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Remembering Psychotherapy’s Mark Twain

Psychotherapy's Mark Twain

By Rich Simon Who of us couldn’t use some more inspiration, an occasional reminder of truths that get obscured in day-to-day life, or maybe even some telling observations that make us laugh out loud? That’s why so many therapists have made attending the Networker Symposium an annual ritual. But whether you can make it to this year’s tribal gathering or not, we’ve decided to periodically offer some video-snapshots that bring to life the kind of experience that makes certain Symposium moments so unforgettable.

Included here is a video excerpt of a keynote delivered some years ago by Frank Pittman, who for 26 years was the Networker’s indefatigable, encyclopedically knowledgeable, quick-witted, and eternally opinionated movie reviewer. Frank died just after Thanksgiving, following a long, difficult illness. We’ll have a lot more to say about his contributions to the magazine and the field in the March/April issue of the Networker.

Frank pulled no punches in his life, practice, books, or the articles and presentations he contributed to the Networker. A born storyteller, his impish grin, folksy Southern accent, and comic gift made him something like therapy’s answer to Mark Twain. And like Twain, he was a deeply serious moral critic.

At a time when paeans to New Age “self-actualization” were encouraging adults to act like self-centered adolescents, Frank insisted that a measure of grown-up selflessness was in order. No friend of therapeutic “neutrality,” he thought qualities like responsibility, duty, self-control, and self-sacrifice should be honored and even encouraged by therapists, particularly when he saw children suffering because of the feckless behavior of their parents.  That he was funny enough to make you laugh as he was giving one of his entertaining—but pointed—jeremiads was one of his great talents.

Here’s a typically bravura Frank performance, assisted—as he often was—by a perfectly selected movie clip:

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7 Responses to Remembering Psychotherapy’s Mark Twain

  1. Fabulous approach, to ask what one is doing and how others are feeling. I have been a fan of Mr. Pittman ever since I heard of Mr. Pittman long ago critiquing “Bridges Over Madison County,” stating something along the lines of wouldn’t it have been much better had the unhappy wife tried those things with her husband rather than a stranger?

  2. Ruchama Fund, Ph.D. says:

    How beautiful: to truly respect people by conveying that you believe that they are capable of more.

  3. Thank you for honouring this man of wisdom.

  4. Marsha Amstel says:

    For thirty years, from the dawn of my career as a family therapist, Frank Pittman was an invaluable source of wisdom and insight about what it means to be a therapist, a family member, a human being. Many of his columns are memorable, one “Catching Falling Elephants” (from the early 80′s) taught me more about the conundrum of being a therapist than anything else I ever read.
    The world is a poorer place for his passing.

  5. genetherapy says:

    We lost a true visionary

  6. Jay Karant says:

    I had the privilege to hear Dr.P. in the rare occasion he was in Chicago. When the Networker arrived, I went straight to his movie reviews discussing male role model in the cinema. His “Man Enough” came out in the middle of the Mens Movement and gave me an needed perspective. “Grow Up” is a primer I use with clients and,I daresay. myself. Frank, you were among my Family Therapy mentors without ever knowing. You will be remembered. Jay Karant

  7. I still miss Frank’s movie reviews and still open each Networker hoping to see he’s made a comeback. Thanks for putting us in the picture and for honouring him, and for this clip. I hear the voice of a prophet, well integrated in the heart of the therapist. No wonder he seemed perpetually almost out of breath. His influence lives on.

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