Resource List 10: Reviewed Psychotherapy Books


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
Reviewed 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 healing.

She 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.

DeSalvo 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.

In 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.

While 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.

While 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.

In 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). 

She also asserts that it is important for those who are sick to leave a legacy to help others with similar experiences and feelings.

Throughout 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 self-destructive. 

For 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.

Finally, 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 of Psychotherapy. 

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. 

Jauhar, Sandeep. (2014). Doctored: The disillusionment of an American physician
Reviewed 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 been” (15)

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.

Additionally, despite 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).

Jauhar ultimately 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.
ISBN 9780374535339.
Available in paperback, hardcover, and eBook.
Paperback: 268 pages. 
Includes prologue, introduction, epilogue, and notes.

Sandeep Jauhar MD, PhD, is 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.