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Review of "A Primer for Beginning Psychotherapy"

By William N. Goldstein
Brunner/Mazel, 2001
Review by Michael Sakuma, Ph.D. on Nov 26th 2001
A Primer for Beginning Psychotherapy

When I was beginning as a psychotherapist, I combed local bookstores searching for a therapy cookbook that would fill in the informational gaps left out of my classes.  I found books that were helpful in alleviating some of my anxieties, but I never found the book that I was looking for.  There are many books out there that purport to be written for the “neophyte” therapist, but most are bogged down with the esoteric prose and dogmatic jargon that make some of the classic writings in the field difficult to understand.

A Primer for Beginning Psychotherapy by William Goldstein, is as close the book that I was searching for when I was in graduate school as I have found.  The book is divided into 14 chapters that lay out many of the theoretical underpinnings to some forms of psychotherapy, including transference, counter-transference, intervention guidelines and main ideas that separate the different psychodynamic schools of thought.  In addition, the book gives several bits of practical advice including when to collect payment, how to arrange the office and what to do when given a gift.  A discussion of the practical aspects of therapy is a difficult undertaking, given the subtleties of therapy and the large number of events that could be written about (I would imagine that this is why it is not done too much). Goldstein does a good job at focusing on relevant practical issues, while only occasionally posing and answering questions that are relatively meaningless (e.g.. question -- what type of person goes to therapy?  His answer -- “everyone”.)

The focus on the practical aspects of therapy and the clarity in the description theoretical notions of therapy are the two main features that separate Goldstein’s book from the other “beginner” books in the field.  The psychodynamic therapies are as nebulous to teach as they are to practice, but this book is written in a very accessible style that explains difficult psychodynamic concepts in a relatively simple and straightforward manner.

Though not explicit in his clinical orientation, Goldstein’s ideas seem firmly rooted in modern “ego psychology” which is a very solid and popular framework in more psychodynamically oriented circles. Goldstein delineates his beliefs very clearly, however, a weakness in this book is the omission of any in depth discussion of cognitive or behavioral approaches that are so practiced in our field.  The general omission of cognitive and behavioral techniques as well as the omission of a clear delineation of Goldstein’s perspective may be a bit misleading to those looking for a less “dynamically” oriented book.  A better title for the book might have been “A primer for beginning dynamic psychotherapy.”

Except for the omission of behavioral and cognitive techniques, I was very impressed with Goldstein’s book.  I especially liked the presentation of his ideas in question format and his inclusion of relevant research to support his ideas.  I imagine that this book will both alleviate many-a-beginning therapist’s anxieties.  It is a book that will also be informative to therapists practicing “other” types of therapy who want to learn about modern notions of ego psychology.

© 2001 Michael Sakuma

Michael Sakuma is an Assistant Professor of  Psychology at Dowling College, Long Island, New York.