Becoming A Therapist: What Do I Say and Why?

By Dewald, Paul A. | American Journal of Psychotherapy, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Becoming A Therapist: What Do I Say and Why?


Dewald, Paul A., American Journal of Psychotherapy


SUZANNE BENDER AND EDWARD MESSNER: Becoming A Therapist: What Do I Say and Why? Guildford Press, New York, 2003, 332 pp., $35.00, ISBN 1-57230-804-4.

This book follows the professional development and increasing sophistication and comfort of a psychotherapist, from her beginning experience as a resident in a psychiatry training program and continuing through her completion of training and into private practice. Dr. Bender is the resident, and Dr. Messner is the experienced supervisor and well-known teacher in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard University. The book also credits a number of other influential individuals who contributed to the development of therapeutic skills for Dr. Bender.

The authors use a hypothetical patient and a series of imaginary dialogues between the patient and therapist as a long-term therapy might evolve between them. This lets the reader vicariously participate in the interactions between patient and therapist, and observe the variety of potential interventions that would be possible. This format allows the presentation of both effective and noneffective interventions and understandings, and permits the description of alternative ways of interacting with the patient. Between these dialogues are various explanatory and generalizable descriptions of the reasoning and understanding of the therapeutic process and the explanation of why some interventions are more effective than others.

These dialogues illustrate the entire course of a therapeutic process from the initial telephone conversation arranging for the patient and therapist to meet, and going through the diagnostic process, as well as the various phases of psychotherapy ending with termination. When appropriate, other hypothetical cases are introduced where they serve to illustrate specific other issues in the course of conducting psychotherapy with various types of patients.

One of the unique aspects of this book is that Dr. Bender, based on her own autobiographical experience, expresses with unusual candor and forthrightness the multiple conflicts, anxieties, uncertainties, and fears that she experienced in the process of development of her skills as a therapist. Her experiences are relatively typical of most individuals who become therapists, beginning with their earliest uncertainties, mistakes, anxieties, and countertransferences and evolving into a more comfortable therapeutic stance and confidence. This allows the reader to identify with Dr. Bender and at the same time to benefit from the modeling and therapeutic skills of Dr. Messner and his many years of therapeutic experience and capacity to teach in a direct, nonjargon fashion. This makes explanation of the therapeutic process accessible in a clear and concise way.

Although the patient and the therapy are virtual and hypothetical, the dialogues and the material allow the reader to experience the process in a very personal way.

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