[Written in March, 2013.]
I wrote my Frieda Fromm-Reichmann essay back in the Fall of 2005. Since then it’s had quite a profound effect on my life. For starters, I wrote it before I’d ever met anyone who had met or even knew anything about Frieda Fromm-Reichmann. I was working as a private practice therapist back at that time. I was fascinated with the subject of psychosis, and particularly full recovery from psychosis without psychiatric drugs. But I hadn’t read much on the subject, because I didn’t realize there was much of a literature on the subject to read. Instead mostly I explored it through work with my therapy clients, many of whom had been labeled with psychosis, carrying diagnoses like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder and bipolar 1 and psychotic depression. Some took meds, and some didn’t.
I had, however, read Joanne Greenberg’s book “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden” — the story of her full recovery from schizophrenia without psych drugs — when I was a teenager, and it affected me deeply, because it told me what I somehow already knew: that people in the extreme states known as psychosis could recover fully. Well, the story with this essay, and how it affected my life, is that I wrote it, but had no one to share it with, and because of the intense amount of work I put into it I wanted more people than just my web readers, most of whom, in 2005, were not that interested in this subject matter, to read it. I wanted therapists to read it. But I didn’t know any who might be interested.
So I started combing through the reference section of the book about which I wrote the essay — Gail Hornstein’s biography of Frieda Fromm-Reichmann (Fromm-Reichmann being the therapist of Joanne Greenberg) — and I found a reference to someone named Ann-Louise Silver, a psychiatrist in Maryland. Ann-Louise, as it turns out, is the mother of an old college friend of mine. So I reached out to her, through my friend, and asked if she’d read this essay. She said she would, so I printed it out and snail-mailed it to her. I pretty much expected she’d respond like most people in the mental health system responded to most of the things I wrote or said: complete rejection. But…it didn’t turn out that way. As it turned out, she was blown away by it — and felt it was incredibly unique.
She insisted that the following weekend I come up to Boston (from New York City, where I was living) to attend a conference of a group called ISPS-US — a professional group all about psychosis and schizophrenia. I was not interested. After all, all my experiences with professional mental health groups, up to that point, were horrible. I always felt left out, ignored, and rejected. And I’d never been to a conference — much less paid for one. Why pay to torture myself? Thank you, no! I did my work in private, in isolation, and I was fine with that! But…Ann-Louise Silver said one thing that prompted me to buy a bus ticket to Boston, purchase an expensive conference ticket, and find a couch-surfing friend up there in Beantown. The thing she said: Joanne Greenberg would be at the conference. Huh? I didn’t even realize Ms. Greenberg was still alive. Well, she was…
So I went up to Boston, went to the conference, met Joanne Greenberg, hit it off with her amazingly, and started a whole new phase of my life! Joanne ended up reading this essay, disliked it intensely at first (because it rather severely criticized her therapist, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann, the woman she credits with saving her life) but eventually came around and decided she really respected the essay and said she learned some important things from it. We became friends after that. But that was just the start. So many other doors were opened by this essay, which was also published (in three parts) by ISPS-US in their newsletter. Through this essay I got the opportunity to co-edit and co-write my first peer-reviewed and published book. Through this essay I came to make my first movie (which starred Joanne Greenberg and was partially about Frieda Fromm-Reichmann).
And ultimately I got to meet and become friends with Gail Hornstein, Frieda Fromm-Reichmann’s biographer. I wrote this essay as a pretty tough critique of Gail’s book. To Gail’s credit she took it in stride! I actually love Gail’s work, and have a great deal of respect for her. I wrote (and had professionally published) a review of her next book, Agnes’s Jacket, and I’ve been up to speak to her psychology class at Mount Holyoke College, where she’s a professor. She also wrote a lovely blurb for the front cover of one of my books. And what’s amazing to me is that when I wrote this essay I really never expected anyone, much less Gail Hornstein and Joanne Greenberg, to read it. But, such is life!! Basically, writing this essay changed my life — in that it opened up a whole new door in my career. So…here it is!
P.S. One final note. Some of the language I use in this essay is presently (as of 2013) too rough and ugly for my taste. And I’m not talking curse words. I’m instead talking medicalized words, words like “schizophrenics” and “mental illness” and the like, words which give an incorrect impression about extreme psychological states. I hate those words now, and avoid them. But, I didn’t understand the significance of them back then. I was too underexposed… Ah!