Review of "Group: Six People In Search Of A Life"
by Paul Solotaroff

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Though its subject matter is psychotherapy, this book reads like a novel - with each session unfolding as a chapter of 6 peoples' lives. And while the author is adamant that this is not a self-help book, I resolved after reading it to start practicing some skills the group was learning and starting actively writing my own life narrative, both figuratively and, in the case of this web site, literally.

Solotaroff has an eye for situations - their tensions and what details to pick out to make you feel the undercurrents. I had high expectations of the book from the moment I read this paragraph from the first page of chapter one:

"That late January evening, I was keenly aware of the block's amity, perhaps because I was so unsorted. I was on my way to talk business with Dr. Lathon, and felt preposterous, and out of my depth. A post-therapy relationship with your former therapist is always a ticklish thing. There is the vast inequality in power and intimacy, and the sense that you are still, in some ways, a supplicant, one who does all the talking. Then there is the question of which self to present. Do you show up as the patient, earnest and in-looking, the teller of you own truths and feelings? Or do you show up as the person you are with relative strangers - facile and outgoing, nervously skimming the surface? You shudder to sound false to one who knows you so thoroughly, and yet it is impossible to pretend a deeper acquaintance, knowing next to nothing about this person. It is more complex still if you are in his debt - and to Lathon I felt I owed everything." (p 13)

I liked this book's emphasis on the "false story" as a means of identifying what you need to learn to counteract or overwrite - not as a goal in and of itself. I distrust psychotherapy's search for the supposed cause of someone's difficulty because I become concerned when I hear people talk about "their issues" like mementos that they will be carrying around with them like a turtle carries its shell. Identifying and naming issues may be a prerequisite for dealing with them, but I am afraid that it can lead to a familiarity that may take away enough of the discomfort around the issue that the issue lingers on.

"In our anatomy of that text, however, we spend little time reviewing history. Instead, Lathon had us deconstruct the present, theorizing that we were better served by seeing the false self in action than by establishing its date of origin. And so, in listening to the particulars of Mark's doomed marriage, we began to hear the voice of a boy who had been raised without affection, the son of a pediatrician who ran his household like a waiting room." (p 7)

This paragraph is also a good example of the use of the general/theoretical intermingled with the specific exemplar. This is a writing style that I find especially evocative and effective.

I found the emphasis on "what" and "how" refreshing. And the admonition to be careful in raising "why" questions, I think is very constructive. Lathon describes "why" questions as invitations to suffer, while "what", "who", and "how" can provide the details needed to tease out crucial problems from the adaptations people have made to accomodate them.


cnk@ugcs.caltech.edu