Almost the last of my nine NetGalley books published in May (I’m currently reading “The Ponies at the Edge of the World” and I have not managed to finish all the Love Heart Lane series so haven’t got to “The New Doctor at Peony Practice” yet; I DNF’d “Why We Read” and I’m pleased I’ve done so well (let’s not mention the four NetGalley wins I’ve just had, right …). A really interesting read about psychoanalysis in practice that started a little underwhelmingly but hooked me in.

Susanna Abse – “Tell me the Truth about Love: 13 Tales from the Therapist’s Couch”

(19 Mar 2022, NetGalley)

Abse is a long-standing psychotherapist, dealing with couples and families. In the introduction, she explains that each chapter tells a story about problems and behavioural patterns she’s seen in her practice over and over again, but that for reasons of confidentiality, none of them are about a specific patient or patients. Because of this, I thought they were going to be cold or unbelievable; actually the composite portraits she provides feel authentic and real, and I could feel invested in the process and outcomes.

The types of conflict range over misunderstandings, mismatches, arguments, affairs and decisions. I was pleased (and my friend Thomas will be, too) that one of the twelve chapters was about the love lost from a friendship, rather than a romantic relationship – such an important part of so many people’s lives. Abse’s thesis, and I find this valid, is that our romantic relationships are modelled on our early family relationships, unconsciously of course, and that this is what can scupper or promote healthy relationships. A lot of her work involves unpicking this and helping people to be more aware, and then to alter their behaviours if they have to / want to. There’s fascinating detail about transference and other psychotherapeutic concepts; there is very little jargon and it’s all explained very well.

I also appreciated the insights into the therapist’s work itself, both with couples and with her own peers and internal work. She is honest about how when she was a new, young therapist she wanted to sort out the whole world, and about how she reacts to people and has to sometimes fight to remain fair and impartial. She shares her mistakes and frustrations. This extends to sections written about the lockdown, when she first caught Covid and then had to adjust to working remotely via Zoom, sharing interesting details about how it was harder to stop warring couples fight when everyone was on a screen.

At the end, she both issues a call for people / the NHS to accept the need for long-term psychotherapy for some people rather than the reliance on the “quick fix” of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which can help some but not everyone (she does acknowledge this is a funding issue, too). She also acknowledges that the reader may feel frustrated, not knowing “what happened next”, and shares that she, too, feels that, as she rarely gets any news past the last session in her consulting room.

An honest and open, and also fascinating, read – push on past the worry these are “fairy tales” and inauthentic to see that she uses some metaphors and fairy tale chapter titles to explore real people and feelings. You might find something useful in here, too – I know I did.

Thank you to Ebury Press for selecting me to read this book in exchange for an honest review. “Tell me the Truth about Love” was published on 19 May 2022.