“A therapist who rushes to help forgets to listen, and therefore cannot understand and therefore cannot see. The eager therapist, the one who’s determined to offer salvation, involves himself and seeks his own salvation. The good psychologist keeps his distance and does not involve himself in the results of his work. The right distance allows a deep and clear gaze. The good psychologist reserves the business of closeness for family members and beloved pets and leaves the business of salvation to religious bureaucrats and street corner eccentrics.”

Book Review:

Review by Bonnie Brody (AUG 3, 2010)

Noam Shpancer has written a heady and unique novel that takes its primary form as therapy sessions between a psychologist and a stripper. The psychologist has a limited clinical schedule in his anxiety clinic and teaches a university class to augment his income. He also plays weekly basketball with a group of guys that he barely knows. He’s been involved in a love affair with another psychologist, Nina, and they have a child together. This relationship is ebbing.

The Good Psychologist is the protagonist of this novel and also the referent of the university class on clinical psychology – what makes a good psychologist. The Good Psychologist is never given a name. The author is very knowledgeable about many psycho-therapeutic modalities, especially cognitive behavioral therapy. As a clinical social worker and marriage and family therapist, I found this book fascinating. It reads somewhere between a textbook and a novel of clinical methodology.

The chapters switch between sessions with the psychologist’s 4 p.m. client, a stripper named Tiffany, his university teachings, his time or phone calls with Nina, his basketball games and an odd chapter or two where he is alone or getting his piano fixed. The gravitas is in the session time. It is in the classroom where the psychologist’s knowledge, charisma and sensitivity come to light. The author describes the university classroom as though it were real. It brought me back to my clinical work in graduate school and I was impressed with the class’s accuracy and thoroughness.

As the novel opens, the psychologist and Nina are ending a passionate affair, one in which she wants to become pregnant by him. She loves her husband but he is ill and unable to provide her with a child. She will never leave him. She and the psychologist have an agreement that he will never try to see his child. Nina and the psychologist have an easy relationship, speaking frequently and e-mailing one another for personal and professional reasons. As the novel progresses, their interchanges become more professional and less personal and finally start ebbing altogether. Nina is the person to whom the psychologist is closest and he is losing her.

His 4 p.m. appointments with the stripper are often troubling to him as he traverses the difficult issue of boundaries. He consults with Nina about this and tries to be ethical and correct in his treatment. However, he often trips himself up or is tripped up by extenuating circumstances. Tiffany, the stripper, is a difficult client with a lot of baggage, some of which she transfers onto the psychologist.

We get to know some of the students in his class and learn to appreciate the knowledge he imparts. He utilizes Socratic teaching methods, eclectic psychoanalytic methodology and cognitive behavioral modalities. Additionally, he utilizes narratives, metaphors, and stories from the old masters. His students seem to respond to him and it is clear to the reader that he is making some bold inroads to his students’ thinking.

The psychologist is lonely and alone. He lives in a sparsely furnished apartment with cherished gifts from his clients and one mondo-sized piano. He has no friends or acquaintances. He is a world of one whose life is acted out in his clinic and in his classroom. Without Nina in his life, he has no one left who is dear to him. He yearns, from time to time, to see his daughter Billie, but remembers the promise he made to Nina. This creates strong tensions for him.

I loved this book. I don’t think it is a perfect choice for every reader but I think that any reader that is interested in psychotherapy, clinical sessions, and the heart of what makes a good psychologist, will be transfixed by this remarkable book, a debut novel written with the wisdom of a master writer.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 34 readers
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co.; 1 edition (August 3, 2010)
REVIEWER: Bonnie Brody
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Noam Shpancer’s PT blog
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another “shrink” who writes great novels:

Irvin D. Yalom


August 3, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel

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