What if all the questions you ever had about your therapist were answered – and then some?
One of the most widely-read editions of "Mr. Analysand", entitled "In Search of Ms. Analyst" focused on this tantalizing question. I went public with my never-ending—and utterly frustrating—quest for information on and deeper common ground with my therapist. There are 163 comments on that particular post—obviously, my anxiety was not an isolated incident.
Well, at least one small group of analysands won’t have to wonder where their analyst is coming from, thanks to a riveting new book. The Year After: A Memoir by Ashley Warner, a New York City-based psychoanalyst who smashes conventions when it comes to therapists keeping their life stories a closely guarded secret.
Warner discloses her past in riveting fashion, taking the reader inside her mind as she recounts becoming a rape victim, in unflinching detail. Every moment of the heinous assault she suffered—now 20 years in the past—is held up to the light.
A struggling actor at the time, she somehow managed to maintain a journal for the months that followed. Two decades removed from her violent trauma, she had the strength to sculpt those entries into The Year After, an intensely immersive book that describes each of the 365 days after the ordeal.
What unfolds for the reader is a fascinating experience, as Warner invites us to share completely in her personal journey—one that delivers her from the depths of despair to a remarkable and inspiring transformation.
But even in the throes of her deepest depression, this book is surprisingly un-repressive. Warner wields an edgy pen, injecting dark humor everywhere, never missing a chance to take a sardonic stab at herself and keep things relentlessly in perspective.
Alternately, there are passages of great beauty throughout The Year After. Like when she recounts her ritual haircut ("I kept reaching up to tuck my long blond locks behind my ears, but it was a phantom limb"), her dreams ("The ocean was the audience"), and her poetic first flashes of resurrection ("Now these things are done. Today I begin to collect what I've won.")
For all of us who are curious about how others experience therapy, there’s a lot to dig into (see my interview with Powder Dreams author David Ward-Nanney for yet another perspective). Warner describes numerous sessions with crisis counselors and therapists, as well as rape survivor group meetings.
There is plenty of hit-and-miss for her, and we realize we are getting a unique window on the formative sessions of a future psychoanalyst. The building blocks of what shapes many a therapist—and leads them from being the one desperately in need of guidance to becoming life—saving guides themselves—are held up to the light in The Year After.
Which takes us to how this striking book presents broader implications. As a practicing psychoanalyst, Warner can't help but heal her reader. In absorbing her tragic story, men and women alike will find themselves feeling their own darkest moments understood, validated, and even soothed.
Whether your own personal trauma exploded into your world in seconds as hers did, or crept in over the course of years like mine, it is extremely therapeutic to know that someone else has felt just like you during times of desperation, self-doubt, even triumph. The wide-open realism of this book feels empowering as you read it, each page more magnetic than the last.
A Better Way
Of course, harkening back to my own quest for details on Ms. Analyst, I couldn't help but think about how our own dyad would have been affected if I'd had info like this available.
What if, after my persistence, Ms. Analyst finally had disclosed the motivating force that transformed her into a psychoanalyst? What if her own story had been even more painful than this one? What if it were equally devastating? What if she had never suffered a day in her life?
It’s interesting to speculate how that understanding would have affected me mid-treatment…and perhaps equally intriguing to wonder how it could impact the whole scenario before we even began. Warner has seen how to shine a beacon—people can come to her knowing they’ll click on certain key experiences, from Day One.
Call it a shortcut. Call it an empathic fast track. But if we analysands can have the scoop on a therapist’s personal journey—not just their barebones credentials and areas of specialty—doesn’t it vastly increase our odds of making the right therapist match from Day One? Isn’t that a win-win? Why bother with a Blank Slate, when you could start with a brother in arms?
I’m not suggesting every therapist write a 350-page book, as Warner has done. But they could go ahead and put their personal angle out there, even if just on their Website. Perhaps in these memoirs, other therapists will see how they can make their own story known—they need only be willing.
Beyond the Book
Maybe most profound of all, though, is how a work like The Year After allows an analyst to broadcast their healing powers far beyond their client base.
Ashley Warner will be able to connect with so many more people via her revelations than she could ever see in person. It expands her capability to cure in a most efficient manner—now she is an agent of change en masse.
And the inspiration is followed directly by motivation. Everywhere in The Year After are action items that you can instantly adopt—you just have to be listening in. I’ve already harvested from it how I can be more attentive to my friends, more of a comfort to my loved ones, more accepting of myself.
Can one work in this big world be a game-changer? It’s happened before. It just may be happening again.
-- Mr. Analysand