When Hampstead psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz sat down to write The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves, he could not have predicted the success it would become. This selection of life stories he has heard in his consulting room has sold more than 40,000 copies in the UK alone, and been translated into 20 different languages in 23 countries.
When I interviewed Grosz he explained that there were a number of reasons he had wanted to write his patients’ stories. He listed everything from leaving a legacy for his school-age children to expressing his life-long interest in Freud’s case histories. But he was also aware that he wanted to explain analysis to the general public. “Therapy is expensive, it takes time – and I wanted to give people who had never had the experience to know what the real thing was like.”
The book is more than merely entertaining; it’s filled with insights and revelations – and not just about these nameless, faceless patients. “We can learn about our lives by reading about other people lives. More than that – I think we can change. Before there was self help, there was literature. A good book helps us think about ourselves. If a book changes how you think, I believe it will change how you behave.”
How did he choose which of his many patients’ stories to recall? “Sometimes it’s the cases that the analyst has really struggled with, and are often unresolved, that make the best case histories. A number of those I used in the book are ones where I had a problem. A patient who is lying to me, a woman who doesn’t recognise that her husband is unfaithful to her, someone who is ahead of me. I would say that I write to learn.”
And in this wonderful book, the readers make the most of that knowledge.