What Lies Beneath

Marion Ehrenberg Author Interview

The Language of Dreams explores the relationship between a psychologist and her patient and the ethical quandaries they face. What was the inspiration for the setup of your story?

The relationship between a psychologist and patient is unique and intentionally focused on the client; the psychologist reveals very little, if anything, about her personal life. There are good reasons for this; the sessions are all about the patient and only the patient, unlike any other relationship in the client’s life. The client need not worry about overburdening the therapist, a feeling she might have when leaning too heavily on a friend, for example. The client also doesn’t have to be careful about offending the psychologist.

For example, in a friendship, a person might refrain from expressing her fears about getting the COVID vaccine because she knows that her friend is pro-vaccine and feels said friend appears harsh and judgmental in her attitude. We might not say things in a friendship for fear of conflict, out of worry about losing that friendship, or concern that it will just make one’s problems worse. My experience is that most patients find it a great relief to be able to speak freely to their therapist.

The psychologist as a “blank slate” is essential for the all-important “transference” process; with time, the patient projects her feelings and attitudes rooted in other relationship experiences—often the family of origin—onto the psychologist. The psychologist knows this and can gently and skillfully work with the patient to shed light on the family-of-origin dynamics that tend to be unconsciously repeated and don’t serve the client.

For example, an adult abandoned as a child may—very understandably—mistrust everyone and, therefore, miss out on trustworthy relationships that would help them heal and thrive. Or they might err in the opposite direction, trusting everyone too quickly and being hurt again. The psychologist, who is not known personally to the patient and is certainly not going to abandon them, is armed with therapeutic skills and is in a perfect position to help the client. In the comfort of a safe relationship, the client can grieve losses experienced in early relationships, recognize realistic signs of who should and shouldn’t be trusted, and learn that reliable connections can exist.

So that’s the theory. But things are messier in real life. It’s normal for the client to be curious about the psychologist. At times, the patient may find it quite unfair, even threatening, that the psychologist knows so much about her and they know nothing about the psychologist. Young Clare, in The Language of Dreams, feels this way. The psychologist is human, too; I try to make that point in my story. The therapist may be preoccupied with her issues and may make mistakes that blur the boundaries between the psychologist and the patient, like the psychologist Avery did in my story.

Many years of experience in psychotherapy practice and training young psychologists are the inspiration for the boundary problems that arise immediately between Avery and Clare. I tried to take things to an extreme to make a point about how boundaries can become blurred between psychologist and patient; after all, just two human beings in the same room. I imagined the worst thing that could happen in a highly charged first session between a seasoned but personally preoccupied psychologist and an angry young client mandated into treatment. And so, in the first chapter, Clare barges into the psychologist’s private bathroom (which the psychologist forgot to lock) and snoops around to find Avery’s two negative pregnancy tests in the trash can (that the psychologist should never have done at her place of work and then discarded there). Suddenly, Clare has usurped the unfair power dynamic she perceives in her relationship with this shrink. She has discovered the middle-aged psychologist’s Achilles heel; Clare is clever and intuits that Avery wants a baby, and it’s not going well. We aren’t surprised that the therapeutic relationship is a rollercoaster ride from the beginning. Now, what???

Avery and Clare are intriguing characters. What were some driving ideals behind their character’s development?

Clare is an angry young woman who steals stuff, taking what she pleases because she feels entitled. On the surface, she isn’t likable and seems a bit like a spoiled brat. Stealing gets her into trouble with the law, which lands her in Avery’s office, much to Clare’s chagrin. But what lies beneath Clare’s defensive façade? As the story unfolds, Avery discovers glimpses of Clare’s pain, her talents, and her potential for change. Even as a seasoned and skilled psychologist, Clare is Avery’s toughest customer. Maybe the reader will like this young woman a little or a lot. It might depend on the extent to which the reader identifies with Clare. Perhaps, we shouldn’t accept the outer crust of a person as their whole story.

The poised and caring Avery is an experienced professional who always follows the rules. On the surface, her life looks pretty good. But she is missing the one thing she wants the most; a baby and the fullness of family she lacked growing up. Like Clare, Avery is haunted by her past. At first, the reader might be disappointed by Avery’s acceptance of her fate that a baby is not in the cards. Can Avery rise up? Can she conquer the fear that holds her back?   

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

A key theme in The Language of Dreams is that the story lets the reader into the private world of psychotherapy. Beyond an engaging story, the reader experiences some of the remarkable things that can happen between a skilled therapist and her client. Readers of earlier drafts of The Language of Dreams consistently felt a sense of hope when they read some psychotherapy scenes; I felt good about this, and it made me realize that encouragement can be felt in authentic yet fictionalized accounts of psychotherapy.

The second theme in my story is this; the client and the therapist are both vulnerable human beings. Therapists need therapists, too. Ideally, what the psychologist learns from processing their historical hurts—and we all have them—can make them better therapists. However, I don’t want to overstate this because the psychologist must also be well-adjusted, have insight into themselves, and seek consultation immediately if they feel things are not going well with one of their clients.

A third theme reflects my absolute fascination with the potential of human transformation. Yes, people can change; they can become calmer, more insightful, and more resolute. Growth and transformation can occur in psychotherapy, but that’s only one avenue for human change. The non-verbal agents of change are as important as the verbal exchanges in The Language of Dreams. My book explores how dreams can help us to connect with our unconscious. Clare is an artist and a lucid dreamer who paints her dreamscapes in search of clues about her lost parents. Avery found refuge in ballet during a difficult childhood, and her return to the creative outlet of dance and movement as an adult becomes essential to finding herself again.

What was one thing that excited you the most about writing this book?

I have spent most of my professional career writing non-fiction, such as published papers about research studies or how-to chapters for clinicians. I do not downplay the importance of research studies and practice papers. Yet it was so refreshing to write a story with a plot! It was exhilarating to return to my love of literature and roots in creative writing, to throw myself into coursework and learning experiences, and to write my first novel. I am passionate about creative writing that has the potential to raise awareness about mental health and offers authentic accounts of what happens in psychotherapy; all of this is embedded in an entertaining story rather than a textbook. #MentalHealthFiction #TherapistsAreHuman #WitnessTheExcitingArcsOfHumanTransformation

Author Links: Twitter | Facebook | Website

Twenty-two-year-old Clare Thomas Lane begins therapy by court order, not by choice.Clare is sure that she doesn’t need the help of a shrink. Clare’s fortysomething psychotherapist, Avery Frontiera, doubts her own ability to connect with this prickly young shoplifter. As Avery and Clare begin their sessions, each woman faces a major life crisis. Clare grapples with an unwanted pregnancy; Avery struggles with a fractured marriage and unrealized hopes for motherhood. Both are haunted by dark family secrets.The strict boundaries between psychologist and client are blurred from the first session, and although Avery struggles to regain control over the tumultuous therapist-client relationship that unfolds, she manages to get past Clare’s defensive shell and bond with her most vulnerable self. Guided by the insights of their therapy sessions and their dreams, Avery and Clare must uncover the shocking truths of the past to face the crises of the present and walk into the future transformed.

About Literary Titan

The Literary Titan is an organization of professional editors, writers, and professors that have a passion for the written word. We review fiction and non-fiction books in many different genres, as well as conduct author interviews, and recognize talented authors with our Literary Book Award. We are privileged to work with so many creative authors around the globe.

Posted on September 29, 2022, in Interviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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