‘Ther­a­pists have crum­bling lives like every­body else’

The Observer - The New Review - - Books - Bev Thomas Han­nah Beck­er­man

Bev Thomas never ex­pected to set her first novel in the world of psy­cho­an­a­lytic psy­chother­apy. Hav­ing worked for many years as a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in the NHS, her first at­tempts at writ­ing in­cluded fo­rays into his­tor­i­cal fic­tion. But even­tu­ally she found her­self writ­ing a novel set in her pro­fes­sional do­main. “I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in what peo­ple do and why they do things,” Thomas says. “That’s why I trained as a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist. When I be­gan writ­ing it was fun­da­men­tal for me to think that the char­ac­ters made psy­cho­log­i­cal sense. It’s a psy­cho­log­i­cal drama rather than a thriller.”

A Good Enough Mother is about grief, moth­er­hood and the com­plex­i­ties of the ther­a­pist­pa­tient re­la­tion­ship. The novel’s nar­ra­tor is Dr Ruth Hart­land, a highly re­spected psy­chother­a­pist and di­rec­tor of a trauma unit whose pri­vate life is un­rav­el­ling: her teenage son has gone miss­ing, her mar­riage has fallen apart and her re­la­tion­ship with her daugh­ter is strained. When a pa­tient re­sem­bling her miss­ing son ar­rives at the unit, the bound­aries be­tween Ruth’s pro­fes­sional judg­ment and her per­sonal trauma be­gin to blur, with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences.

Part of Thomas’s mo­ti­va­tion was, she says, to hu­man­ise ther­a­pists: “The re­al­ity is that ther­a­pists have crum­bling lives like every­body else: mar­riages that don’t work, chil­dren they can’t man­age very well… They are not per­fect peo­ple but that doesn’t stop them be­ing fan­tas­tic ther­a­pists.”

The novel is im­mersed in the world of ther­apy: there are dis­cus­sions about trans­fer­ence and counter-trans­fer­ence, and ref­er­ences to Melanie Klein and Don­ald Win­ni­cott, who first in­tro­duced the idea of “the good­e­nough mother”.

“You’re open­ing a door on to an in­ti­mate world,” Thomas says. “My aim is that peo­ple who are not nec­es­sar­ily ever go­ing to have ther­apy might find the con­cepts use­ful out­side the ther­apy room: that it might change the way they work with a col­league, or how they un­der­stand what their child might be feel­ing.”

Along­side an ex­plo­ration of ther­apy, the novel ex­am­ines the as­pi­ra­tions and lim­i­ta­tions of moth­er­hood. “[The novel] en­ables you to grap­ple with all sorts of dilem­mas,” Thomas says. “What does it mean to get it right? What do you do if your child is strug­gling? How much do you bear let­ting them find their way? I think it’s a real chal­lenge. And I think there’s such a lot of pres­sure at the mo­ment to get it right.”

In­te­gral to Ruth’s nar­ra­tive is the ex­pe­ri­ence of loss, which, as Thomas ob­serves, is uni­ver­sal. “It’s some­thing that finds its way into the ther­apy room in all sorts of guises. I don’t just mean be­reave­ment, but loss of iden­tity or loss of a fam­ily mem­ber through drugs or al­co­hol or men­tal health is­sues. Loss is such a hu­man con­di­tion.”

These uni­ver­sal themes led to

A Good Enough Mother be­ing the sub­ject of a five-way pub­lisher auc­tion. But Thomas’s route to pub­li­ca­tion has in­volved “18 years of hard graft”. She has, she says, be­come “an Ar­von junkie”, at­tend­ing mul­ti­ple cre­ative writ­ing cour­ses. She likes the col­lec­tive work done in cre­ative writ­ing groups. “Get­ting that feed­back has def­i­nitely al­tered things I’ve writ­ten. If you feel sup­ported and con­tained then I think you can do your best work.” Writ­ing groups mir­ror her cur­rent role as an or­gan­i­sa­tional con­sul­tant, help­ing men­tal health teams col­lab­o­rate and com­mu­ni­cate more ef­fec­tively. “I do love groups. I think it’s fas­ci­nat­ing how group pro­cesses get played out in or­gan­i­sa­tions.”

Thomas now plans to com­bine writ­ing with her clin­i­cal work. “For me, the leap from ther­apy to writ­ing wasn’t quite such a leap as it might seem,” she says. “Part of what ther­a­pists do is help peo­ple tell their life sto­ries. And you write in or­der to en­gage and have some kind of con­nec­tion. So to now have this op­por­tu­nity to con­nect with read­ers through a psy­cho­log­i­cal book is fan­tas­tic.”

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