Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation

Image of Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation
Release Date: 
December 5, 2016
Prometheus Books
Reviewed by: 

There are times when a psychotherapist makes a huge difference in a client’s life and there are times when, despite best efforts, lives are lost. Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice by Robert Firestone is a look into the most inspiring and heartbreaking cases of a psychotherapist’s career and gives insight into the difficulties suffered by those who are overcome by the negativity of the destructive critical voices in their minds. If you have a psychotherapist on your Christmas or Hanukkah list, consider this book as a gift.

Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice is not a book that showcases the most extreme cases of mental illness, but rather provides insight into the caustic, scathing thoughts that we all have and the ways in which quality psychotherapy can help us change our lives. Whether you are a psychotherapist looking for new ways to reach clients who have difficulty overcoming their biting inner critics or someone who suffers acerbic thoughts of their own, this is a book you will read cover to cover.

Why are people overly sensitive to certain types of criticism? Dr. Firestone noticed this phenomenon and started to ask those he worked with to reshape the verbal attacks they make against themselves in their minds. These self-attacks are rephrased so that they sound as if they come from someone else. Instead of, “I can’t do anything right,” the phrase is changed to, “You can’t do anything right” and said aloud.

By doing this, the individual’s voice and expressions will often change, so that the patient and therapist can identify where it is that the attack is coming from. This process in and of itself may be cathartic or the information gleaned may be addressed in further sessions. Dr. Firestone calls this technique “voice therapy.”

“Identifying the source of people’s self destructive thoughts, discovering their origin or causes, challenging them and answering back all help to alter maladaptive behavior.” However, Firestone underscores that it is the basic theory that underlies voice therapy that is the most important, not a precise use of the method or specialized techniques.

In addition to a general overview of the technique that he uses, Firestone shares in-depth descriptions of several cases that highlight his successes and failures in private practice. These stories make up the bulk of the book.

It should be noted that this is not a clinical work and these are not clinical case studies. Rather, each chapter is an independent story in which Firestone writes from his perspective about his experience as a psychotherapist working with some very troubled clients and his view on the way this work impacted their lives (both client and therapist).

Some of these cases may be emotional for the reader, because not all the stories come with happy, Hollywood-style endings. In one chapter, Firestone discusses how he worked with a client to transform her suicidal ideation, helping her to find real zeal and passion for life, only for her to die quite young due to an intractable illness. In another chapter, one might be heartbroken to read about a man whose life is destroyed after he murders his mother. Some lives are difficult and psychotherapists can only do so much.

What is clear in the work is that so many of us are in pain, and many of us hope that someone can take that pain away. Firestone writes, “Like my clients, I felt an almost insane feeling of rage toward my doctor for letting me suffer. I wanted him to take care of my pain, even bear it himself or at least care desperately about it.” How do we, both as professionals and friends, react to this level of suffering? This book shows some of the ways we might approach those in need.

Many of the individuals written about in the book are stuck in a quagmire of difficult feelings and thoughts. Feelings are what they are, but it is our actions that matter. We might not feel like getting up and exercising or fighting against the thoughts that tell us that we do not matter or won’t amount to much, but we must act anyway. In this sense, the stories illustrate well humankind’s efforts to fight against pain, tragedy, and darkness.

While overall the book is excellent, the writing suffers from a sense of forced humility. Dr. Firestone has had an illustrious career. He would have done better to stand in the light of his accomplishments rather than write himself as a humble man trying to do his best for the people he works with. That might be true, but it comes off as disingenuous. The book would be stronger if more of the author’s character flaws were revealed. On the whole, this is a minor criticism, easily overlooked when set against the important messages of hope and perseverance in the cases.

Overcoming the Destructive Inner Voice: True Stories of Therapy and Transformation is a book to read from cover to cover. Write in the margins and share a copy with a colleague or friend. You’ll have great discussions about it over coffee, and your psychotherapy clients will appreciate any new ideas to overcome self-criticism that you try out in your practice.