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The Pornographer's Grief is
Joseph Glenmullen's first book; he later wrote Prozac
Backlash, a powerful indictment of the pharmaceutical companies for
unscrupulous methods in promoting and the new antidepressant medications and
taking whatever steps necessary to minimize the public appreciation of the
powerful side effects of their products.† While Glenmullen does believe that
psychiatric medications are sometimes helpful, he thinks they are overused.†
This is clear as much in this earlier book as it is in the later one.† But in The
Pornographer's Grief, his topic is sexuality, and he shows his confidence
that long-term psychotherapy can get to the root of people's psychological
problems about sex.† Indeed, he describes several clients whom he treated on a
regular basis for years, sometimes meeting more than once a week.† Even though
the book is just over ten years old, this already seems like a description of a
The format of the stories falls in
with a familiar mold, found in neurologist Oliver Sack's classic The Man Who
Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and developed in books such as George
Weinberg's The Taboo Scarf and Irvin Yalom's Love's Executioner.†
Each chapter is self-contained, and describes a different patient.† Each
patient has a different sort of problem.† Introductory and concluding chapters
tie threads between the different cases.† The stories are told in simple terms,
requiring no understanding of psychological theories or psychiatric jargon.†
They are amusing and clever; the therapist helps the patient, or at least
learns a lesson from the case if the therapy is ineffective.† Often the therapy
takes on the form of a detective story, with the therapist sifting through
various clues and trying to find the ultimate cause of the problematic symptoms
of the patient.† It's a satisfying genre and can convey helpful information,
although it get old rather quickly.†
Glenmullen is a proficient writer
and most of the chapters hold the reader's attention.† To give one example, in
"The Acrobat's Stocking," Glenmullen describes a brief therapy of man
with a very specific problem: he would lose his erection every time he tried to
put on a condom.† In the therapy, the man discussed his first sexual experience
as a high school sophomore where this happened, where he felt considerable
pressure and shame when he wasn't able to perform at the girl's request.† He
also revealed that the problem would sometimes occur if the woman put in a
diaphragm in his presence.† He explained that it interrupted the usual flow of
events in a sexual encounter.† After some discussion, Glenmullen probed the
man's feelings about sex being carnal.† He was from a Middle Eastern Jewish
culture, and although he thought himself liberal, he had taken on some of his
family's views about sex.† Once the man came to understand his internal
conflict, and with the supportive cooperation of his new partner, his problem
The Pornographer's Grief is
both entertaining and potentially informative.† It is definitely a helpful
introduction to some of the psychodynamic issues that occur around human
© 2004 Christian Perring. All
Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the
Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology
Online Review. His main research is on philosophical issues in
medicine, psychiatry and psychology.
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