BOOKMARKS; the Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life

By Anderson, Carol; McCollum, Eric | Family Therapy Networker, November/December 1997 | Go to article overview

BOOKMARKS; the Healing Connection: How Women Form Relationships in Therapy and in Life


Anderson, Carol, McCollum, Eric, Family Therapy Networker


A woman I know once complained to me "When I fall in love I fall right down the evolutionary ladder." She became what she called a "Cheshire cat woman," gaining a man and a haunting smile but losing her identity in the service of the relationship. We have all known women like this--some of us may even be them. Marilyn Monroe, for example, in discussing all the men she loved who wanted to change her, once said "I feel myself disappear while I stand there and cast off their light." Like many women, she too often found herself becoming someone she didn't recognize in her relationships with men, someone who resorted to behaviors that told men "Oh, you're so wonderful and it's so big," but someone whose needs were not on the relationship agenda. Her deep desire for love and acceptance made her unwilling or unable to share those parts of herself she feared made her seem too needy, difficult or other than adoring. Thus women learn that to preserve their relationships, they must keep more and more of their reactions to themselves and take a path away from authenticity, mutuality and the truth of their experiences.

For more than 20 years, the authors of The Healing Connection, psychiatrist Jean Baker Miller and her colleague, psychologist Irene Pierce Stiver, have been part of a core group of women psychotherapists working together at the Stone Center to develop a more enlightened psychology of women based on the proposition that the goal of healthy development should not be the traditional male model of self-sufficiency, but "an inner sense of connection to others." In this volume, they continue to develop this work, showing how psychological problems are created through daily disappointments in relationships in which a spouse gives advice rather than solace or a parent ignores a child's pride at accomplishment while focusing on another fault or where unequal power between men and women skews the possibility for authentic mutuality. They go on to demonstrate how empathic listening and attention to the bond between therapist and client can be used to help women overcome these problems.

While it is hard to argue with the authors' emphasis on emotional connection and their analysis of how unequal power can distort relationships, The Healing Connection seems to offer a one-size-fits-all conception of psychological health. By making connection the primary criterion of women's psychological health, the authors pathologize those women who decide, for whatever reasons, not to center their lives on the search for intimacy. What is missing is a broader conception of psychological health that reorganizes the importance of  an ability to tolerate the ever-changing flow between connection and separateness.

The goal of The Healing Connection , its authors tell us, is to show "how the making of connections can transform all the institutions in our lives, from school to workplace to home." But the practical recommendations in this book seem addressed only to therapists practicing long-term psychodynamic, individual psychotherapy. While a focus on the therapist's emotional bond with the patient may indeed be very useful, the authors do not seem aware that in the context of the new world of minimalized mental health care, traditional long term individual psychotherapy is virtually impossible for most therapists and patients. They say nothing about brief therapy, nothing about family or group interventions, not to mention nothing specific about how to transform workplaces, families and schools.

What we need is someone to translate the important insights of the authors of The Healing Connection into the pragmatic reality of more therapists' professional lives today.

--Carol Anderson

Playful Approaches to Serious Problems

Narrative Therapy with Children and Their Families

Jennifer Freeman, David Epston and Dean Lobovits

Norton. …

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