Wise Words #18: On Women's Mental Health and Psychotherapy
Psychotherapy and Process: The Fundamentals of an Existential-Humanistic Approach by James F.T. Bugenthal
In this book Bugenthal takes us on a wonderfully inclusive journey through the processes of psychotherapy from an existential-humanistic perspective. He structures the book very deliberately, using stages of a journey to mirror the stages of psychotherapy. In the first chapter, ‘The prospect of a journey’, he introduces us to the theory behind his approach, whilst the second, ‘The traveller makes ready for the journey’, asks what the client brings to the therapeutic process, using excerpts from accounts of former clients to illustrate the myriad emotions that can accompany that first therapy session. The book continues in this vein, dedicating equal weight to the perspective of client and therapist as they face the different and sometimes challenging stages of their journey.
The book concludes with the final chapter ‘The journey over, the guide reflects’ which includes some beautiful insights from Bugenthal’s own experiences as a therapist as he considers how he has changed as a result of participating in the lives of others. Whilst the author doesn’t shy away from including what is at times fairly dense theoretical knowledge, the inclusion of personal anecdotes and client case studies helps to contextualise the theory and distinguish this non-fiction read from other theory-based books. As a therapist this book speaks to me on many levels, whilst reminding me of the value and importance of reflecting on the many journeys that I am privileged to embark on with my clients.
Cutting it Out – A journey through Psychotherapy and Self-Harm by Carolyn Smith
A fellow therapist recommended this book to me when I was working with a young client who was engaging in regular episodes of self-harm; it was extremely helpful then and remains a text that I find myself turning to on a regular basis. Presented as a novel from the unique perspective of the young female client, this book invites us into the complex world of therapy as we travel alongside both client and therapist on their journey of understanding. Given the subject matter one could be forgiven for expecting a challenging read, however one of the beauties of this book is the gentle humour that is interspersed throughout in the form of wry comments on some of the therapist’s interventions and as the client engages with her daily life outside of the therapeutic space.
This is an extremely accessible book, presenting the complex issue of self-harm in a thoughtful and sensitive way. Whilst it will appeal to therapists who work regularly with clients who self-harm, I also feel that it is a valuable read for those who self-harm or those who are in therapy, and for anyone looking to gain a client perspective on the somewhat private world of psychotherapy.
Mad, Bad and Sad – A History of Women and the Mind Doctors from 1800 to the Present by Lisa Appignanesi
This captivating book offers an insight into the way that the mental health of women has been viewed over the past 200 years. Beginning with the ‘Mind Doctors’ of 1796, Appignanesi takes us on a journey through the era of ‘madhouses’ and the first physician to liberate those incarcerated for madness from their chains, to an exploration of the cultural importance of Freud’s writings and the perhaps surprising insight that he championed women into the profession to the rise of the pharmaceutical industry and the increasing prevalence of using pharmaceutical drugs to ‘cure’ mental health illnesses. At over 500 pages of complex ideas and in depth research, this is by no means an easy read – Appignanesi highlights the theoretical insights of Winnicott, Bowlby and Laing to name a selection – however her skill lies in using vibrant case studies to bring the theory to life.
From Virginia Woolfe to Sylvia Plath, Marilyn Monroe to Susie Orbach we are invited to consider big ideas from a variety of perspectives. The book is split into four parts spanning the 200 years – chapters that I found particularly interesting are ‘Hysteria’, ‘Mother and Child’ and ‘Body Madness’. Running throughout the text is the encouragement for us to ask the question – why was the mental health of women considered as fundamentally different to that of men? This book answered many questions that I didn’t know I had, and created more that I am seeking the answers to.