Insight Therapy

Psychologically informed reflections on how we interact.

A Psychologist is Treating a Stripper with Stage Fright...

Here's why I'd like you to read my new novel.

Cover for the US edition
My new book, The Good Psychologist (Holt), is a literary novel about a psychologist who's treating a stripper with stage fright. Kirkus gave it a starred review. Alan Cheuse reviewed it on NPR. A rave review in the Boston Globe called it "extraordinary," and "a rare gift." 

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I'd like you to read my book.

This is not a comfortable statement to make, although it is completely true and also, I think, quite fair. I think you are very likely to enjoy my book. I can practically guarantee that you will learn something useful about therapy, about the inner human architecture, about yourself. And this offer is completely non-binding. After all, I can't compel you to read it. I can only alert you to the choice.

Israeli cover (1st edition)
The primary reason I'd like you to read my book is that my main motivation for writing it was to have it read.

There are other reasons for writing, to be sure. For one, writing can help you work through your own issues. A vast psychological literature (in particular the work of J.W. Pennebaker) has explored the role of writing in stress reduction and emotional healing. Writing is also a creative process, making something out of nothing. Involving oneself in such a process can be a deep and rich experience. Artistic creation, after all, separates us from all other animals. It's an essence of humanity. Writing can also gratify the impulse to leave a mark, to at once capture and transcend your moment in time; to etch a bison on the cave's wall. This is a primordial impulse, linked in all likelihood to another uniquely human attribute--the awareness of death. Some write for money, or the hope of it. Dostoyevsky, for example, wrote The Brothers Karamazov under deadline to pay off gambling debts. But there are no more Dostoyevskys around that I can see, and anyone who banks on their writing to pay their bills must have either very small bills or very grand delusions, unless of course you write about teenage vampires, wizards, or bisexual computer hackers in Sweden.

Israeli cover (second edition)
Still, all the above are good reasons to write, but they did not figure highly for me. To me, a book comes alive only in the mind of its readers. And I'd like my book to live. Writing, to me, is at heart a connective gambit. The deep motivation for writing a book emerges from the need to communicate with others, to make oneself heard, and thereby perhaps to become known, and hence perhaps loved, and hence perhaps safer from harm, and hence more likely to survive. This is the fundamental human need; babies cry for the same reason.

That being said, announcing that I'd like you to read my book still feels awkward. Why is that? I think there are several reasons.

First, as in romance, the line between seeming alluring and desperate is thin. We are wired to seek to satisfy our deepest needs, and we maneuver for that all the time. But, being social, we are trained to do so subtly and gently, to use the silverware and napkin even when we're really hungry. People recoil from the hard sell because it reeks of desperation; a desperate person, we know intuitively, is unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Asking the readers of your column to read your book runs the risk of seeming just a little too eager.

Cover for the UK and Commonwealth
Second, calling too much attention to oneself and one's projects tends to exact a toll on how one is perceived. When we see someone who's all about ‘me me me,' we are likely to resent them, sensing that we cannot grow and blossom in the vicinity of someone who hogs all the water and sunlight. Announcing my desire for you to read my book, directly and upfront, runs the risk of seeming too self-centered.

Third, our discomforts emerge not only from the quirks of our common human hardware but also from the bugs in our individual software--our particular learning history. I grew up on a kibbutz, a small, rural, socialist community, unique to Israel, where group cohesion and solidarity were prized far above individual achievement and desire. In the kibbutz, your needs were always secondary to those of the group. 

In Italy the title will be, "The Four O'clock Patient"
In the early, ideologically extreme days of the kibbutz movement, members would vote in a general assembly on whether to allow a couple to move in together, or to have children. If you wanted to go to college, the group decided what you should study. Coming from such a background, it is perhaps not outlandish for me to feel a tinge of guilt and apprehension on the occasion of announcing my personal wish, grounded largely in self-interest, for you to read my book, The Good Psychologist.

Still, a defining task of adulthood is to shed the confining dictates and boundaries of your upbringing and create your own space in your own image, or at least in an image of your choice. And you also want to grow enough to be able to fight for what you value--even at the risk of seeming pushy or self-centered.

At the end of the day, I value my book and would like to fight for it. I hope you read it. I hope it comes to life for you, and in you. That, I think, will be rewarding for both of us.

Noam Shpancer, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Otterbein College and a practicing clinical psychologist in Columbus, Ohio.

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