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Book Forum: Psychotherapy   |    
Group: Six People in Search of a Life
JOSEPH DELVEY, JR., PH.D.
Am J Psychiatry 2000;157:1030-1031. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.157.6.1030
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Philadelphia, Pa.

By Paul Solotaroff. New York, Riverhead Books (Putnam), 1999, 352 pp., $24.95.

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This is a real-life account of the personal struggles of six diverse, savvy, and spirited adults who are patients in a psychotherapy group in New York City. It captures the unique drama of this form of therapy, doing so in a way that will appeal to a broad audience, although I think members of the professional community will be especially interested in it. I couldn’t put the book down once I started it. My enthusiasm was shared by four of my colleagues in clinical practice, who were so engrossed that each finished reading it in less than a week!

The author, Paul Solotaroff, is a journalist by trade and former patient of a pseudonymous "Dr. Lathon," a psychiatrist in private practice. Solotaroff suffered from a panic disorder throughout his adult life and did not feel significantly helped by the psychotherapy he received from several therapists. He credits Dr. Lathon with giving him a correct diagnosis, treating him with effective pharmacotherapy, and transforming his life through group psychotherapy. After termination of therapy, Solotaroff was so moved by his experience that he proposed to write a nonfiction account of one of Dr. Lathon’s upcoming therapy groups. The psychiatrist approved the idea, obtained cooperation from prospective patients, and allowed the author to join a new group as an observer. The ensuing group had eight members—six patients, Dr. Lathon, and the author—and met every other week for 1 year.

Solotaroff somehow succeeds in creating a comprehensible tale from a wealth of information collected from audiotapes and his handwritten notes. He breathes life into his story through the use of crisp descriptions, humorous commentary, and a discerning use of dialogue taken directly from the group’s interactions. The story he tells is by no means sanitized but honest, raw, and real, and the group process is described with all its messiness and unpredictability. It rings true to anyone who has had experience in a therapy group either as a patient or a practitioner.

This would make a terrific companion book to the main text of a residency or graduate seminar—not only on the topic of group psychotherapy but also on individual psychotherapy as well. Patient selection, therapeutic frame and boundaries, transference and countertransference, resistance and interpretation, competition and aggression, the uses of empathy and humor—each of these issues is easily identified. Theory and technique in the practice of group therapy continue to develop, and Lathon demonstrates how it is possible for the prepared clinician to develop a unique model of treatment and apply it thoughtfully and responsibly. Finally, the book makes us consider the crucial issue of the therapist’s mental health and the challenge of identifying and treating our wounded healers before they harm themselves or others.

Solotaroff, Dr. Lathon, and the six group members have given us a special gift by allowing this book to be written. Lay readers will find their consciousness raised about the power of talking therapy in the current climate, where selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors have become an expected means of treating emotional ills. Psychotherapy’s evolving narrative is deepened by this work, and we need others like it.

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