Who is it that can tell me who I am?
London: Constable 2009
Short-listed for the PEN/Ackerley Prize 2008
This book is for anybody interested in finding out who they are, why they are the way they are and how psychotherapy mediates the quest for this ‘holy grail’. It lays out what can be expected of the psychotherapeutic process in this regard and the book’s title, as well as some of the chapter headings, reflect the fact that Jane Haynes is inspired both by Shakespeare and Jung.
In Part One – Your Consulting Room – the author recalls, during analysis, her loveless childhood. The depth and honesty with which she describes her bruised sense of self reminded me of the Wellcome Trust’s exhibition Bobby Baker’s Diary Drawings (March-August 2009). Both protagonists, in different ways, share their vulnerable and intimate private selves in a raw, yet highly accessible and sophisticated, form that touches the soul.
The sudden death of Haynes’s analyst brings her thirteen-year analysis to a shuddering stop. With hindsight Haynes feels that her analyst should have been more pro-active about when to end his analytic relationship with her. At the same time she emphasises the warmth and fondness she felt towards him. R.D. Laing was another nurturing contact both as friend and writer; The Divided Self (Laing, 1960) is singled out for debunking the myth of psychoanalysis as something for the intellectual middle-classes. On several occasions Haynes suggests that because the emphasis in classical psychoanalysis is on technique and interpretation, it loses out on establishing relational warmth and contact with a client. Her observations would seem to confirm why, in recent decades, the humanistic/existential schools have steadily grown in popularity.
Haynes’s theme of loss is central not only to her professional life, but also her personal life. During her analysis, her mother died. Haynes writes: “After the initial shock life seemed to carry on. When she died the world stayed the same.” (p65); she contrasts her lack of feelings for her mother with her feelings about the loss of her father who died when she was seven.
For many clients, not missing a lost mother can feel strange or induce feelings of guilt. It is also crucial to be able to mourn the loss of a parent in childhood, as Haynes’s work with her client John illustrates. Her exploration of loss also serves as a reminder for practitioners to be aware of clients’ fears of losing their therapist.
In Chapter Four – When Death Speaks – Haynes, alongside the topic of loss, reflects on her use of self-disclosure in the therapeutic setting. For example, when she found out her analyst had died over the weekend, she decided to break the traditional analytic rule forbidding self-disclosure of personal life to clients. With one exception, she contacts each of her clients to tell them what has happened and that, unlike when her mother died, she needs a break. Haynes tries to show that in this, and other instances, her use of self-disclosure enhanced trust and intimacy in the relationship.
In Chapter Five – Ordinary Jocks Become Gods – we discover one of Haynes’s fortes in the way she uses poetry and literature to explain psychoanalytic theories. For example, she uses Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters to explain transference citing his poem The Shot as an example of positive transference. Reading into the poem, Haynes suggests that Hughes picked up on Sylvia Plath’s unresolved paternal longing, which he recognised and which perhaps, as the title of this chapter suggests, explains why he saw himself as the jock and not the god. On the topic of transference, Haynes suggests that transference interpretation as used in classic analysis is yet another way of keeping clients at a comfortable emotional distance. Clearly Haynes has issues with psychoanalysis, although she also admits to its strengths.
In Part Two – My Consulting Room – Haynes shares a series of gripping stories from her practice: “Many novels and plays are psychologically bland by comparison” she concludes (p158). In Chapters Seven and Eight we witness John and Callum moving into manhood; both in different ways struggle with emotional intimacy in relation to women. Haynes invites John to write about his experience of working with her and one of the conclusions he draws is: “above all I need her to be interested in me” (p198). Callum’s account is a journey into the dark side of internet pornography; here, Haynes’s interpretations are illuminating and foster a deeper understanding of what is behind it all. One of the differences between John and Callum lies in the length of time spent in therapy.
Miss Suicide in Chapter Nine combines tragedy and comedy. Haynes sheds light on the mindset of a middle-aged woman who has no sense of her inner world and cannot explain her compulsion for suicide. As with John, Haynes contacted Miss Suicide two years after she had ended her therapy. With Haynes’s help, her client recovers many memories about her fourth and last suicide attempt, which she shares in the form of an interview. The humanity of the people that cared for her and the hope they held for her helped this client turn away from death.
Chapter Ten takes us into the depth of tragedy. Haynes once more experiences multiple loss. Her client D is diagnosed with a brain tumour and dies within eight months. Although he stops his therapeutic work, Haynes stays in contact with him. Around the same time she receives a call from her daughter announcing that her husband has been physically assaulted. He dies from his injuries a week later leaving behind his wife and seven-year-old daughter. Haynes compares her loss of her own father when she was aged seven with her seven-year-old granddaughter’s loss. Once more we witness Haynes’s own suffering and her very human way of sharing this tragic incident with her clients without imposing her burden on them.
In the concluding chapter Haynes reflects on the bread-and-butter of psychotherapy. Although her training background is analytical, she identifies herself as a psychotherapist rather than an analyst. She returns to the theme of self-disclosure and takes issue with practitioners who flinch from revealing personal information to patients. She points out that many clients do not ask personal questions for fear of being rejected. “Therapists can become unpractised at expressing their spontaneous thoughts and prefer to remain hidden behind their authority” (p312). She also makes a case for using touch in psychotherapy, another taboo subject which psychoanalysis inherited from Freud but which has been lifted in some psychoanalytic circles in recent years.
In that it coincides with a government initiative to regulate counselling and psychotherapy, the timing of this publication could not be better. Many professionals fear that one of the downsides of regulation will be to deprive contemporary psychotherapy of its rich textures. Like Haynes I see psychotherapy more as art than science – something this book illustrates well – and I agree with Haynes that trust should be placed at the centre of therapeutic engagement. Building trust requires time and cannot be fixed in a few sessions. This book conveys a good sense of what psychotherapy is and what can be expected of it; it is a literary treat and offers just as much for the layperson as for professionals.