Dr. Stanley Goldstein - Author and Psychologist

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Book excerpt: "The Woman's Collection: A Razor and Pills and Rope"

From "Troubled Children/​Troubled Parents: The Way Out," pages 11-12.

Some years ago I was associated with a major mental health facility for children in the Midwest. There was on the staff of that clinic an extraordinarily gifted child therapist, Dr. B. His skill in treating the most severely disturbed children was legendary. On occasion he also served as a consultant to adults with equally severe disorders. One day he agreed, as a favor to a colleague, to meet with a woman for several sessions only (for his work schedule was really filled).

The woman came into his office and told him about her life. She was in her mid-thirties and had experienced immense emotional suffering since her earliest childhood. She spoke of her extensive efforts to remedy her difficulties: years of psychotherapy with countless practitioners, innumerable medications, electroconvulsive shock therapy, insulin shock therapy, all to no avail. Her life remained one of insufferable misery, totally lacking in warmth and social contact. And so she decided to end her life. And she came to Dr. B. to share with him the agony of her existence, to seek from him one reason why she should not commit suicide.

Dr. B. had no doubt of the accuracy of the woman's description of her life; nor did he doubt that she intended to carry out her suicide upon leaving his office. And so he spoke to her simply and with great care.

He said, "You have suffered greatly in your life. I would not tell you that you must continue to live, for such a commitment belongs to each individual alone. But I am not convinced that significant change cannot be effected in your life. If you will work with me and I come to believe that this is not true, that your suffering cannot be relieved, then I will obtain for you whatever drug you may desire to end your life so you can achieve finally the peace you deserve."

The woman agreed to continue to see Dr. B., who found room for her in his impossibly busy schedule. On her next visit she brought to him for safekeeping those objects capable of causing her death which she had collected over the years: pills of various types, a razor, and a rope. Dr. B. put them in his desk drawer and said that if the day came when she wished their return he would give them to her.

The woman and Dr. B. collaborated for several years, and there was some positive change in her life. But the day came when she felt she could no longer endure her suffering. And so she asked Dr. B. for her objects, the razor and pills and rope which he had been holding for her. Dr. B. returned them. When she left his office he wept.

Several days later the woman telephoned and entered into treatment with him once again. In the ensuing weeks they realized that her recently intensified desire to kill herself was a reaction against her growing realization that her life, unhappy though it was, had, through the caring and commitment of another person (Dr. B.), finally acquired a sense of meaning.

Copyright 1979, 2000, 2011 by Stanley Goldstein. All Rights Reserved.


Anecdote: A (Nearly) Deadly Lunch

The shotgun toting guard recommended an Italian restaurant. One which was close enough for us to be back from lunch before the court testimony would be resumed. Despite its fortress-like appearance the heavily armed police gossiped and I wondered how safe I, the expert psychologist witness, really was.

A drug dealer who killed his wife was convicted by testimony from their child. But the man could still insist on being visited in prison by the girl until this right was removed, which was the goal of this proceeding. Rumor had spread that his brother's gang planned to free him during the hearing.

Feeling worried, I spoke little as we drove to the restaurant which could be reached only by a narrow dirt trail. After making a sharp turn, we found a car stopped in the road. Another auto hemmed us in back as the scene from "The Godfather" movie ripped through my mind: Sonny blockaded in the toll booth as machine gun bullets tore through his body.

Our end was less dramatic. The other drivers were as poorly informed as we, the restaurant was closed for vacation, and we ate elsewhere.

Copyright (c) 2001-2012 by Stanley Goldstein. All Rights Reserved.