Welcome to the exploration of my life story and its impact on the lives of my patients and my work.

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Love and Loss in Life and in Treatment is a unique book in that it intertwines memoir with my work with patients and gives the reader the opportunity to learn what a therapist thinks and feels as she both lives her life and works intensively with patients.

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LOVE AND LOSS
In Life and in Treatment

Have you ever wondered about your therapist’s personal life? Does the ring on her finger mean that she’s blissfully married? And if so, will that result in her being better or less able to understand your frustrations with your spouse? Do the difficulties in your own life resonate with those of your therapist in a personal way, and how do such resonances affect the course of your treatment?

In her brave and ground-breaking new book LOVE AND LOSS, In Life and In Treatment (Routledge · March 6, 2013) Linda B. Sherby addresses these questions head-on as she tells the story of the greatest love and loss of her life—her marriage to a much-loved husband and her grief at his passing---through the lens of her work as an accomplished psychotherapist.

Writing as both a psychoanalyst and a widow, Sherby makes it possible for the reader to gain an inside view of the emotional experience of being an analyst, while also offering unique insights on how to live through grief. Sherby shows how patients’ and therapists’ independent experiences of love and loss, as well as the love and loss that they experience in the treatment room, intermingle and interact. The result is unique, even unprecedented, in its focus on the analyst’s current life situation and how that necessarily affects both the analyst and the treatment. Marked by a remarkable willingness to share the personal memoir of her own loss, Sherby interweaves extensive clinical material to clearly illustrate the effect the analyst’s current life circumstance has on the treatment while demonstrating what both parties can learn from the experience.

LOVE AND LOSS illustrates that in order to grow and thrive, we must learn to mourn, to move beyond the person we have lost while taking that person with us in our minds. Love, unlike loss, is not inevitable but, she argues, no satisfying life can be lived without deeply meaningful relationships.

 

Description and video-clips of a workshop I co-organized for the New Direction Writing Program of the Washington Center for Psychoanalysis, “Therapeutic Passages: Mid-Life and Beyond” which discusses the writing of my book, “Love and Loss.”

Listen to my appearance on NPR's Topical Currents: Love & Loss: Suddenly Solo.

Here's an earlier interview with radio host Joyce Kaufman also about my book, Love and Loss.

 

A Q&A with Author Linda Sherby

It's unusual for a psychologist to describe experiences from their chair. What inspired you to do so?

First let me say that it is becoming more common for therapists, including psychoanalysts, to write about their subjective experience of working with patients. We call that countertransference, the therapist's response to the patient, and we take our subjective responses as giving us important information about the patient.

Having said that, however, I would say that it is far more unusual for a therapist to reveal either to her patients or to the world as much person information as I have done in Love and Loss and I recognize that I may have made my future life as an analyst far more difficult. Some patients may come into treatment knowing much more about me than is customary and that will certainly change the dynamic between us. I also know that some people in the field will condemn me for revealing as much as I have, but this book served more than one purpose for me. Yes, it was important for me to demonstrate how a therapist's present life circumstances affects the therapeutic relationship because I do believe that particular aspect of the patient/therapist interaction has been largely ignored. But the other purpose of this book was to memorialize my husband and what I thought and still think was the unique relationship between us and there was no way I could do that without talking about him and about myself.

How did the book affect how you think about your patients? How have they responded?

I am far more comfortable sharing information about myself with patients if, and this is a big if, they want to know. Some patients have no interest in knowing anything about me and or definitely want me to remain the neutral therapist, and that is perfectly fine with me. Just today, one patient, after discovering my profile on Linked-in, told me that she didn't think she'd want to read my book because she would then see us more like two equals, as opposed to her still seeing me and wanting to see me as her mother. Another patient can't wait to read my book. She wants to know as much about me as possible because she wants to "take me down a peg," which she's sure reading my book will do. Both of these reactions have meaning in terms of who these patients are and, of course, both positions have to be looked at and understood.

How did writing the book shape your grieving process? What do you think your husband would think of it?

Of the many, many, many sadnesses I have about George's death, his not being able to read this book is one of them. George was always my biggest champion, my biggest fan, and tremendously supportive of my professional life, including my writing, so I know he would have loved the book. He was also a very open person, so I know that he wouldn't be at all troubled about what I reveal about him and us in the book. And because George will obviously not be able to read the book, perhaps more than any other readers, I look forward to George's children and grandchildren reading the book, as surrogates for George himself.

As far as my grieving process, my thought prior to writing the book was that it would be both a way to hold onto George, as well as a way to move beyond my grief and to some extent I would say that has happened. But grief is a very complicated process and I can never tell when I will again be engulfed by it, perhaps for briefer periods for time, but mourning is not really a process that is ever over. So, for example, when you asked me how George would react to my book, that immediately brought tears to my eyes. And that's all right. George will always be with me. The book is another way for me to hold George with me, but he is always with me in my mind.

What writers inspire you?

Let me start by answering that question from the negative point of view. There is so much written in my field that is dry and boring and uninteresting and I knew that was not the kind of book I wanted to write. On the positive side, one book that comes immediately to mind which I read while I was in graduate school - not as part of the curriculum - was actually a novel, although everyone knew it was autobiographical, which was Joanne Greenberg's I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a seriously disturbed schizophrenic girl. Her analyst was very well known, Frieda Fromm Reichmann, although she's not named as such in the book. Later, Irving Yalom, wrote engaging books, sometimes fiction, sometimes actual clinical cases, that captured my interest. And in terms of a contemporary analyst, I would say Philip Bromberg writes beautifully about the clinical experience and the interaction and relationship between patient and therapist.

In terms of notable memoirs, especially ones related to grief, I'd mention C.S. Lewis', A Grief Observed; Not Dying by F. Robert Rodman; Anne Roiphe's Epilogue; and Joyce Carol Oates' A Widow's Story. And truthfully, what I most love to read are novels. And I probably have more "favorites" than I could even think of - Nicole Krauss, Ann Patchett, Toni Morrison, Carol Shields, and my relatively new find Julian Barnes' The Sense of an Ending.

Whom do you see as the audience for LOVE AND LOSS?

I hope I don't sound too conceited when I say this, but I don't think there's anyone who couldn't take something away from Love and Loss. Having said that, I do feel that different audiences would take away different things. I think the general audience could read a love story between two very different people, who forged a unique bond and dealt with both the joys and adversities that life inevitability brings along. I think they could see the importance of allowing yourself to love fully and completely and to learn that you can deal with loss, however painful that might be. Everyone deals with loss in their lives and seeing how people cope with loss can be extremely helpful. I think a general audience would also get a unique perspective on what it's like to be a therapist - what a therapist thinks and feels as she both lives her life and works intensively with her patients. Love and Loss certainly dispels the notion of an objective, non-feeling therapist and I think that's a myth worth dispelling.

I also think this could be an invaluable book for professionals in all the mental health fields, which includes students in those fields, as well as those who deal with death and dying. Love and Loss is a very hands-on book. I present a great deal of clinical material and I'm always reflecting on my own thoughts and feelings as I interact with patients. I think it could help students learn how to be better therapists, as well as freeing them from the notion that they have to be more than human. And although there certainly may be those in my field who will object to my approach in one or perhaps all of my cases, I have given them enough material with which to argue and I think I have also made clear how human we all are and how our present life circumstances can't help but affect our work.


Reprinted below is the foreward written by Donnel B. Stern, Ph.D., training and supervising analyst at the William Alanson White Institute in New York City and adjunct clinical professor and supervisor at New York University Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. He is one of the luminaries in the field of Relational Analysis and himself the author of two books, two edited books and over seventy-five articles.

Foreward for Love and Loss by Linda Sherby
By Donnel B. Stern

I have often thought about writing a book that portrays life as a psychoanalyst. I mean really portrays it - an affectively alive book that lets readers know what it’s like to live a life at the same time that you’re doing treatment every day. How the life influences the work and the work influences the life. I have thought of writing a novel (who knows, maybe I still will) and I have thought of writing a memoir. Well, I don’t have to worry about the memoir anymore, because Linda Sherby has written it, and she has done it in a way that I hope and believe will draw readers from inside psychoanalysis and outside it. It is easy to imagine this book crossing the ordinary barriers that separate professional books from books of general interest. In fact, if there is any justice in this world, it will cross those barriers. It is the one psychoanalytic book I have read that deserves to become widely popular. More than that, it is the one psychoanalytic book that I have read that really would be fascinating to people who are not themselves psychotherapists. Once you’ve read it, see if you don’t agree; anyone who is a reader will find this book hard to put down. And yes, I do know how unexpected it is to say that about a book in a series written for psychoanalysts.

The problem anyone trying to write a memoir about being a psychoanalyst faces is the integration of the life and the work. In fact, I think that’s probably the problem for anyone trying to write a book about what life as any particular kind of worker is like. Has it ever occurred to you how rare it is to read a book about the nature of work? We have many books about love. But there are so few about work. Work can seem to pale when set against the passion of life, so that as soon as you start to describe the life, the work takes a back seat.

Oh, there are certain seeming exceptions: actors and actresses, rock stars and other prominent musicians, famous painters, dancers and so on. A few creative geniuses in business, government, and academics. But think about it. When you read those books, it’s the rare exception for the focus to be on the work. It’s the work that brings to attention the subject of the biography or autobiography, but it’s the life, lovers, and friends of that person that is the stuff of the book.

And that’s what’s so unusual here. Linda Sherby is hardly a celebrity. That’s not why her life interests us. She is an everyday person. Well, sort of. An everyday person who can write like the wind. One of my favorite novels happens to be Laurens Van Der Post’s A Story Like the Wind, which concerns the lives of the Bushmen of Africa. Love and Loss, despite having nothing to do with the Bushmen, is a story like the wind. It grabs you in a way that you’re not used to being grabbed by anything in the psychoanalytic literature. Unless some other duty calls, if you are a psychotherapist you are not likely to put this book down until it ends. And if you’re not a psychotherapist - well, you’re not likely to put it down, either. It is that gripping.

How did Linda Sherby do this? Why has she been able to write something so thoroughly compelling? I think I know why she could do it, and why I didn’t. The reason I couldn’t figure out how to do it myself was that I didn’t have a particular theme relating the life and the work. Linda does. With enormous generosity of spirit, she has allowed us to know everything she can think to tell us about her life with her husband, George, whose illness and eventual death is the thread along which the pearls of her narrative are strung. As Linda works with her patients, we understand how it is for her; we feel what it is like for her to live her life, to love and lose George. It’s indelible. Linda gives it to us straight and to the heart. All of us have been there, even if we have never lost a spouse. We have lived with heartache while we continued to want to help other people with everything we had. But never has anyone come back from a place like that with a narrative that braids the life and the work together as Linda has done here. That’s what’s unique about Love and Loss. That’s why Linda could do it when I, and no doubt many others, could not manage it. She has been willing to supply the thread of life along which the pearls of work could make a necklace.

I have every confidence that George was as committed to this book as Linda herself has been. The book was, and is, an act of courage for both of them, and it came at no little sacrifice. It would have been easier not to write. It is a memorial to George, and to Linda’s devotion to George, and it is a gift to its readers.

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