Dan Sandman

37: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

In Books, Non-Fiction, Psychology / Philosophy on 13/09/2013 at 12:00 pm

The Examined Life by Stephen GroszAt the start of the week, I begun listening. Whilst playing the piano, whilst drinking a cup of tea, whilst swivelling on my blue office chair; the reassuringly deep sound of Radio 4’s Peter Marinker read to me. His voice was coming from the speakers and telling stories without printed text. The experience was going well but there was something missing. Why did I miss being in control of the words? Later in the week, my mother found a hardback and I was able to explore this question.

The thing is, reading is a conversation; an interaction between writer and reader. As we read, thoughts might pop into our head and take us away. It is possible to read sentences and not take them in. Listening is like this too. We all experience times when we are unable to listen because our mind is on other things. As readers, with physical pages to turn, we can easily skip back if we missed something; as listeners, usually without a rewind button, whole passages can be lost to our wandering minds.

When my mother gave me the book to accompany the audiobook, I was able to experience both medians simultaneously. This was strange because it made me feel self-concious about the speed of my own reading. There was Marinker, plodding through with his slowly intelligent baritone; here was my soft tenor attempting to harmonise at a slightly faster pace. His backing track ploughed on as my inner voice became crushed. The experienced and rehearsed radio presenter’s soothing tone was winning. I decided to return to compartmentalising – either read or listen.

One job of the psychoanalyst is to listen. The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz is about how the process of psychoanalysis can help patients to come to terms with mental health problems. Through his condensed reasoning of over 50,000 hours of consultation, Grosz successfully explores the concious and unconscious human psyche.

These short stories are about real people with real problems: a man diagnosed with HIV; a child suffering from violent outbursts; a woman in denial about her husband’s adultery. Each case is treated with delicacy and written about with concise elegance. Grosz expertly helps his patients to discover what truly motivates them to act in often bewildering ways. This series of true tales has a personal touch which is both sincere and stylistically succinct.

Recommended reading.

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