21 Jun

What it feels like to be me: Jenny Salaman Manson (ed), Reviewed by Kate Thompson in Therapy Today, June 2011

This is a fascinating collection of personal essays which loosely address the title: The question posed here is different from one of the fundamental questions posed in therapy: what does it feel like to be you?’ Through introspection and reflection the contributors come up with highly individual responses. Salaman Manson has done a good job as editor. As editor of two collections of personal essays myself, I know that the challenge is to allow such a variety of voices to remain individual yet form a cohesive single volume. In this she has succeeded.

The variety of voices includes some who are ‘good’ or even well-known writers (Danny Abse) and others who ‘write as they speak’. Contributors come from different life stages and experiences. There is an intriguing mixture of professional authority (foreword by polymath Jonathan Miller, epilogues by scientist Horace Barlow and psychologist Liz Macrae Shaw) and personal accounts. Perhaps unusually in an apparently random collection like this, more than half the contributors are men. Several of them measure their experience of self against some idea of masculine identity from which they see themselves diverging. Female contributors sometimes see themselves as different from the suggested male norm.

The book raises tantalising questions. As a reader I wanted to know more about the individual stories, and about the individuals themselves. It would have been useful to include brief factual biographies to lend external context to the introspection. As a researcher I wanted to know more about the prompts and questions (the ‘minimal structure’ mentioned in the preface) used to elicit these stories and selection of contributors. As a counsellor I would have liked to develop some of the themes further. (Stephen offers a nice distinction when he talks of his suicidal ideation: ‘When I felt this way, briefly, it was merely the workings of a mind scanning for the nearest exit rather than the detailed scheming of the truly defeated.’)

As a journal therapist I wanted to know what the effect of writing these pieces had been on the authors, several of whom do indeed suggest that it was ‘therapeutic’ and often hard or disturbing. These are perhaps all questions to be addressed in the future and I hope we will see more of this kind of work.

Kate Thompson is a faculty member of the Therapeutic Writing Institute and author of Therapeutic Journal Writing: An Introduction for Professionals.

To find out more about the author and book, and to read interviews with new characters, please visit www.whatitfeelsliketobeme.com