Blog Archives

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.

Fit For Off-Duty: A Manual for Firefighters

I love how Dr. Peter Salerno has tackled the subject of mental health in his book Fit for Off-Duty: A Manual for Firefighters: Healing from Work-Related Trauma, Restoring Personal Relationships, and Thriving at Home. The author goes above and beyond to discuss the various kinds of trauma, dealing with someone who has undergone traumatic experiences, post-traumatic stress disorder, how mental health affects our physical health, and much more. The author uses firefighting as an example to discuss the many traumas we face without knowing. While written as a book for firefighters and their families, this book can also help others who deal with trauma.

I like the statement that “Every firefighter is a trauma survivor.” Firefighters save lives every day while simultaneously battling other issues. The matters could be personal or work-related, yet they offer their services nobly. Dr. Peter Salerno digs deeper into the lives of firefighters, talking about their day-to-day life in the profession and appreciating the work they do. As a trauma specialist, Dr. Peter Salerno takes the reader through the definition of trauma, the different stages of trauma, and how we unknowingly enable trauma amongst ourselves. I like that the author uses real-life situations to expound on the topics he is talking about. Dr. Peter Salerno makes the reader understand that firefighting takes more than just physical strength. In his book, he extensively covers all the elements that good firefighters have and even extends grace to them as the selfless work they do is more than honorable.

What every reader will take from Fit For Off Duty is that we all need to be kind to each other. Dr. Salerno preaches kindness throughout the book. I appreciate the stories he shares in the book and his knowledge and advice about trauma, including things to look for in off-duty behavior that may be signs of trauma. As a trained trauma therapist, Dr. Salerno has pointers on handling individuals haunted by past trauma.

Fit for Off-Duty: A Manual for Firefighters: Healing from Work-Related Trauma, Restoring Personal Relationships, and Thriving at Home is a book for everyone concerned about their mental well-being, learning when to ask for help and how to improve personal relations. The author’s step-by-step approach when writing about a particular topic and how he gives practical solutions are invaluable.

Pages: 61 | ASIN : B09NCCD8VM

Buy Now From Amazon

Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale

Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist's Tale

Charles Creath McCormack’s book Hatching Charlie: A Psychotherapist’s Tale is quite a book: a frank autobiography centered around the theme of the pursuit of happiness and a meaningful life, from a man who has sat both on and beside the psychotherapy couch; or as the author himself describes it, “a story of the follies and wisdom’s of the human condition”. Mr. McCormack is fully aware of both the theories and the realities of mental health, although the book contains no technical language at all. It’s an accessible account covering every stage of his life, from his youngest years into his partial retirement. Not to give too much away, but as the imagery of the title implies, his tale starts in darkness, and concludes with a breakthrough, with all the usual human drama of a life lived fully.

I found the style of writing very interesting; it perhaps relates to his experience as a psychotherapist. He makes use of imagery, not frequently, but when he does it’s usually a long, in-depth passage. Thankfully they don’t feel convoluted, because they exemplify his points well.

The imagery adds well to the overall narrative, which is compelling. If I’d had more time, I’d probably have read it in one sitting. Although the author references forward and back to events distant by dozens of years and pages, I was never left feeling confused or lost, so it was neatly accomplished. There was a clear sense of reflection as to what the reader may be thinking, and at points it almost felt like I was part of a conversation. However, I thought that near the end the narrative became a little unfocused, with some unnecessary repetition and description of his family that doesn’t always feel directly related to his main subject – his state of mind.

I want to describe it as a generous story, because I was given extremely honest details about Mr. McCormack’s life that many would have found embarrassing to tell. But he hides no faults or uncomfortable thoughts, and constantly admits when he was wrong. In one chapter the author relates the unfortunate stories of some of his patients. In this way, the book truly covers the full gamut of human experience – warmth, love, friendship, loneliness, unhappiness, violence, despair: life and death.

Despite the author’s wishes that we might take responsibility for our happiness, his book is not a manual for how to obtain it. Observant readers might pluck helpful wisdom from its pages, but this isn’t written as advice – just as he says he does with his patients, he places no obligation on us to try it.

Overall, I would recommend this to any adult reader who is willing to confront life’s uncomfortable truths and those who enjoy a fly-on-the-wall tale of other’s joys and sorrows. I enjoyed trip.

Pages: 373 | ASIN: B06XFG5G3M

Buy Now From

%d bloggers like this: