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Cohen, M. (2017). Structure and Spontaneity in Clinical Prose: A Writer's Guide for Psychoanalysts and Psychotherapists, by Suzi Naiburg, Routledge, New York, 2015, 302 pp.. Psychodyn. Psych., 45(3):411-413.

(2017). Psychodynamic Psychiatry, 45(3):411-413

Book Reviews

Structure and Spontaneity in Clinical Prose: A Writer's Guide for Psychoanalysts and Psychotherapists, by Suzi Naiburg, Routledge, New York, 2015, 302 pp.

Review by:
Mariam Cohen, Ph.D., PsyD., Ph.D.

This is a difficult book to characterize, perhaps because the author tries to accomplish too much in one book. Nevertheless, it is a book that our field has needed. Naiburg is a psychoanalyst and has taught writing at Harvard. She clearly has an excellent grasp of what makes for good narrative writing. However, it seems to me that in this book she has tried to combine analyses of excellent examples of the best clinical writing intertwined with explanations of literary styles and a sort of workbook with exercises for potential authors. There almost seem to be three books here, one in which Naiburg is the literary critic, one in which she explains some aspects of good literary theory, and a third in which she tries to provide a sort of self-help guide for aspiring clinical writers. The entanglement of these three books may lead an individual, the reader, to lose focus as Naiburg shifts from one to another.

Naiburg begins with a chapter that she calls “A Writing Workshop.” There are a few exercises, in which, for example, the reader is told “to catch a feeling, sensation, or mood in words that captures something of your patient's experience or your experience with your patient” (p. 3). She points out how “Skilled writers can draw a striking portrait of a person or process with a few deft strokes” (p. 1), and she analyzes extended examples of clinical writing that exemplify what she is suggesting the reader do in these exercises. In the following chapters she continues to shift back and forth between writing as a literary critic who analyzes good examples of clinical writing and setting out exercises that are intended to help a reader to develop some of the skills exemplified in the texts she is critiquing.

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