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Nielsen, A. (1995). Retelling a Life: Narration and Dialogue in Psychoanalysis: Roy Schafer. Basic Books, 1992, 328 pp.. Psychoanal. Psychol., 12(4):603-606.

(1995). Psychoanalytic Psychology, 12(4):603-606

Retelling a Life: Narration and Dialogue in Psychoanalysis: Roy Schafer. Basic Books, 1992, 328 pp.

Review by:
Arthur Nielsen, M.D.

When I was a psychiatric resident at Yale in the early 1970s, Roy Schafer's then-recent article, “The Termination of Brief Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy,” was such a highly regarded, oft-cited text that it already seemed a classic. Not only was it synthetic and creative, it made one feel good about doing psychotherapy—it was inspirational. That article (reprinted as a chapter in this, Schafer's latest book) still merits rereading, and its central tenets—that as therapists we aim to help our patients perceive greater complexity and personal agency in their lives and suffering—remain pillars of Schafer's thinking.

Although most of the chapters in Retelling a Life have been printed previously, they have been edited so that the work reads seamlessly, even as it covers an extraordinary range of topics of interest to analysts: self-interest; female psychology; training analysis; theories of the “self”; projective identification and enactment; Freud's legacy; the differences between psychoanalysis and psychotherapy; the desirability of talking directly to patients; and the larger issues of metapsychology, epistemology, and narration that give the book its title and backbone. It is always clearly written with useful clinical illustrations so that it may prove accessible to a lay reader looking to sample the work of a sophisticated, contemporary psychoanalyst. For the experienced therapist or analyst, the advantage of reading this book all the way through is that one ends up knowing pretty well how Schafer would approach a particular problem; he becomes a familiar voice in one's mind.

What characterizes this voice? First, it is optimistic—as Schafer describes case after case helped by his persistent “analytic attitude” of careful, collaborative exploration of the patient's life, including life in the consulting room.

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