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Book Review: The Examined Life by Stephen Grosz

One of my friends thought it might be a good idea to do some self-help book reviews of what might be useful but also what may be not so good. So my first choice is something I read early last year which I enjoyed. Keep reading to find out what I liked about it.

Stephen Grosz is a psychoanalyst and psychotherapist who lives and works in London. He has a wealth of experience in talking to and helping thousands of people over a thirty year career in private practice as well as working in clinics, hospitals and child and adolescent units. This book is a distillation of that work.

The Examined Life How We Lose and Find Ourselves, to give its full title, is a series of vignettes of everyday lives. These stories are grouped together under various simple categories: ‘loving’, ‘changing’, ‘telling lies’ and the like, which help give a cohesion to the messages in each story. Some sections have quite a lot in them and some not so much, the closing section – ‘leaving’ only has three stories whereas other sections have many more. Each vignette is no more than a few pages long and so you may find yourself reading most of the book in a short amount of time. Each person is presented with curiosity and compassion, and as their stories are revealed Stephen presents interpretation of what each person’s behaviour reveals about them or how their deeper understanding or insight has helped them accept the issue at hand. What is so good about each vignette is that Stephen manages to bring to light things that are universal but within each client’s unique context. What is striking is the writer’s voice; I really get a sense of what it might be like to sit and talk to him and what he might be like as a therapist. He does talk about his work and experience in the foreword but in presenting the stories of his patients he conveys a great deal of warmth and compassion.

I have read this book through once but have also come back to it several times to dip in and out. I found some of it to be very moving because I began to recognise myself, or people who I cared about or who I’d lost, in the people whose stories are being revealed. I think most people will find something useful or thought provoking in this book. While it’s not strictly a self-help book because it won’t give you a strategy to improve yourself or tips on how to live with a narcissist, it does reveal what it might be like to experience a therapeutic relationship and also what might be revealed or discovered in therapy and how you might process or integrate that information about yourself which was previously unknown. I would definitely recommend you track down a copy and read it.

You can find it at Abebooks or on Amazon.

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