Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Writing and Therapy

On the subject of travels, I thought it time to talk a bit about the odyssey that led to my writing this book, that of training as a psychotherapist. My decision to become a clinician was complicated and in many ways misguided. But I found clinical work endlessly rewarding, fascinating, and surprising—in part through the many parallels between writing and therapy.

Interestingly, when I told people I was doing clinical work their response was, “That will help you so much as a writer. It will give you so much story material!” Actually, it turned out that being a writer helped me as a therapist. The tools I had developed over my writing career—verbal precision, modulations of tone, use of dramatic irony—allowed me to make powerful connections and interventions with my clients. In The Therapist's New Clothes, I explore the many ways in which writing and therapy intersect.

One of these tools is metaphor. As a clinician, I learned that much of a therapy session is conducted through metaphor. Longing for a father may be expressed through frustrations with a boyfriend ("He's just not there for me"). Similarly, a loss may be too painful for someone to address directly so we talk instead about appliances that are “always breaking down.”

I first really “got” metaphor through my uncle’s poems. I remember one I read when I was eleven or so about the end of a friendship called “The Broken Toy”, with a line about how whenever you try to fix it “the glue clings just to your fingers.” Who has not felt that way?

Here is a poem by my late uncle, James L. Weil, about writing that could well also speak for therapy:This broadside of the poem, printed on the occasion of a reading at the Sterling Library at Yale University in 1977, has been over my desk every place I've lived. (Click on it for an easier read.) At my J School reunion a classmate quoted this poem to me word for word. I had recited it to him and he remembered it all these years! I'll close with the sprightly image of the colophon for my uncle's publishing company, The Elizabeth Press:


  1. Wow, amazing poem. And amazing (for me) to think of having a relative who wrote it. In my family, that generation was essentially uneducated.

    What was he like as an uncle?

  2. Delighted to have found your blog and discovered an inspiring and informative writer like your good self. Love the poem and thoughts. Have subscribed to your feed. Thanks!