Why Every Therapist Should Read Dr. Robert Firestone's New Book "Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation" By Howard Rosenthal, EdD on 3/16/17 - 2:11 PM

Some people collect stamps, others baseball memorabilia. I prefer psychotherapy and treatment related books. It would be an understatement to say some select works have had a profound influence on my career.

As I type this blog, I have a vintage 1925 hard back copy of John B. Watson's Behaviorism sitting to the side of my monitor. In its day the work commanded a hefty price tag of $3.00 and tied for the most expensive tome in W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. "Lectures-in-Print" psychology series. Today, a signed copy—mine isn't, darn—will fetch $1000.00 on eBay. The book shows its relative age by sporting two small and quite primitive paper covers glued to the hardback surface of the text.

A few feet away is yet another one of my prized possessions: Andy Salter's classic Conditioned Reflex Therapy. Salter, often cited as the true father of behavior therapy and assertiveness training, could write as well as he could practice psychotherapy, and that's saying a lot.

A cursory glance to my left reveals several volumes from Lewis R. Wolberg's time-honored The Technique of Psychotherapy set. These books not only serve as a premier source of psychotherapeutic information, but weighing in at approximately 6 lb. per book, can easily substitute as a set of dumbbells for your next set of bicep curls if you happen to be away from the gym.

But the important thing is the impact that books of this ilk have on you as a helper. A case in point. When I purchased a copy of Jay Haley's Uncommon Psychiatric Techniques of Milton H. Erickson, M.D., I stayed up the entire night reading it. I thought I would never have a psychotherapeutic literary experience of this magnitude ever again. I mean history never repeats itself and they don't write psychotherapy books like they used to . . . or do they?

Frankly, after reading the Haley work, for the first time in my career my thirst for psychotherapeutic tomes was beginning to wane. I went through an extended period where nothing caught my fancy.

Then came the dawn. Enter Robert W. Firestone's 2016 book Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation. As I delved into the first chapter I unconsciously found myself giving my college class in theories a little extra time for a break so I could sneak back to my office and peruse a few more pages in Dr. Firestone's work.

Keep in mind that Firestone is no Johnny-come-lately to the psychotherapeutic arena. He began his clinical psychology practice in 1957 (not a misprint). Just to put that in perspective it was the year auto manufacturers put fins on cars making them look more like rocket planes, the Frisbee was released, and Elvis purchased a mansion in Memphis and named it Graceland. So much for the theory that experts who write psychotherapy books don't have any real-world experience.

In a sense I have both known and respected Dr. Firestone's work for an extended period of time. As a former program director of a suicide prevention center, and later a book author on the subject, I showed Dr. Firestone's award winning 1985 video The Inner Voice in Suicide to countless helpers and graduate students. It was simply a cut above everything else I could find on the topic. This book shares unique insights from the movie.

So what makes this book different and dare I say it, special? A lot of things.

First, the book is not sterile or antiseptic. Dr. Firestone is very familiar with the reader, often sharing his own innermost thoughts, feelings, reactions, and on occasion an off-color word. Most books of this genre portray the therapist as devoid of reactions, as if he or she is a blank slate or perhaps a computer performing the interventions. Not so in this case. The author comes across as a real person.
Moreover, his anecdotes go well beyond the traditional psychotherapy office with tales including friends, relatives, and colleagues.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to remain emotionless when Dr. Firestone recounts his friendship and first-hand experience (i.e., he was there) of the death of the famed psychiatrist R.D. Laing. He also shares his up-close-and-personal experience with noted psychiatrist John N. Rosen, who pioneered direct analysis which utilized psychoanalytic principles to take on the problem of schizophrenia. This creative approach contradicted the establishment's view that psychosis was a biochemical or strictly a medical problem and thus could not be treated by psychotherapy. Firestone gives us a truly unique perspective of the psychiatric facilities of yesteryear and helps us answer the question of whether Dr. Rosen was a genius or a madman.

If you are searching for another cookie cutter book that says do x,y, and z to cure your clients, this is decidedly not the book for you. And don't let the title fool you. Just because the term "inner voice" is emphasized, this is definitely not just another book on CBT. Far from it! In my estimation, the inner voice is a lot more intricate than conventional cognitive therapies. It is as if Dr. Firestone tweaked cognitive therapy, infused a healthy dose of existentialism, and added a dab of psychoanalysis in all the right places.

In a nutshell, your inner voice is composed of critical remarks from your mother or father, or significant others. These thoughts can eventually morph into your own negative thoughts. Thus, you might say to yourself: "You are so stupid. Only an idiot would do that. Who would want to date you. Nobody!"
Not that as a therapist you would have any personal problems, but just in case you know a colleague who does, Firestone rounds out the book with an appendix aptly titled "How To Incorporate Voice Therapy Into Your Life." Translation: Therapists as well as their clients can harbor some painfully destructive inner voices or parental attitudes he terms the anti-self.

I'm not going to spoil it for you by telling you everything, but I will go on record as saying that his work might just be the cure for the common psychotherapy book. It's definitely a keeper. Or to use a play on words from an advertisement released in the early years of Dr. Firestone's career: The name that's known is Firestone, where the psychotherapeutic rubber meets the road.

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy