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Power GamesReview - Power Games
Influence, Persuasion, and Indoctrination in Psychotherapy Training
by Richard Raubolt (Editor)
Other Press, 2006
Review by Minna Forsell
Dec 18th 2007 (Volume 11, Issue 51)

This collection of reflections on the use and abuse of power in psychotherapy training ressembles an Internet-conference on a sensitive subject. Different voices take turns in speaking their minds and telling their experiences of becoming mental health professionals. Some share their personal stories, some present historical perspectives, some suggest new theoretical methods and models and others reflect on what has already been said in the conference. Different people focus on the same topic from their own points of view. These interrelated stories make for an interesting conference, but a long one and at times a pretty wordy one. The book is rich and varied like a smorgasbord at Christmas -- centered around one all-embracing theme it is, nevertheless, heavy with repetitions.

   The first part consists of personal reflections on supervisory experiences. This material is about the vulnerability of the student, leaders' influence and the effects of psychotherapy training on both the trainee and the people around this person. These are well-articulated stories about personal experiences, some of which expose the really harmful parts of the world of psychotherapy. This is why the book was written: personal experiences and reflections on these experiences led to the need to start talking about it. And since talk about bad, harmful and distorted interpretations of what psychotherapy is are not abounding in the field, the authors concluded that it was time to let those who dare speak up. And in Power Games they do. In the first part of this book the personal accounts of power abuse in institutional settings are really unusual. The editor's wife even tells her tale, whereafter the editor comments on it from a both personal and theoretical point of view. This mingling of stories, voices, relations, theory and experience goes on throughout the book. Again -- the result is a smorgasbord of texts where everything is served at the same time.

The second part is called 'Theoretical and Technical Considerations' and deals with malign power relations in psychotherapy education. The chapters are called such things as 'Coerced Discipleship: Indoctrination Masquerading as Training in Psychotherapy', 'Institutional Cloning: Mimetism in Psychoanalytic Training' and 'Covert Methods of Interpersonal Control'. Even though most of the authors bring up the harmful effects of authoritarianism, there is a heavy note of it in much of the writing. The many, strong voices in this book make it necessary to be selective and to listen critically and with care to the forceful opinions. Power Games is not technically or theoretically difficult. It can be difficult to read, however, because of the texts' tendency to 'suck in' the reader. The high level of commitment and devotion to the subject is absorbing.

The last part of the book, Supervisory Alternatives, consists of a diversity of reflections on supervisory arrangements, with a particular focus on the power relations between supervisor and supervisee. This part is the smorgasbord's dessert-section. There is a lot of good stuff, chapters and headings that catch your attention, but you are already too full to really bear any more of it. It's just a whole lot of the same thing. However, one chapter by Gershon Molad and Judith Vida stands out with its well-written examples of an unusual form of supervision. An honest and committed exchange of letters make for an interesting kind of supervisory relation where both partakers are creating the form of it. As a close depiction of how the two of them blend their personal, even private, selves into the professional attachment, this chapter is not only interesting in a matter-of-factly way, it is also a catchy and evocative piece of writing. 

The 17 chapters of Power Games are useful and the content of this book is an articulation of something that often remains hidden in discussions of psychotherapy training. To hear professionals share their own experiences, experiences that for a long time were laden with guilt and shame, and to hear them being taken seriously by their colleagues, inspires courage and strength in anyone being in the business. However, the 340 pages of this book are repetitive and too talkative, which leaves me tired, rather than enlightened, after having read it. To benefit optimally from Power Games, I believe you have to know, beforehand, what you're looking for. Then go for that.

© 2007 Minna Forsell

Minna Forsell is a psychologist, recently graduated from the University of Stockholm. She currently works as a writer, translator and research assistant. She hopes to pursue a career as a researcher in the field of environmental psychology.

Richard Raubolt responds to Minna Forsell's review. (Published Jan 8, 2008)

I am writing in response to a Metapsychology Review of Power Games ( December 18th,2007 Volume 11 Issue 51) by Minna Forsell. Lest I am again accused of being "too talkative" (which I didn't think was possible in written from) I will be brief.

I am inclined to believe that a more experienced reviewer would have provided a better written and more balanced review of my edited book. First of all the events described in section one were not "unusual" or a "smorgasbord where everything is served at one time". Any clinician familiar with trauma and training institutes would recognize how familiar these types of stories are for many trainees. As a point of fact, this is the reason I was so easily able to secure the writings of such notable clinicians as Doris Brothers, Ted Dorpat, Joan Sarnat, Chuck Strozier and Ernest Wolf among others and to garner book "blurbs" from Malcolm Pines and Jonathan Cohen. The contributors to this book have published over five hundred articles and thirty five books. I dare say they know how to write so as to avoid repetition unlike the reviewer who uses the word "smorgasbord" three times in a page and a half copy. She also makes up phrases like "matter-of factly" and refers to ..."the texts tendency to 'suck in' the reader". So, engaging the reader is a 'suck in' to be on the alert for as a possible danger?

Apparently Ms. Forsell was unable to comprehend chapters where respected and senior authors presented nuanced and contextualized theoretical positions from various and distinct orientations. Fortunately, other seasoned professionals have appreciated these discussions by nominating Power Games as a Finalist for the Gradiva and Goethe Awards for outstanding psychoanalytic writing. Perhaps had Ms. Forsell read more carefully she would have found a lengthly book was necessary in order to present some of the complicated issues and offer creative alternatives to long standing problems in our field. Such a reading may well have left her less dismissive and "tired" and more enlightened about the field she is about to enter.

Richard Raubolt, Ph.D.


Minna Forsell: A reply to Dr Richard Raubolt's response (published Tuesday, 15 January 2008)

I am glad to hear that Power Games has received praise and appreciation from so many seasoned professionals around the world. This book deserves attention -- it is an informed and valuable contribution to the literature in the field of psychoanalysis. However, also less experienced professionals read books. As Dr Raubolt accurately point out, I am not an expert in the field of trauma and psychoanalytic training. Despite this I consider myself a well-versed reader and a competent writer.

In the concluding chapter of Power Games, Dr Raubolt reflects on the harm of authoritarianism and the blind obedience it fosters. "Recognizing and respecting the variety of individual expression in writing [...] has been a guiding principle of this book and stands in opposition to doctrinaire training and practice." (p 334) I took the same liberty as the respected authors contributing to Power Games and decided to review the book by rendering my subjective experience of it with my own voice in my own style. I don't understand why this should cause such indignation from Dr Raubolt. Power Games is not a bad book, not even for a novice academic with a genuine interest in the field of psychoanalysis, such as myself. I read Power Games, reflected on it, and wrote as sincerely as I could about my experience. I believe that this was my task as a reviewer, even though my point of view and my way of expressing it was not appreciated by the book's editor.


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