A FURTHER COLLECTION OF RECENT ENGLISH-LANGUAGE PSYCHOTHERAPY BOOK REVIEWS
Compiled under the direction of Jacqueline A. Carleton Ph.D. (and her interns) for the IJP (August, 2017).
DeSalvo, L. (2000).Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives.
Jauhar, Sandeep. (2014). Doctored: The disillusionment of an American physician.
DeSalvo, L. (2000). Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our
Stories Transforms Our Lives.
by Rachel Baum, New York University.
Writing has helped me heal. Writing has
changed my life. Writing has saved my life.” These powerful first sentences of
Louse DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of
Healing: How Telling Stories Transforms Our Lives immediately conveys the
author’s strong belief in the curative power of writing. She posits that
writing helps people to recover from “thorny experiences” and can help heal
those suffering from a variety of situations, from dislocation and violence to
rape and racism (4). DeSalvo is a professor of English and Creative Writing at
Hunter College and is the author of over a half dozen books, so her advice is
rooted in her own personal experiences of using writing as an instrument of
has also been able to witness firsthand the physical and emotional
transformation of her writing students. She explains that by the end of their
work, her students “look better, feel better…stand taller…[and] smile more”
(12). Even though their work has required them to live through painful and
troubling emotions, in the end, it makes them better writers and, overall, better
people. She includes quotations from her students to support her observations.
One student wrote, “I don’t feel like I’m the same person I was. Now, I own my
story, because I know what it means. I feel more deeply, the pain, but the
pleasure, too” (12). By including not only her own observations but her
students’ feelings as well, DeSalvo allows the reader to receive feedback from
those who have gone through the process themselves and reaped the benefits.
emphasizes the accessibility of writing and how this convenience is beneficial
for the individual struggling with troubling emotions. She bluntly addresses
the question, “Why write?,” explaining how writing is cheap, self-initiated,
private (or public if desired), and requires no innate talent. She presents a
strong case as to why writing is an effective therapeutic tool over other
creative outlets and then provides a list of tasks to help initiate the writing
process, giving the reader a starting point to begin their creative journey.
the second chapter, DeSalvo supports her claims with scientific descriptions of
how writing affects our brains and the physical body and indicates the
particular type of writing that is most beneficial for healing. She references
James W. Pennebaker’s Opening Up: The
Healing Power of Confiding in Others, which summarizes ten years of
scientific research into the connection between opening up about deeply
troubling or extremely traumatic events and positive changes in immune function
and the brain. She hones in on the experiments done by Pennebaker and his
associate, Sandra Beall, at Southern Methodist University, which tested the
relationship between writing and wellness in the students they studied.
different groups of students received different instructions of what to write,
the results were most telling for the group that was instructed to write
simultaneously about events and emotions. Although writing about deep-rooted
emotions connected to past traumatic experiences initially stirred negative feelings
within the students, four months later, the results indicated that the
students’ spirits had considerably improved and their writing had helped them
resolve a difficult issue. The conclusions of the study illustrated that “to
improve health, we must write detailed accounts, linking feelings with events”
and in order to significantly improve well-being long term, one must initially
endure difficult emotions (22). The research also discovered that writing
merely about emotions, traumatic events, or superficial topics was not
sufficient for improving health. The more the writing takes the form of a
narrative, the more healthful and emotional benefits are derived from the
process. DeSalvo makes a point to indicate which type of writing is the most
beneficial so readers are not engaging in the process that will ultimately not
benefit them. Additionally, grounding the benefits of the writing process in
scientific terms can be reassuring for those who are doubtful of how
therapeutic writing can actually be.
DeSalvo advocates using writing as a therapeutic process for anyone, she
specifically addresses how writing can benefit those with mental illnesses or
wounded bodies. She includes examples of famous writers and how they utilized
the writing process to heal their own mental or physical wounds. She describes
how the Pulitzer-Prize winning author Alice Walker used her own deep personal
pain from her childhood as inspiration to become a writer. As a child, Walker
wrote to comfort herself from feelings of despair and loneliness, using writing
as a sort of “spiritual alchemy” that transforms those devastating emotions
into a “golden light” (154). She references other famous writers to illustrate
the therapeutic process of writing is not merely for novices, but that even
famous and acclaimed authors have used writing as a way of healing.
addition to the mentally ill, DeSalvo examines how the writing process can also
be a tool of healing for those with physical illnesses. She cites Arthur W.
Frank’s The Wounded Storyteller in
explaining how physical illness leaves us in a place of uncertainty and chaos.
Writing allows people suffering to adjust their perspectives and begin to think
of themselves differently as their body and life changes. Through writing, she
states, “we maintain control over our lives” (202).
also asserts that it is important for those who are sick to leave a legacy to
help others with similar experiences and feelings.
the advice within the book, DeSalvo includes quotations and examples from
accomplished writers to emphasize how the writing process was therapeutic for
them. Rather than simply stating advice, these examples show the reader that
famous writers have not only reaped the healing benefits of writing, but gained
acclaim for their work as well. At the beginning of each chapter, she includes
inspiring quotations and proverbs that emphasize her main points that creative
energy can be self-renewing and how that starving that energy is
those who may be lost in starting the process, DeSalvo provides numerous “do’s
and don’ts” throughout the book to assist the novice writer in developing their
creative outlet. She also debunks misconceptions of the writing process, such
as “To begin a work, we must be inspired” (77). This is crucial for writers who
feel prevented or blocked from starting or continuing their work. In addition
to all of her personal advice, she also pulls from other sources to provide
outsider input, referencing numerous authors, books, and articles about the
creative process. If the reader is interested in expanding on the knowledge
learned in DeSalvo’s book, she includes a list of further reading at the end to
provide more sources for those beginning the writing process.
in the last chapter, she attempts to assuage the negative feelings that may
come up during the writing process. It is important to address these
troublesome feelings that emerge during reading or writing, as it is only
through this acknowledgment can they be dealt with healthfully. Overall,
DeSalvo’s Writing as a Way of Healing:
How Telling Stories Transforms Our Lives is a useful starting point for
those who are struggling with their own psychic or physical battles and are
looking for a creative outlet for some relief.
Louise DeSalvo is an American author,
professor, and lecturer based in New Jersey. She has published over 17 books,
mostly focused on Italian-American culture, and is a renowned Virginia Woolf
scholar. She also teaches memoir writing as a part of CUNY Hunter College’s MFA
Program in Creative Writing.
Rachel Baum (the Reviewer) studies abnormal psychology with a minor in child and adolescent mental
health studies at New York University. She has completed a psychiatric
diagnostic evaluation for an adolescent at the NYU Child Study Center as well
as developed a school-wide project to promote positive psychology on campus. In
addition to working for SPT, she writes reviews for the International Journal
DeSalvo, L. (2000). Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Available in hardcover and paperback.
Paperback. 240 p.
Includes Acknowledgments, Epilogue, Sources List, and Further Reading.
(2014). Doctored: The disillusionment of
an American physician.
by: Monica Spafford, New York University
Doctors generally begin their
journey as eager medical students determined to change the world one patient at
a time. With intelligence, compassion, and a desire to help others, medical
students muster up enough drive to fight through medical school and residency,
accepting the hours of work, sleepless nights, and giant holes left in their
bank account in pursuit of what they believe to be a worthwhile, fulfilling
profession both morally and economically. However, in Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician Sandeep
Jauhar suggests that it’s difficult
to maintain this view within the current medical climate because it’s dominated
by the government and large corporations set out to generate income, even if
it’s at patients’ expense. In this powerful and thought-provoking memoir,
Jauhar utilizes case studies and anecdotes as he reveals his journey as a
doctor facing what he refers to as “the midlife crisis in American medicine”
and his attempts to understand why “medicine today is as fraught as it’s ever
Doctors are often
overloaded with patients and pressed for time, forced to treat each less as an
individual and more as a pawn used to increase incoming revenue for insurance
companies. As a result, the patient-doctor relationship has become one of
insensitivity and indifference. Treatment has become less about a patient’s
well-being and more about quickly checking numerous unnecessary tests off the
to-do list just in time to complete paperwork for the insurance companies. One
of Jauhar’s patients broke into tears explaining how he developed kidney
failure after receiving contrast dye for a CT scan. What makes it worse is the
patient’s doctor at the time responded to the kidney failure in a very
nonchalant, uncaring manner. This example accurately illustrates the current
healthcare system: a well-oiled machine structured to ensure profit at the
expense of quality care.
being overworked and forced to ignore their internal code of conduct, doctors
have little to show for it as their salaries have been decreasing monumentally.
In 1970, the average inflation-adjusted income of general practitioners was
$185,00 and in 2010 it was $161,000 despite an increase in the number of
patients doctors treat. Constrained professionally and economically, motivation
to connect with patients let alone become a doctor altogether has waned
resulting in lackluster patient-doctor relationships, at best, and a shortage
of doctors, especially in primary care and geriatrics. Doctors are forced to
trade in their copious years of education and training—what Jauhar describes as
“pedaling furiously for nearly a decade –on a stationary bicycle,”—and passion
for helping others with stress, exhaustion, and frustration with a
profit-driven system that devalues their profession, ignores their expertise,
and hangs them out to dry (19).
concludes that “medicine holds the key to its own redemption” (259). Doctors
enter their profession with the purest of intentions and that is what will save
them from being swallowed by a corrupt system. This moving memoir will not only
remind clinicians why they do what they do but also inform clinicians and other
health professionals of the gravity of the problems facing the future of
medicine and empower them to make a change.
Jauhar, Sandeep. (2014). Doctored: The disillusionment of an American physician.
New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Available in paperback, hardcover, and eBook.
Paperback: 268 pages.
Includes prologue, introduction, epilogue, and notes.
Sandeep Jauhar MD, PhD,
the director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center.
He is the author of Intern and an
opinion writer for The New York Times.
Monica Spafford (Reviewer) studies Applied Psychology at New York University and is set to graduate
in May of 2018. She is a Research Assistant for the INSIGHTS into Children’s
Temperament research study at NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social
Change testing the efficacy of the INSIGHTS program, an evidence-based
intervention that works to support children’s social-emotional development and
academic learning. In addition to working for IJP, she writes reviews for
Somatic Psychotherapy Today.