Looking back on 2023, we’re proud of our work to bring you the heart of psychotherapy. These are your stories—the moving narratives from life in a therapist’s chair. They were heartfelt and personal (such as “Just This, Nothing Next” by David Treadway) as well as critical and alarm-sounding (read “Trans Kids Under Fire” by Margie Nichols). This year, we learned how to quiet our inner critic, face conflict head-on, and dialogue with teens about their mental health (see the July/August issue).
Below are just a few of the articles that had us going deeper into our craft.
by Alicia Muñoz
Parents routinely bemoan their teens’ love affair with screens. But how to intervene without triggering all-out adolescent mutiny? In this smart, poignant, and often hilarious piece, we accompany our senior writer on her family’s five-day, screen-free, supposedly restorative “vacation,” which is met by immediate and sustained howls of protest from her 13-year-old son. Muñoz’s honesty, insight, and writing gifts shine from the piece, and her self-deprecating humor often made me laugh out loud. When her son complains “I’m so bored,” she tries telling him that boredom is good. “Telling a newly minted teenager boredom is good is like telling Superman kryptonite is refreshing.” And when she finds herself desperately rummaging in her purse for her own phone, she says: “I feel like I’m one of those hard-boiled detectives who’s been investigating a crime only to discover, in a chilling plot twist, their own fingerprints on the murder weapon.” Who of us hasn’t been there? – Marian Sandmaier
by Chris Lyford
There are certain things it’s almost impossible to imagine combining successfully like alcohol and responsible decisions. Another hard-to-imagine combo at the top of my own list has been compelling narrative fiction and diagnostic models—at least until I read Chris Lyford’s article. In this vividly imagined piece—reminiscent of Italo Calvino, Dante Alighieri, and, well, Lyford himself—the reader is led on a journey through the dense, heady thickets of complex systems like the Diagnostic Statistical Manual, the International Classification of Diseases, the Hierarchical Taxonomy of Psychopathology, and the Power Threat Meaning Framework—only this journey defies impossible-combo expectations. Far from swimming in the usual jargon many of us have come to expect from those who’ve dared tackle the topic, Lyford’s piece enlivens and enlightens, distilling the history, advantages and limitations of all manner of diagnostic systems in well-researched but still creative, hilarious, and memorable scenes. Where was this article when I took Abnormal Psychology in grad school? There’s no use lamenting what might have been had I read it earlier in my career—it’s here now, an impossible combo, encouraging us to do the same and bravely imagine the unimaginable. – Alicia Muñoz
by Ryan Howes
After several of my clients told me about the powerful impact of the book Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents by Lindsay Gibson, I picked up a copy for myself. I was amazed by her ability to address this delicate topic in a way that was accessible, practical, and even hopeful. When I interviewed her, it all made sense. Lindsay is a warm, compassionate, and highly knowledgeable clinician who shares her years of experience through her writing. Getting to know her was a highlight of my year. – Ryan Howes
By Craig Malkin
A narcissist walks into a therapist’s office. Ah, but he’s not just any narcissist—he’s a stealthy narcissist! This may sound like the beginning of an old joke, but as author Craig Malkin writes in his masterful piece, this variety of narcissist isn’t just very real, but—plot twist!—much likelier to show up in your consulting room than their loud, braggy counterparts. Malkin’s piece will have even seasoned therapists scratching their heads and flipping through old notes, trying to uncover the covert narcissists in their midst. But it’s Malkin’s expert dissection of narcissistic traits (plot twist number two!—there’s a little “healthy” narcissism in all of us), his compassion for these clients, and the therapeutic judo he uses to disarm them and steer the conversation “from me to we” that keeps us reading. Clients need not be defined by their narcissism, he writes. It may be a part of them, but it’s not everything they are. When therapists understand this, and, with a little finesse, help their clients do the same, everyone wins. – Chris Lyford
by Jack Saul
Jack Saul’s exploration of moral injury is both revelatory and long overdue. He’s right to engage the field in addressing the guilt and shame that accompany military engagement in far-away lands, and also our collective responsibility as a society that sends its people into these war zones to begin with. May we heed his advice to see the moral pain of these clients “not as part of a mental disorder, but an ethical and spiritual crisis, an injury to the soul.” – Lauren Dockett