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:
Short Story Writers Sarah Hall & Jennifer Haigh
3 months ago