Lying on the Couch

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Title: Lying on the Couch
Author: Irvin D. Yalom
Pages: 369
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins)
Release Date: July 18, 1997

This book had been on my "must-read" list (self-appointed just because it looked interesting, not because I'd heard anything about it) for quite some time. I finally sat down and read it, and I have to say, I'm not sure that I got it. Maybe it went over my head, or maybe I'm over-analyzing something that wasn't meant to be that profound. There were parts that really engaged me, while other parts that didn't were interesting enough for me to keep on going, but ultimately I'm not sure that it was quite what I was expecting. Well, I know it wasn't, but what I'm not sure of is what I was expecting.

Lying on the Couch follows the stories of two psychoanalysts, Ernest Lash, and his therapeutic supervisor, Marshal Streider. Marshal is a pretty old-school psychoanalyst with rigid boundaries who is fairly narrow minded about different techniques. Though seeking training and supervision, Ernest is more thoughtful and open-minded about the topic and has been leaning towards more honesty in the therapeutic relationship and more of an authentic relationship between therapist and client.

A main focus of this book was the lives of the therapists themselves and their dynamics with their clients, as well as the behind-the-scenes look into therapy or what the therapists were thinking about during the sessions and outside them. We also learn about a few of the clients they are seeing; for instance, Ernest is seeing a woman, Carolyn, who unbeknown to him is the forsaken wife of a previous client of Ernest's -- a client whom Ernest had encouraged to leave his wife. Carolyn has her own dirty reasons for entering therapy with Ernest and in being not quite honest with him, and this leads to some interesting therapeutic dynamics, especially when Carolyn's plans don't necessarily pan out. We also meet one of Marshal's clients, Shelley, who enters therapy because of a gambling problem but not really to overcome it -- more to improve it. And, of course, neither Ernest nor Marshal are impervious to their own demons that eventually manage to play out while in the course of providing therapy to others.

Was this a character study, a therapy study, or something else? I'm not sure. Maybe both. As a budding therapist, myself, I did find the "case studies", if you can call them that, interesting. I imagine that any fan of psychology would, in that sense, enjoy this book. I did find that the content felt a little "heavy" at times, but that may be more attributed to comparison of the light content and writing of some books I just recently finished. One interesting writing technique the author employed was providing a thorough glimpse into conversations; each person's contribution to the conversation would be a large paragraph, and the entire conversation would be played out. You don't typically see this in a lot of fiction as they tend to focus on just the most purposeful parts of the conversation. At times I felt it made things long, but, in another sense, it was refreshing to hear everything being said.

I'm familiar with some of Yalom's theory of the "here and now" in therapy as well as the relationship between the therapist and client. I've only read probably about half of his non-fiction book of an open letter for the new therapist, and I have to say there are some things he says that I completely relate to, but other things are a little too much for me. I'm not at a point where I feel the client and therapist should focus quite so much on their relationship rather than the client's issues. That's how I feel in general, and since there was a lot of focus on moving in that direction (at least for the therapist, Ernest) in the book, I couldn't completely relate to everything in the book.

And there was this one small part of the book where the most experienced therapist of all the characters, Marshal, is essentially obtaining therapy from a lay person (well, when it comes to therapy, at least), and the whole point of that confused me.

So those are my thoughts on this novel, where Lying on the Couch means more than just physically "lying"... despite my mixed feelings on it, Yalom did prove himself to be a smart, engaging writer, so I still plan on reading at least another of his books. For now, I'm satisfied with knowing that even experienced therapists have struggles they must work on for themselves.


Zibilee said...

You know, I have never heard of this book before, but you make it sound very intriguing! I particularly like the bit about the gambling woman using therapy to improve her game. I don't know if parts of this book would go over my head because I don't have a background in psychology, but I might have to give it a try. Thanks for the very intelligent and thoughtful review. I am adding this one to my list!

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

All of therapy stuff sounds fascinating. My mother is in the field so I might recommend this as something of interest to her.

Juju at Tales of said...

Doesn't sound like my thing but I loved you review and admit the cover is pretty eye catching.

Jenny said...

Heather: I don't think not having the psychology background will affect the read at all! In fact, I may have been trying to analyze it too much and I might have liked it better if I hadn't been doing that.

Nicole: Oh cool! Yeah, I think people in the field would find it interesting.

Juju: Thanks! Yeah, the cover is interesting..

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