February 8, 2009

Why Are Your Here, Mr. Rashkolnikov?

My MLS in library science has enabled me to help more clients than my MSW in social work. Shrinks put diagnostic DSM numbers on people; librarians only label books. Matching someone up with the perfect book for his present crisis can save years of meds and shrinkage. A friend of mine, who is the psychiatric social worker at Montifiore Hospital in the Bronx, has an office full of books. Chris says lots of patients unknowingly come to his ER for the best book for them in the present crisis in their lives. They don't need admission. I recommend that a young Irish client struggling with his sexual identity read James Baldwin; Baldwin did most of the therapeutic work.
I do know there is some magic in making the client/book connection; trusting one's intuition is key. One high school librarian characterizes librarians as the last alchemists. I talk to kids long enough to determine whom he/she reminds me of. Then I recommend their unknown soulmate's favorite books. It shouldn't work, but it frequently does. So does not thinking about what I am doing..
Rarely explored is the role that a common literary experience plays in therapy.If a client refers to particular books, poems, songs, I would try to track them down. I would at least skim them long enough to understand the basic themes or characters.. I answer immediately when clients ask about my favorite novel. Some analytically oriented shrinks might spend the whole session analyzing why a client wants the answer to that question. I think that it a vitally important thing to know about your shrink.
I had two clients who were reading the same novels as I was, even though we had never discussed the books before. I was comfortable revealing the coincidence, since I think it indicates a strong therapeutic alliance. If a client brings up a movie she has seen this weekend and I saw it too, I would certainly reveal that. In my experience, just as clients of Freudians have Freudian dreams and clients of Jungians have Jungian dreams, clients of therapist librarians spontaneously talk about books, even though they don't know about their therapist's secret librarian identity..
In my 20's I was a supervisory editor for Basic Books, the American publisher of Freud and many other psychiatry books. The psychiatrists I encountered were mostly refugees from the Nazi's. They were immensely cultured, learned men, deeply committed to music, literature, and art. Too many psychiatrists today are narrowly educated pill pushers who are ignorant of the classics of world literature. Patients could go to a psych ER, give the name of their favorite literary character, recite the plot of the book as their symptom, and be admitted as a paranoid schizophrenic. Maybe this could be a successful reality show for English majors.

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