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Countertransference and Retribution

Two Plays

by
Arthur Ziffer
2010

reviewed by Mira de Vries

The 19-letter word "Countertransference" sets the tone for what this is about -- psychobabble.

The subtitle "Two Plays" is misleading because they aren't two plays. You need the "first" play to understand the "second" play. Ziffer could have better called his book "Countertransference -- a play in three acts".

The first scene is a dialogue between therapist and patient. We never learn their names.

The patient is a shy, somewhat awkward male mathematician who longs for feminine companionship. The purpose of the therapy is to complain about a previous therapist. According to the patient, the former therapist ruined his life by failing to respond adequately to his tale of a trivial meeting with a woman. His new therapist supports and encourages him in this view.

In the next scene we learn that the patient has killed his former therapist. The way we are told this though novel is unrealistic and out of character, yet not exactly a surprise twist. I'll not tell you what it is to leave you some suspense.

The rest of the play consists of TV-style courtroom scenes that explore the question of responsibility. Who is to blame for the therapist's death? Is his former patient whose hand killed him? Did the therapist bring it upon himself by harming his former patient? Or is the new therapist to blame, either for persuading his patient to believe that his former therapist harmed him, or if you take the view that he actually was harmed, for revealing this harm to him?

Ziffer is warning us that psychotherapist and patient become emotionally entangled in a relationship which he compares to marriage. He also warns that psychotherapy can be a grand waste of money. However, he does not make clear whether he believes that it can ever be useful.

The therapists are called psychiatrists although they are engaging in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis only. Ziffer acknowledges that their activities bear no resemblance to that of the psychiatrist whose job is to write prescriptions and defamatory reports, not uncommonly regarding a person he hasn't met, let alone formed a relationship with. In this story the therapists have MD titles allowing the author to raise the question, when is a psychotherapist guilty of malpractice?

Readers who take pleasure in joining this type of Socratic debate will find this book interesting.

MeTZelf thanks Mr. Ziffer for the complimentary copy of his book.


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