Behind the Voices features the hosts and guests of Book Club. The rules of engagement are simple: MHPN asks four questions, and our hosts and guests provide their answers. What's the point? To get a sense of the voices behind each episode ... How they think, what they're currently reading, what they've learnt through or since their initital conversation, and what book they'd want to discuss next on Book Club.
Read on to hear from Dr Phyllis Kosminsky and Christopher Hall from 'Book Club: Understanding Grief from 'Practice to Theory and Back Again'
Book Club is essentially a conversation between two mental health practitioners. As the host of Book Club episode 'Labours of Love: Understanding Grief from 'Practice to Theory and Back Again', can you identify and describe a moment or comment during your conversation that sparked a new perspective on lived experiences of grief and its impact on the work that therapists do, specifically those working in the area of grief and bereavement?
What I was left with was the paradox that Phyllis identified – of experiencing COVID-19 as part of a global community and at the same time at the individual's level experiencing a profound sense of isolation and disconnection. Hearing Phyllis reflect upon what the pandemic has done to helping professionals who are feeling crushed under the weight of people’s grief also struck me.
Chris asked me about how it happened that I came to work in the field of grief and loss, one which I had avoided throughout my education and my professional life up to that point. In responding, it occurred to me that on some level I knew that if I made the decision to work with grieving people, the work would pull me in for a long time. Which it did, and continues to do.
What was it like to interview Phyllis for Book Club, given that you were speaking directly with the author of your chosen text (a first in the series so far)?
And… was there anything you wanted to ask or discuss further with Phyllis that you didn't get to cover in this episode? If so, what was it?
Phyllis and I usually catch up in person at least once per year. Our conversation felt natural and comfortable and, in many ways, reflected the depth of our day-to-day conversations. In terms of unasked questions, we come from different work contexts – me running a large government funded national bereavement organisation and Phyllis involved in private practice and writing. Me as a psychologist and Phyllis as a Clinical Social Worker do bring different biases and frames of reference to our work and it would have been good to explore our different professional assumptive worlds in some greater depth.
If you found yourself in the same room with yourself from 2020 (when you wrote ‘From practice to theory and back again…’ and published, what would you say to yourself?
I’m glad that you were given the opportunity to look back on the last 25 years of your professional life; it was interesting to see how your way of understanding grief and working with grieving people has evolved over that time. A lot of people who read your article felt a resonance with what you had to say about what we think
we know about helping people based on our education and training, and what we actually
know and use in our work, much of which comes from lived experience.
And… if Phyllis from 2020 were to listen to your current episode, how do you think she would respond?
PHYLLIS KOSMINSKY: A lot happened in that discussion! The interviewer drew out details of your early experience of loss and his questions encouraged you to explore how that experience initially made you want to avoid working with the bereaved, but ultimately led to the realization that this was the work you were meant to do.
To give our readers a sense of the person behind the voice of Book Club episode 6, can you tell us what you last read for pleasure and / or what you last read for work, and sum each up in three words?
CHRISTOPHER HALL: For work – The First Kiss by Perth-based psychologist Daryl Chow which looks at the first encounter with a client, moving away from the traditional intake model to one of deep engagement with clients. – provocative, practical and sensible.
For pleasure – Digital Minimalism: On living better with less technology by Cal Newport. This encouraged me to take a digital sabbatical and disconnect from my hyper-connected digital world and social media. – refreshing, disturbing and challenging.
PHYLLIS KOSMINSKY: Work: Cornerstones of Attachment Research: Engaging, exhaustive, enlightening.
Pleasure: Lincoln in the Bardo: Immersive, heartbreaking, revelatory.
If you had a chance to talk about another book / text of your choosing on Book Club, what would it be and why?
CHRISTOPHER HALL: I think it would be Love Factually: The science of who, how & why we love. It has been said that of you want to become an expert in loss, become an expert in love and I believe that there is more than a small amount of truth in this. This book is based on hundreds of interviews in over 40 countries and explores how we think, feel and behave when it comes to love.
PHYLLIS KOSMINSKY: I love the psychologist Jon Allen’s writing and I’m especially fond of his book Restoring Mentalizing in Attachment Relationships: Treating Trauma With Plain Old Therapy. Allen has written a great deal about the lasting effects of early relational trauma, and in this book he makes a research based case for the value of the therapeutic relationship and the “talking cure” (which is really the talking and listening cure) in healing old attachment based wounds.
We've talked a lot about words… We've had a chance to hear your voice in the podcast…
Could you show us your bookshelf, favourite reading spot, last book you read, or something else?
I have attached two – one of my bookshelves and one of my desk which has been transformed more into a television studio in the age of online teaching and meetings.