Review: The Gossamer Thread, John Marzillier
Posted Friday 5 August 2011
Guest post from Zoe, reviewing John Marzillier's memoir, 'The Gossamer Thread: My Life as a Psychotherapist', shortlisted for this year's Mind Book of the Year award
I began this book as I began my own therapy journey: avoidant, determined not to engage, and fearful of what I may discover.
I had a fascination with the subject matter of the thoughts and experiences of a psychotherapist — along with an apprehension at the possibility I may discover things about myself, both as a person and therapy patient, that I’d really rather not know.
I set out to dislike John Marzillier and managed to maintain my dislike until around page 90 of 'The Gossamer Thread'. I initially found his writing arrogant and condescending, though I appreciated that he appeared to have a fleeting recognition of his own arrogance at times. I grabbed every shred of evidence I could that I did not like Marzillier – not least his alignment with the theories of Aaron T Beck and his use of cognitive therapy, later known as cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT.
I have had some experience of CBT. Marzillier, in espousing his own practice, actually sums up my experience of the therapy rather well:We focussed on how easily these thoughts came into her head…
I pointed out how irrational and extreme they were.
Having had my own irrationality and extreme reactions pointed out to me during much-hated CBT sessions, Marzillier's early belief that CBT was a magic wand to cure all mental ills irked me greatly. I was concerned that this book was going to serve as further evidence for the health services in the UK that the continued promotion of CBT as the answer to all mental illnesses that cannot be satisfactorily relieved by drugs alone is one that is worthy of congratulation.
Much like a patient in therapy, Marzillier gains insight and makes changes through the course of the book. By page 133 he likens his growing curiosity about psychoanalysis to doing something slightly perverted... like looking at pornography or admiring Margaret Thatcher.
I was ready to be his new best friend. I am very glad I continued reading.
Reading on, I rapidly warmed to Marzillier and felt I was joining him on a voyage of discovery. I see a lot of myself mirrored in Marzillier's words and arrogance, indecision, dissatisfaction, self-deprecation, vulnerability, curiosity, non-conformity, verbosity, narcissism, lack of identity, excitement, desire to care for others and craving for external validation. All of these things Marzillier himself displays throughout the book, and all of them resonated with me.
It is not so much the discussion of individual patients that made me reflect on myself and my own experiences of therapy, as the experiences of the author himself. I wonder if Marzillier is aware of the projection seemingly at play when he is discussing Matthew — and then I wonder if it is all my own projection. I see a lot of myself as a person and a patient in this book.
I read 'The Gossamer Thread' feeling a mixture of excitement and pride as the author moves from a cognitive approach to a psychoanalytic approach to treat his patients. I suspect this is a reflection of my own desire for the path I would like my own therapy to take.
For me there is an emptiness when the book ends. Marzillier appears dissatisfied, though he does not demonstrate any sense of loss — after all, he’s the therapist: he is good at endings.
Read Zoe's blog, Mental Political Parent
Find out more about the Mind Book of the Year Award
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