see another analyst's mind at work, something that is rarely captured in a more traditional case history. Shapiro is to be commended for his courage in exposing himself in this way.
Shapiro is clever, quick, erudite, and well grounded in analytic theory. His writing is not always easy to read, however, partly because his cleverness and erudition sometimes get in the way of his point, rather than clarifying it. In one of his stories, a friend comments that he writes "like a crab. Too much sideways and too little forward. Like a painter with little splotches all over the place. Later they congeal into a picture" (p. 27).
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