On Becoming a Psychotherapist

Louis B. Fierman, M.D.

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ISBN: 1-57733-183-4, 208 pp., 48 photos, 5.5 x 8.5, hardcover, $22.95

Also by Louis B. Fierman, M.D.: Freeing the Human Spirit

The familiar mantra "Only in America" is exemplified in this inspirational book about the odyssey of a young son of poor uneducated immigrant parents. With nothing going for him other than the love and encouragement of his family, plus his own determination against great odds, he pursues an academic life. This leads to a medical career, ending finally as a Yale psychiatrist and psychotherapist. The twists and turns of his adventurous life are described with much humor, joy and wit.


"This book is about a spirit of love for what is alive, be it people, animals, nature; a love for creation of which we are part. It is about caring for patients, aiming at intimate communications free of judgments and directives, and establishing creative therapeutic communities. This motivating spirit is apparent throughout this modest autobiography. Our psychiatric profession has lost spirit and heart. Fierman shows us that with loving care and creative imagination we can revitalize our work and our lives." Marianne Horney Eckardt, M.D. (former president of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry)

"This book pursues the author's life theme, 'the therapist is the therapy.' It does so through an autobiographical account emphasizing the life events leading to his emergence as a committed as well as gifted psychotherapist." Eugene B. Brody, M.A., M.D., D.Sc. (hon.) Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Professor and Chairman of Psychiatry Emeritus, University of Maryland, Senior Consultant, Past President and Past Secretary General, World Federation for Mental Health

"This book is a fascinating odyssey of a maverick psychiatrist who thinks 'outside the box' of conventional psychiatric practice. Dr. Fierman's autobiographic account of his journey is filled with the richness and complexities of life experiences that influenced his thinking and perspectives. His crowning achievement was the creation of a therapeutic community at Elmcrest Hospital where he served as medical director. Braving the traditional mental health establishment he expanded the healing context of the patients by designating all staff members and employees of the hospital as 'co-therapists' and requiring them to attend weekly communal meetings with patients and their families. This loosening of hierarchal boundaries led to dramatically different interchanges and experiences that paved the way for recovery. Hopefully, the ideas Dr. Fierman sets forth in this book will be carried on in other psychiatric settings by like-minded idealists who share his humanistic vision of mental health." Peggy Papp, Director of Depression Project, Ackerman Family Institute

"This book is part autobiography, part memoir and part informal pedagogy. It is a story of a poor immigrant's son's journey of becoming a doctor, a kaiserian 'nondirective' psychiatrist/psychotherapist and eventually a hospital CEO. It is a circuitous journey, full of levity and paths and a story full of warmth and respect for the human spirit in all of us. It is a story both 'up front and personal' but also reflective and generative in its inquiry into the restlessness of the human spirit. It is also a book which attests to the power of 'communicative-intimacy' and to the power of effective talk therapy - a power, sadly, much in decline in present-day psychiatry. Reading this book will help anyone restore his/her faith in the power of effective communication." Al Herzog, M.D., Medical Director, Professional Intensive Outpatient Program, Institute of Living; Professor of Clinical Psychiatry, University of Connecticut School of Medicine

Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Beginnings
Chapter 2: Teenager
Chapter 3: Thank You, Doctor Arrowsmith
Chapter 4: Tai-i san Oisha-san Fierman-san (Captain Doctor Fierman)
Chapter 5: "For God, Country and Yale"
Chapter 6: The Life and Death of a Humanistic Psychiatric Hospital

1. On Becoming a Nondirective Psychotherapist
2. The Community Meeting in a Psychiatric Hospital: The Experimental Use of a Large Group as Group Psychotherapy
3. Family Therapy in Psychiatric Hospital Treatment
4. Letter From Japan




This book of autobiographical recollections describes events that moved me along a path to becoming a psychotherapist, and experiences that eventually proved useful in my conduct as a therapist. Central to the concept is the fact that until I was a sophomore in college I had never given the slightest consideration to pursuing a medical career, let alone becoming a psychiatrist psychotherapist. Yet seemingly disparate and unrelated parts of my life came together at age twenty to form an ambition and determination to become just that.

The background of the book is my life itself: born into a poor immigrant family, raised in a "melting pot" bustling community, attending crowded public schools, winning a competitive scholarship to college, persuaded by my brother, Frank, to major in pre-med rather than chemistry, accepted by a medical school, tuition paid by a philanthropist, serving in the United States Army Medical Corps during WWII, followed by residencies in internal medicine and psychiatry at Yale, three years of personal psychotherapy, learning a dynamic, humanistic, interpersonal approach to psychotherapy from my therapist, Hellmuth Kaiser, and, finally emerging as a therapist.

Blue Dolphin Publishing, 2006

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