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BookREVIEW: In The Therapist’s Chair

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Jacqueline Simon Gunn
Bloomington: Xlibris 2010
pp125, £14.00 (paperback)

Review by Deborah Davies

Jacqueline Simon Gunn gives us a rare opportunity to sit with her in the therapist’s chair; her book “offers an intimate view into the experiential art of working clinically with patients in therapy.” But before we settle into the chair she discusses the fundamentals from which she works – a belief that to be truly therapeutic a therapist must be self-aware and open to self-exploration. The case studies she offers and which constitute the bulk of the book demonstrate why this attitude marks the difference between an unremarkable practitioner and a truly transformative encounter with a professional who is prepared to open herself up to a healing encounter where the therapist risks as much as the client. It is her candid and undefended approach towards herself and her emotional response to her clients that not only makes this book a pleasure to read but also to learn from.

Dr. Gunn provides six case studies, each of which offers a different dynamic and presentation. After reading the first client case I felt the relief and satisfaction I experience after a good supervision session. Her description of her client and her fixation on an unavailable man resonated for me – it brought to mind a client I was seeing. I was surprised when further cases reflected problems, behavior or presentations with which I was also currently working. Dr. Gunn speaks genuinely as she focuses on the difficulty and richness of working with counter-transference. Her clients’ problems vary from eating disorders, narcissistic wounding and sexual acting out. Her recognition of how shame enters into the work and the therapeutic relationship I found particularly satisfying as I believe shame is under-acknowledged by many therapists.

It is inspiring to see how Dr. Gunn does not hide behind a blank screen but offers a part of herself in a personal moment of pain. While working with a shame bound man whose mother’s sudden death from pancreatic cancer brought him into therapy, Dr. Gunn’s own mother dies from the same aggressive cancer. After much consideration, asking herself whether it would help her client to know of her own mother’s death, she shares her loss with him.

As she discusses her clients, Dr. Gunn reminds the reader of the uniqueness of client, place in the process, and dynamic between therapist and client, as reference points for how to handle a situation. Her unique spirit respects the individual nature of her clients; she demonstrates that there is no textbook response and her comfort with her own process models an important way to be. Each case study, and the additional vignettes she illustrates throughout the book, provide valuable insight into wisdom gleaned from years of professional experience.

The last few chapters offer us words of warning about where therapists might trip up if carried away by feeling and attunement: one chapter discusses the dilemma surrounding hugs and another the complexity of receiving gifts from clients. She also looks at self-disclosure. As therapists we work with the unexpected and perhaps one of the most uncomfortable areas of the unexpected occurs outside the session when we have let down our hair and are just being ourselves. Dr. Gunn openly discusses how she and others managed encountering clients outside the session.

In the Therapist’s Chair is a terrific book – enjoyable to read and packed with wisdom and heart. In short, I found Jacqueline Simon Gunn’s chair to be holding and well constructed.

Deborah Davies is an integrative psychotherapist in private practice in London. She has a particular interest in working with emerging adults (those who are 18 to 30 years old) and those involved in a creative process.