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Cohen, M.C. (2014). The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, by Stephen Grosz, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2013, 240 pp., $24.95.. Psychodyn. Psych., 42(2):319-321.
(2014). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 42(2):319-321
The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, by Stephen Grosz, W.W. Norton & Company, New York, 2013, 240 pp., $24.95.
Review by: Mariam C. Cohen, M.D., Psy.D.
Robert Lindner began a genre of psychoanalytic “tales” for laymen with his book, The Fifty-Minute Hour, published in 1955. From time to time others in our field have followed his example. Irvin Yalom's Love's Executioner and Other Tales of Psychotherapy(1989) and George Weinberg's The Taboo Scarf and Other Tales of Therapy(1990) are other examples of this genre. In general, these books are attempts to entertain as well as to educate, by showing something of the sorts of people who become analytic patients and something of how the analyst thinks.
Grosz's book at first seemed like it would be an addition to this genre, but it is somewhat different. Lindner, Yalom, and Weinberg presented their patients as fictionalized stories, often featuring pathologies that might fascinate a reader. Grosz, however, uses examples from his patients and his work to think out loud about the myriad problems that all of us humans get into and which become issues in therapy for the therapist as well as for the patient. Each chapter may start with a description of a patient—or even a few patients—with whom Grosz has worked, but the focus is on some knot in the human situation. The section titles—Beginnings, Telling Lies, Loving, Changing, and Leaving—label the focus of each group of chapters. The patients that Grosz describes are presented as people struggling with human problems, not necessarily fascinating pathologies.
Grosz's voice throughout the book is slow and thoughtful. He is not the omniscient or even wise expert who solves his patients' problems; in fact, a few of the cases are not resounding successes. He stresses that any of us could—and probably do—share their issues. For instance, Grosz described Matt, a young man who was so deadened to his emotional life that Grosz found himself being distracted when Matt was telling him about being threatened by dangerous men in his neighborhood.
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