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Good Morning, Monster

Five Heroic Journeys to Recovery

by Catherine Gildiner

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personal memoirs, mental health
list price: $26.95
edition:Paperback
category: Psychology
published: 2019
ISBN:9780735236967
imprint: Viking
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Description

A therapist creates moving portraits of five of her most memorable patients, men and women she considers psychological heroes.

Catherine Gildiner is a bestselling memoirist, a novelist, and a psychologist in private practice for twenty-five years. In Good Morning, Monster, she focuses on five patients who overcame enormous trauma--people she considers heroes. With a novelist's storytelling gift, Gildiner recounts the details of their struggles, their paths to recovery, and her own tale of growth as a therapist.

The five cases include a successful but lonely musician suffering sexual dysfunction; a young woman whose father abandoned her and her siblings in a rural cottage; an Indigenous man who'd endured great trauma at a residential school; a young woman whose abuse at the hands of her father led to a severe personality disorder; and a glamorous workaholic whose negligent mother had greeted her each morning with "Good morning, Monster."

Each patient presents a mystery, one that will only be unpacked over years. They seek Gildiner's help to overcome an immediate challenge in their lives, but discover that the source of their suffering has been long buried. It will take courage to face those realities, and creativity and resourcefulness from their therapist.

Each patient embodies self-reflection, stoicism, perseverance, and forgiveness as they work unflinchingly to face the truth. Gildiner's account of her journeys with them is moving, insightful, and sometimes humorous. It offers a behind-the-scenes look into the therapist's office and explains how the process can heal even the most unimaginable wounds.

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Excerpt

The day I opened my private practice as a psychologist, I sat smugly in my office. Fortified with the knowledge I’d acquired, taking comfort in the rules I’d learned, I looked forward to having patients I could “cure.”
   I was deluded.
   Fortunately, I had no idea at the time what a messy business clinical psychology was or I may have opted for pure research, an area where I’d have control over my subjects and variables. Instead, I had to learn how to be flexible as new information trickled in weekly. I had no idea on that first day that psychotherapy wasn’t the psychologist solving problems but rather two people facing each other, week after week, endeavouring to reach some kind of psychological truth we could agree on.
   No one brought this home to me more than Laura Wilkes, my first patient. She was referred to me through a general practitioner, who in his recorded message said, “She’ll fill you in on the details.” I don’t know who was more frightened, Laura or I. I was newly transformed from a student in jeans and a T-shirt to a professional, decked out in a silk blouse and a designer suit with linebacker shoulder pads, de rigueur in the early eighties. I sat behind my huge mahogany desk looking like a cross between Anna Freud and Joan Crawford. Luckily I had prematurely white hair in my twenties, which added some much-needed gravitas to my demeanour.
   Laura was barely five feet high, with an hourglass figure, huge almond eyes, and such full lips that had it been thirty years later, I would have suspected Botox injections. She had masses of shoulder-length blond highlighted hair and her porcelain skin contrasted sharply with her dark eyes. Perfect makeup, with bright red lipstick, set off her features. She was chic in spike heels, a tailored silk blouse, and a black pencil skirt.
   She said she was twenty-six, single, and working in a large securities firm. She’d started out as a secretary but had been pro­moted to the human resources department.
When I asked how I could help her, Laura sat for a long time looking out the window. I waited for her to tell me the problem. I continued to wait in what’s called a therapeutic silence—an uncomfortable quiet that’s supposed to elicit truth from the patient. Finally, she said, “I have herpes.”
   I asked, “Herpes zoster or herpes simplex?”
   “The kind you get if you’re totally filthy.”
   “Sexually transmitted,” I translated.
When I asked whether her sexual partner knew he had herpes, Laura replied that Ed, her boyfriend of two years, had said he didn’t. However, she’d found a pill vial in his cabinet that she rec­ognized as the same medication she’d been prescribed. When I questioned her about this, she acted as though it was normal and that there wasn’t much she could do about it. She said, “That’s Ed. I’ve already ripped a strip off him. What more can I do?”
   That blasé reaction suggested that Laura was used to selfish and duplicitous behaviour. She’d been referred to me, she said, because the strongest medication wasn’t limiting the constant outbreaks and her doctor thought she needed psychiatric help. But Laura was clear about having no desire to be in therapy. She just wanted to get over the herpes.
   I explained that in some people stress is a major trigger for attacks of the latent virus. She said, “I know what the word stress means but I don’t know exactly how it feels. I don’t think I have it. I just keep on keeping on, surrounded by the village idiots.” Not much had bothered her in her life, Laura told me, although she did acknowledge that the herpes had shaken her like nothing else.
   First, I tried to reassure her by letting her know that one in six people aged fourteen to forty-nine has herpes. Her response was “So what? We’re all in the same filthy swamp.” Switching tacks, I told her I understood why she was upset. A man who purported to love her had betrayed her. Plus, she was in pain—in fact, she could barely sit. The worst part was the shame; forever after she’d have to tell anyone she ever slept with that she had herpes or was a carrier.
   Laura agreed, but the worst aspect for her was that although she’d done everything possible to rise above her family circum­stances, she was now wallowing in filth, just as they always had. “It’s like quicksand,” she said. “No matter how hard I try to crawl out of the ooze and slime, I keep getting sucked back in. I know; I’ve almost died trying.”
   When I asked her to tell me about her family, she said she wasn’t going to go into “all that bilge.” Laura explained that she was a practical person and wanted to decrease her stress, whatever that was, so that she could get the painful herpes under control. She’d planned to attend this one session, where I’d either give her a pill or “cure” her of “stress.” I broke the news to her that stress, or anxiety, was occasionally easy to relieve but could sometimes be intransi­gent. I explained that we’d need to have a number of appointments so that she could learn what stress is and how she experienced it, uncover its source, and then find ways to alleviate it. It was possible, I told her, that so much of her immune system was fighting stress that there was nothing left to fight the herpes virus. “I can’t believe I have to do this. I feel like I came to have a tooth pulled and by mistake my whole brain came with it.” Laura looked disgusted, but she finally capitulated. “Okay, just book me for one more appointment.”
   It’s difficult to treat a patient who isn’t psychologically oriented. Laura just wanted her herpes cured and, in her mind, therapy was a means to that end. Nor did she want to give a family history, since she had no idea how it would be relevant.
   There were two things I hadn’t anticipated on my first day of therapy. First, how could this woman not know what stress is? Second, I’d read hundreds of case studies, watched lots of therapy tapes, attended dozens of grand rounds, and in none of them did the patient refuse to give a family history. Even when I worked the night shift in psychiatric hospitals—where they warehoused the lost psychological souls in back wards—I’d never heard anyone object. Even if they said, as one did, that she was from Nazareth and her parents were Mary and Joseph, they gave a history. Now my very first patient had refused! I realized that I’d have to proceed in Laura’s weird way, and at her own pace, or she’d be gone. I remember writing on my clipboard, My first task is to engage Laura.

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Contributor notes

CATHERINE GILDINER has been a clinical psychologist in private practice for twenty-five years. Her bestselling memoir Too Close to the Falls was published in Canada, the US, and the UK to wide acclaim in 1999. It had two sequels: After the Falls and Coming Ashore, also bestsellers. Her novel, Seduction, was a national bestseller. She lives in Toronto.

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Editorial Review

 Praise for Good Morning, Monster:
"Good Morning, Monster allows one the privilege of seeing the therapist-patient relationship as an essentially human interaction." 
JM Coetzee, Winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature
 
"Heartbreaking, surprising, inspiring, and profound, this is ultimately a book about the power of connection and the triumph of the human spirit." 
Lori Gottlieb, New York Times bestselling author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

“These compelling, heart-in-throat stories prove no one is “damaged goods.” I'm in awe of the five patients and of Gildiner’s exceptional creativity as she guides each one toward emotional freedom.”
—Rona Maynard, author of My Mother’s Daughter and former editor of Chatelaine
 
“Like Oliver Sacks, Catherine Gildiner loves her patients and Good Morning, Monster is her entertaining account of helping five of them save themselves and in the process teach her a thing or two about being a psychologist. Gildiner is a master of shoot from the hip nonfiction—funny, direct, and honest about what she sees in others and what she sees in herself. Highly readable!”
—Susan Swan, author of The Wives of Bath and The Dead Celebrities Club 
 
 “In these riveting case studies, Catherine Gildiner takes the reader on five voyages deep into the hell of monstrous misbehaviour by mothers, fathers, and institutions, and shows us the scarred child victims who turn into heroes of survival. These stories are almost mythic in their power and veer close to tragedy, but eventually lead to redemption with the help of a therapist who acknowledges her own mistakes and seeks to know herself better as well as the patients she is treating. I couldn’t put this book down.” 
—Antanas Sileika, author of The Barefoot Bingo Caller and Provisionally Yours
 
“This is a compelling and compressed journey through years of psychotherapy for each of these five people, with crystalline moments of connection and meaning. Along the way, some essential elements of both psychological theory and practice are made clear—as are fragments of Gildiner’s life and persona. She is no blank slate. She’s astute, active, pragmatic, and hopeful. She is unafraid to be directive or unconventional and not shy about expressing happiness when her patients’ lives improve—because she cares not simply about how they think and feel but also about how they function and live. She is also—as is known by anyone who has read her earlier books—very funny. Humour in psychotherapy can be dangerous; in her hands, it is a respectful example of shared humanity. Her wit and wisdom are gifts shared with these five people—and now with all of us readers.”
—David S. Goldbloom, Senior Medical Advisor, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health; Professor of Psychiatry, University of Toronto, Co-author, How Can I Help? A Week in My Life as a Psychiatrist
  
“If you ever doubted that unconditional love from a parent to a child was the most important component in the development of a happy, fully-functional adult, Good Morning, Monster puts that notion to rest for good. Catherine Gildiner reflects on five of the most interesting subjects she treated as a clinical psychologist and describes in detail the journeys they took to recovery. Whether it was sexual abuse or traumatic neglect, the results were the same for Laura, Peter, Danny, Alana, and Madeline. Whether it was an Indigenous man who was a victim of the residential school system, or a rich and successful business woman from a privileged background, psychological trauma played no favourites. Dr. Gildiner describes in detail her successes and mistakes in terms that anyone can understand. Written for the general public, this book shows that there is hope for even the most damaged among us.”
—Don Lynch, Six Nations Public Library
 
“Ms. Gildiner provides an extraordinary look at the process of psychotherapy in ways that offer the reader insights into her patients and candidly into her own process. We come to understandings about developmental challenges, trauma, and the moments that bring about change with these resilient characters. This is captivating re-telling from a master storyteller.”
—Eric King, clinical social worker and former clinical director at both J.D. Griffin Adolescent Centre and Pine River Institute
Good Morning, Monster highlights our changing cultural values and shifting approach toward psychotherapy, and in doing so is more relevant than ever . . . In each of these cases success depends on certain Freudian principles: long-term psychotherapy, dream analysis, discussion about the unique relationship between therapist and client. These and other aspects of psychotherapy are increasingly being overlooked and undervalued in our cultural search for easy answers and quick fixes, yet as Gildiner’s work shows, they are indispensable for achieving lasting change.”
The Winnipeg Free Press
“Gildiner’s recounting of her experience with patients is enthusiastic and insightful.”
The Star

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