Assigned Reading

My current therapist-assigned reading

by Carl Bettis

in Me

An abstract black-and-white drawing which suggests perhaps a person in, or a person who is, a box

I've started seeing a new therapist. She thinks I need to be more in touch with my body (I have a body?) but she thought, perspicaciously, that bibliotherapy would be a good starting point for me. She recommended a couple of books.

The book I started with is Alice Miller's The Body Never Lies. I'm not a mental health professional, and I'm only about halfway through it, but... I have reservations.

To begin with, there's no index. In a nonfiction book, that's a yellow flag. There are endnotes, mostly citations, often referencing articles or books by Alice Miller.

One of the points Miller makes in this book is that childhood emotional trauma can cause physical illness in adulthood. I believe that. In support of this idea, she briefly sketches the lives and medical history of a few prominent writers, including some of my favorites. But did bad parenting really cause Dostoevsky's epilepsy, Rimbaud's cancer, or Chekhov's tuberculosis? I doubt it. In fact, Miller seems to blame sick people for their illness. If only Kafka had confronted his father, he wouldn't have died young! (She literally says that if Kafka had mailed his famous letter directly to his father, "it might have saved his life.")

Miller appears to have a reductionist view of art: the works of these and other writers of genius are only manifestations of their psychological problems. In this, the book reminds me of the silly Freudian literary criticism that was popular in the 1970s.

I won't say The Body Never Lies has been a worthless read so far. It has prompted me to recall, and emotionally engage with, some childhood memories. That's been valuable.

But I remain skeptical of major parts of the book.