Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book #32: My Ideal Therapist

"From the beginning, I wanted to be a difficult case.  I wanted my therapist to feel as if she were being challenged, taken to the limits of her psychotherapeutic powers.  I wanted her to have her mind blown by my psyche."  -Micah Toub, Growing Up Jung: Coming of Age as the Son of Two Shrinks

Back in grad school, I took seminars on Freud and Lacan, but no one seemed to be teaching Jung.  If such a seminar had been offered, I probably would have taken it, because psychoanalytic approaches to the study of literature/film greatly interested me at the time.  On the other hand, I have to confess that there always seemed in my mind to be something kind of hippy-dippy about Jung - I don't know exactly where I got this impression, but maybe it has something to do with how he's fallen through the cracks of the Ivory Tower.

Thank god that I've hightailed it from the Ivory Tower.

Coincidentally, it must have been three or four years ago, just as I was becoming disenchanted with the academic monastery, that I first met Micah Toub, a friend of my cousin Alex.  She took me to a party at his house and it must have been Alex who told me that he was working on this memoir about growing up as the son of Jungian psychologists, because I don't recall Micah and I exchanging more than an introductory greeting.  At the time, I was intrigued by the book concept, particularly because I'd just started therapy myself (sadly, my therapist wasn't a Jungian). 

Last week, when I saw Micah at a Spoke Club event discussing his memoir, I couldn't resist buying the book and this time we chatted about the vicissitudes of the memoir genre.  Over the weekend, while taking periodic breaks from working on my own memoir (chapter seven just about killed me), I read his at a leisurely pace and, I must say, reading about his neuroses was a lovely distraction from my own.  And I stand corrected in my earlier impression of Jung as hippy-dippy at all!  Jung emerges in Micah's book as offering a creative, flexible repertoire of tools for analyzing the self and tailoring an identity - so much less off-the-shelf than Freud.  The memoir skillfully cuts back and forth between elucidations of Jungian concepts and poignant, revealing anecdotes in the author's life, capturing the awkward, fumbling quality of identity formation and sexual experiences of all kinds.  I found myself laughing and indulging in that weirdly pleasurable embarrassment of self-recognition, recalling parallel moments in my own development, so excruciating at the time.

So now I'm ready to start therapy again.  Three years ago, when I was tormented about whether I should throw in the towel on my career as an English prof, and seeking utopian compensations in a bad affair, I started seeing my therapist, Harriet, but my treatment was not altogether successful.  She was a disciple of the new "positive psychology" which did not, so far as I could tell, have any philosophical depth at all.  I recall showing up at my first session with a little Moleskin notebook; over the past week, I had been assiduously recording fragments of my dreams.  But Harriet looked at me as if I were as outdated as a character from a Woody Allen movie.  I was disappointed to learn that according to "positive psychology," dreams don't occupy a special status or seem to be accorded much meaning at all. 

Too bad I'm not still depressed.  If I could do it again, I'd google a Jungian.

Photo from: here        


Naomi said...

Harriet's positive psychology approach a few years ago seems to have been practical and efficient in helping you decide to leave academia and develop creative writing as your true calling. You were brave to seek help and move on with your life. Many people stay stuck!

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

Thanks for the encouragement! While I may thumb my nose at positive psychology for its seemingly simplistic approach, it's true that I learned some good coping strategies and became aware of certain behaviours I have to watch (i.e., my tendency to catastrophize....)

Emma said...

Interesting post! It's so hard to find a therapist you can feel confident with; I'm sorry you didn't have a successful experience. I recently read another article that had a lot of interesting information about finding an ideal therapist, http://www.psychalive.org/2013/04/qualities-of-an-ideal-therapist/. I would highly recommend it!


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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.