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Book review: The Other Couch

other-couch-book-coverEditor’s note: In this blog post, Sister Barbara Sheehan reviews the book “The Other Couch: Discovering Women’s Wisdom in Therapy.” One of the book’s authors, Patricia Peters Martin, was taught by the Sisters of Providence at Immaculate Heart of Mary Elementary School and the former Ladywood High School, both in Indianapolis.

“The Other Couch: Discovering Women’s Wisdom in Therapy” by Patricia Peters Martin, Ph.D. and Helene DeMontreux Houston, M.S., APRN is a fascinating and intriguing book. It is a book that envelopes hope and gives information about the realities women faced and brought to therapy. It puts flesh on the “two-way path” of client and therapist being affected.

The book is set up as 24 brief chapters. Each is a synopsis of a woman’s story and her healing/liberation through her work and relationship with one of the two authors. These are familiar story themes to me in my role as a spiritual director, clinical pastoral education (CPE) supervisor and a former behavioral health chaplain. The themes enacted in the women’s lives are grouped in five major divisions: relationships, stories of survival, stories of loss, having children and serious illness.

Some of the life stories break my heart. Others make me shake my head in amazement at the resilience and inner quest to grow through life’s realities. Each woman’s story is recounted by the therapist with care, with a palpable compassion for and with the woman. From my perspective, the quest and the dynamic connection is the God of Providence. The God of All Possibilities, acting and creating with and within each woman, both client and therapist.

The book’s chapter endings provide more information about the specific issue or concerns of the woman whose account was narrated. For example, data on alcoholism, panic disorder and agoraphobia, types of depression, suicidal ideations, medications, sexual abuse hotlines and parental responses and much more. These offered clear and helpful information to me as the reader. This information in itself lent hope by helping me to be more accurately informed.

An exceptional part of this book is its showing of mutuality of relationship between client and patient. My practice as a CPE Supervisor is grounded primarily in theories of relationality and cultural awareness. Both parties are impacted and affected. CPE clinical supervision, therapy and the practice of ministry occurs in the intersubjective relational space of the persons involved. Thus, the use of self is intentional and a key component in building trusting and empathic connections for liberation and healing.

The authors are in this book. They share their inner and affective responses with the reader and demonstrate clearly how the one in a position of “authority” (therapist, supervisor) authors the potential for healing. They offer it through their being with and not emotionally disconnected from. A poem shared at the end of Chapter 6 encompasses this dynamic in the authors’ practice: “there is a web of women tenderly enclosing the world… the web encircles intention held to help, to heal, to comfort.”

I began reading this book after being on a symposium panel. The topic was “use of self.” I was with two psychotherapists and one of their clients who is also a clinical pastoral supervisee of mine moving toward certification as an ACPE supervisor. I was invited because the psychotherapist had been “converted” to pastoral supervision as “exceptionally valuable” in his client’s healing. (Our program, Urban CPE, is unique in its formation of caring persons whose compassion includes the spiritual, social and systemic issues effecting in a person’s and/or group’s life. Its participants’ experiences are with the poor and marginalized.)

My one critique of this book (and I may be biased) is that I would have liked to have heard more about the women’s spirituality and its help and/or hindrance in their struggles. Also, in what ways might the authors resource others in their caring practice? This is an invitation to add their sequel to this fine book! Thanks, Patricia and Helene!

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Sister Barbara Sheehan

Sister Barbara Sheehan, SP, a Sister of Providence since 1960, lives in Chicago and ministers as Executive Director/ACPE Supervisor of the Urban Clinical Pastoral Education Consortium, Inc. and as a spiritual director. She has extensive training not only in clinical pastoral supervision but also in care with those sexually abused, those challenged with mental illness and those suffering trauma. She has offered many workshops at regional, national and international conferences, is the author of Partner in Covenant: The Art of Spiritual Companionship and of numerous articles including one of her latest, Formation For Professional Practice: Addressing Social Hurts" in Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry, Vol. 34 2014.

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  1. Cathy Campbell,SP on April 9, 2016 at 2:06 pm

    Sounds like a fascinating book, Barbara. Thanks for sharing your insights with us. Look forward to seeing you this summer. Peace and blessings.

  2. Carol Nolan on April 9, 2016 at 2:29 pm

    Thanks very much, Barbara! A recommendation from you is high recommendation indeed! Thanks for passing this on.

  3. Patricia Peters Martin on April 11, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Helene and I are very grateful for your informative and extensive review of our book, “The Other Couch: Discovering Women’s Wisdom in Therapy.” I believe my calling to become a clinical psychologist came from my 12 years of education with the Sisters of Providence during my growing up years in Indianapolis, Indiana. I am eternally grateful for such a comprehensive education which always encouraged giving back and being mindful of living a life that is grounded in faith and focuses on holistic well being. Thank you for your wonderful review, Barbara!

  4. Paula Modaff, S.P. on April 12, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    Barbara, your excellent review moves me to want to read this book for my own personal growth and for persons whom God brings into my life in spiritual companioning. Thank you for your thoughtful insights. gratefully, Paula

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