Book Corner 2022.48

by Marsha M. Linehan

This is not a self-help book but a memoir. Marsha Linehan was the developer of a therapy for suicidal patients called Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT, and was herself a mental patient, institutionalized from ages 18-20 after a sudden breakdown.

She is not a writer. Episodes repeat themselves or hit sudden dead ends. Sadly, electroshock treatment while in the institution wiped out all or nearly all of her memory of her life up to that point, and she relies on others for insights into her childhood. It is hard to make a coherent picture of her in her youth… a popular vivacious “motor-mouthed” girl, but worn down at home by a berating, fault-finding mother.

Through it all she has maintained a strong faith; a devout Catholic through most of her life, now a Zen Master. She has had mystical experiences and seems a very neurologically interesting person.

The snapshots of her life as a pious young girl resonated particularly with me “At one point I decided to sleep without a pillow, as a sacrifice to God.” This was so something I would have done. My own sacrifices veered more towards the giving up of foods. It was always Lent for me. I was skipping desserts every other day, then two out of three days… next thing you know I’m a teenager with an eating disorder. But I digress. She also quits a sorority as a sacrifice, and she feels strangely like she should not write about this particular episode, because at the time she promised God she would never tell anyone this real reason why she quit the sorority. She takes her vows seriously. Indeed, while she recognizes that life in a convent was not her calling, she takes vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience as a kind of “lay nun.”

DBT, the behavioral therapy she developed, is described in detail. But this is not a self-help book. This is a therapy for the most difficult of cases, people who have engaged in self-harm and are a real threat to themselves.

Her life trajectory – personal, professional, and spiritual – was interesting to follow; I like reading almost any life story, and the writing doesn’t have to be great. Here is someone who went through the “hell” of mental illness, and in her words, got herself out determined to help others get out of hell too. She seems to have achieved success and I was happy to see her end in a good place.

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