Author Allan Peterkin Encourages Therapists to 'Prepare a List of Books and Articles That Explore Themes Relevant to Your Patient's Exploration.' Is Dr. Peterkin's Advice Useful?

By Fink, Paul J. | Clinical Psychiatry News, October 2008 | Go to article overview

Author Allan Peterkin Encourages Therapists to 'Prepare a List of Books and Articles That Explore Themes Relevant to Your Patient's Exploration.' Is Dr. Peterkin's Advice Useful?


Fink, Paul J., Clinical Psychiatry News


Dr. Allan Peterkin's recommendation, suggested in his book "The Psychiatrist's Little Book of Wisdom" (Royal Oak, Mich.: Physicians' Press, 1999), seems excessive and challenging.

Such recommendations are not a routine part of my repertoire of therapeutic interventions. In some ways, it seems to be narcissistic on the part of the therapist to show the patient how erudite the therapist is. It also puts a great burden on the patient, who might feel obligated to read the recommended books.

When I recommend a book to patients, I do expect them to read it, because the issues explored in the book are often relevant to their problem. Usually, they do read it so we can discuss it. But I would hesitate to burden my patient with a list of books and articles, many of which might be tangential to the patient's issues. In other words, such recommendations would need to be made with great care.

Despite my reluctance to using this approach routinely, I do recommend a couple of books on occasion, and I will explain below why each of them is powerful and important for me to suggest. Each addresses a major problem with which a patient might be struggling, and I do expect my patient to read a suggested book. If the transference to me is not very strong, they may react negatively to my recommendation. "Who are you to tell me to read a book?" might be the nature of their response. That would set up a negative reaction to me and create a problem in the flow of treatment.

However, if the transference is strong, the patient might respond with gratitude and feel that I am taking him seriously Nothing in the therapeutic situation is simple or clear, and there are always possibilities that the doctor is making a mistake in stepping out of his role and becoming more of a teacher--which could have deeply negative outcomes for the patient. Therefore, it should be clear that I am asking therapists to be careful when making a recommendation to a patient about a book that they feel will be helpful but might cause an impasse in the therapy.

One of the best books ever written on child development is "The Magic Years" by Selma Fraiberg (New York: Scribner, 2008). The author wrote the book from the standpoint of a child, and it should help a parent understand what is behind a child's seriously aberrant behavior and what the author feels is going on inside the child at different stages of development.

When I introduce the book to patients, I tell them what I've just written and I recommend the book very strongly. I also advise them to bring questions about what they read to the sessions so I can get a feel for their reactions and learn more about how they handle issues that arise or the way they handle their child.

I believe it is valuable to the growth and development of my patient--who is the parent--as well as to the child. When adults read this book, they often are reminded of how they were treated while growing up and learn a great deal about themselves. I have worked hard over the last decade to reduce or eliminate the prevalence of corporal punishment used by parents in correcting their children. This book reinforces and promotes discussion.

One of the most special passages of the book is when Ms. Fraiberg describes how the child feels and how anxious he or she becomes when he or she is sitting on the floor and the vacuum cleaner is moving in the child's direction. The author is vivid in her description of the child's fantasies in that situation and can help parents put themselves in the infant's shoes.

Another excellent book I have recommended to men and sometimes to women who have experienced sexual abuse is called "Come Here: A Man Overcomes the Tragic Aftermath of Childhood Sexual Abuse" by Richard Berendzen and Laura Palmer (New York: Villard Books, 1993). This book was written by an astronomer at American University about bis being fired as president of the university when he was accused of making pornographic calls to day care centers. …

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