About the book

1. What is left out of most treatment accounts by psychotherapists is who the doctor is and why he does what he does–especially as relates to his own mental dynamics and history. It is his linking of his work and background and personal psychology that makes this book so engaging and so hard-hitting.

2. This book is a memoir of a boy growing up in a ghetto under hard-to-imagine poverty. Dr. Obler gives a tough, unflinching account of growing up in an impoverished Jewish enclave in Brooklyn at the end of the Great Depression.

3. But Dr. Obler goes beyond just describing the terrible conditions of violence and poverty during and after the Depression; he also focuses on the insanity of his family, the disintegration of his parents’ arranged marriage, and the evolution of his survival skills, which he later on makes use of with severely neurotic and psychotic patients.

4. Some of the exciting and unusual stories that are in the first section of the book include his life as a gang leader; an attempted lynching by people in the neighborhood of a homosexual gang member; the murder of a friend’s mother by the father with an ice pick; and the gang setting up a pornography business in the public schools.

5. His shame and humiliation at the craziness and dire poverty of his family shapes the rest of Obler’s life. His response to the chaotic conditions of his childhood world lead him to be a powerful, dominating, controlling person; and they also lead him to be a fearful, anxiety-ridden, and self-protective person. This dichotomy continues for the rest of his life and he uses it effectively as a therapist but suffers from it in his personal life.

6. The book is an exhaustive inquiry into the mind and emotions of a therapist; it operates with the intensity and story-telling of a novel. A lot of this is due to the gripping quality of much of the life that Obler leads and his superb memory for dialogue and events that took place long ago. Many novelists would envy this ability of his to bring up his historical record exactly as it occurred.

7. The book is, in part, a memoir of Obler’s early and later life; it, however, takes off from there, and he describes his struggles and battles as a professional. He interweaves his own personal pathology with his work with patients. He further includes details of his own personal analysis, details of an analysis of him by other professionals and his best friend and colleague. We do not know of any other commercial work by a psychotherapist which provides anything like the depth of self-examination and self-confession present in this book.

8. Shrink is a culmination of Obler’s extensive work as a psychotherapist and educator. It contains his most innovative and individual treatment methods for highly-resistant psychological problems and his own personal psychological evolution and maturity. And it takes us, as it were, behind the scenes of some of his major accomplishments over the years, such as: his development of new techniques in treating sexual dysfunction, along the lines of Masters and Johnson; his numerous published articles in professional journals; and his foray into mainstream popular psychology, with his two books, Moira, an account of his treatment of a policewoman suffering from multiple personality disorder and Fatal Analysis, an account of his treatment of a serial killer.

9. Moira and Fatal Analysis bring Obler to the attention of the popular media; this results in numerous TV appearances, including a fierce debate with O’Reilly on Fox News, and ‘expert opinion’ spots on the Geraldo Rivera show. He participates in over fifty radio interviews and his work is debated in newspaper articles and on the internet. Moira leads to a movie contract with a film studio subsidiary of Time-Warner Corporation.

10. In the case studies part of the book, it becomes apparent that Obler is a hugely effective psychotherapist and has multiple talents to bring to his work. Often he is challenging and confrontational, at times controversial, in his therapeutic approach; but the reader never has any doubt as to his being a masterful psychotherapist. The interchanges between him and his patients are lively and dramatic…and part of this is effected by his strong encouragement of his patients to speak up and do combat with him. His patients love him, partly because he is hugely entertaining and humorous and self-mocking. And if nothing else, Obler’s sessions are wonderful theater–dramatic, funny, intense, and unpredictable.

11. There are three strands in the book, which in one way or another deal with Obler’s personality and psychology, that place it in a very unique position in the popular or academic literature. The first has to do with the poverty and craziness of his childhood and how this has affected everything in his life; the second has to do with the unorthodox way he works with his patients and the rebellious and defiant approach that typify much of his response to the professional institutions of psychology; and the third has to do with his conducting a rigorously honest and truthful self-analysis, which at times is far from flattering; and inseparable from this is an analysis of him by his best friend; his personal analyst; and his supervisory analyst.

12. But, in referring to this third strand, and the intertwining of all three, let it be noted that no one, no one, no one has ever done anything like this before, no therapist has ever put himself out on a limb like this. Nor is this lost on even the most untutored (in the field of psychology) reader. In this sense, the book–or perhaps it might be said, Obler–is a Juggernaut!

13. Part of the readability of the book is its inclusion of lively incident and detail. Situations that fit into this category are Obler’s aggressive stance at the trade high school he unhappily is forced to attend; his conflict at the Israeli Kibbutz he joins, leading to his being forcibly escorted off the premises; and his disastrous attempt to make progressive inroads at the Wilson School for Boys, where he has an early job as a therapist. But there are many such instances of lively incidents and details in the book, through which the reader develops a fondness and sense of connective links to Obler. In fact, Obler seems to be perennially embattled, almost like Henderson in Saul Bellow’s novel Henderson the Rain King.

With one of my borderline bipolar patients, I kept him out of repeated hospitalizations by arranging a marriage for him and taking control of various aspects of his life.

Do what works!

But I also made sure I knew Freudian theory and could apply it intuitively to my patients’ inner world. I was very successful. In addition to my career as a psychotherapist, I taught psychology at Brooklyn College.
 

However, my success, perhaps even my entire pragmatic approach to life was at the expense of my inner life. Therefore, in my memoir I do a large amount of self-analysis and don’t hold back from the reader my psychological weakness and armor.

My work with patients and my work on myself is very educational for the layman reader. I think the reader will come away puzzled at how such a neurotic guy can be such a good therapist. But, in following my work in clinical psychology with patients and myself the reader will come to understand a lot about how clinical psychology works. And surmise, correctly, I am not the only shrink out there with fairly heavy-duty mental problems. No matter the training, self-analysis is part of various schools of psychotherapy. The reader will end up knowing me all too well. And I have ended up knowing myself more than I thought possible. In the last chapter I do a self-analysis by playing the dual roles of patient and therapist… in trying to answer the question, If you were your own analyst, how would you engage yourself as patient?

This is my memoir, and I don’t think you will forget it. And, anyway, how many people have really read an in-depth autobiography by a psychotherapist, involving his work with patients and his own attempt at self-analysis? I haven’t read anything like it out there.

I do not always present a pretty picture of myself, but it is an honest one—and I think it gets across the idea that one can be a good psychotherapist and thought highly of by one’s patients and peers, and not have escaped the consequences of a chaotic childhood. I suspect that what comes across most vividly to the average reader is how a therapist can be so revealing of his in situation and personal problems…when most people think that a therapist should have analytically—and tidily–worked out his entrenched psychological issues before taking on patients. It’s my belief that it would be nice, if it were so; but life seems to dictate otherwise.