What is it about driving across the Anzac Bridge that unnerves him? And why, when he has always been so active, is his energy slipping away?
Ryan has never doubted his strength. But for no accountable reason his sanity is on the line. He needs to talk to someone. But how do you communicate to another person what you don’t know yourself? With his options running out, he consults Clea, a therapist who is more at home in the world of emotion but who has unresolved issues of her own. Ryan, her new client, is not like her former lover in any obvious way. But in light of the evolving synchronicities, perhaps the source of his distress is similar. In the process of client-therapist interaction, and with the stakes high for both of them, personal and professional boundaries intersect in navigating a path for which there are few sign posts.
The casting‑open of wounds in authentically therapeutic interaction
What I love about The Bronze Cast –– a novel I read entirely in one sitting –– is the way the author Pam Stavropoulos so deftly and tentatively navigates an inkled path to the revealing self‑concealing truth of what is incipiently at stake in a genuinely empathetic “client‑therapist interaction”.
In the present scenario, the focus of attention for client and therapist alike is to regain the well‑being of a man named Ryan who desperately seeks relief from what have become debilitating anxiety and panic attacks that are ruining his life. For her part, the therapist Clea, while not privy to the source of Ryan’s as yet unfathomable discomfort, is attentive from the outset to emerging hints, including in dreams [Grm: Träume] of an unknown yet memorable trauma [Grm: Trauma < the Grk word for “wound”] in Ryan’s past.
How can Clea comport herself empathetically toward Ryan’s emotional distress (and its alleviation) if she is unwilling or unable to bare her empathic soul to her own self? As a psychotherapist for whom the inspiration and discipline of clinical appraisal (“supervision”) by another psychotherapist (“supervisor”) is critical, the author obliges Clea to lay bare the soul of her therapeutic approach to Ryan in regular supervision sessions with Robert, the man who is her therapist‑cum‑supervisor. In her usual role on these occasions, she is not just Ryan’s therapist but Robert’s ‘client’.
This adds another dimension to the novel’s superbly in‑depth exploration of the high stakes involved for those who care to be bold enough to engage in the casting‑open of wounds (sufferings, bearings) ‘of the mind’ in an authentically healing interaction. This novel gives us, its readers, a rare insight into the open‑reveal (and self‑concealing) of psychology (the logos ‘of the psyche’) and the care‑ful practising of psychotherapy (the healing ‘of the psyche’).
— Marnie Hanlon, BA(Hons), PhD, 17 December 2019
Throughout this war which is stunning in its savagery, I have managed to cordon off my feelings from my thoughts. To compartmentalise. But now the images of carnage are mounting; my psyche is flooding like a dam bursting its walls. I dream of vultures, pausing for the death throes of their prey. Of former sports stadiums converted to concentration camps. Of an expressionless expression. And of a silk scarf fluttering in the breeze.
Dominic Vukasinovic has retreated into intellect. Cultivating the mind, at the expense of emotion, has been his narcotic. But now that path is as lethal to him as the most potent drug or alcohol. Far from insulating him, excessive self-reliance has made him dangerously vulnerable. Arriving in Sydney, Australia, after fleeing the war in Yugoslavia, he is outwardly safe at least. Now it is subjective snipers with which he must contend. In his attempts to relate to his therapist, Alison Gage, who confronts internal battles of her own, Dominic taps depths of feeling which have previously been inaccessible. And which he is ill equipped to navigate.
Toward an appreciative therapeutic interaction
Following her novel The Bronze Cast (Tredition, 2019), in Wall of Fire Pam Stavropoulos is again on a path to exploring what is incipiently at stake in a genuinely empathetic ‘client-therapist interaction’. The setting is Sydney, Australia, far from the ravages of war-torn Sarajevo, Yugoslavia, from which Dominic Vukasinovic, a man of keen intellect and vulnerable sensibility, has fled. Whilst Dominic’s competence as a successful academic was never in doubt – not even in his own increasingly agitated mind – habitual reliance on intellectual pursuits at the expense of emotional well-being now threatens to unravel a coherent sense of self. His therapist, Alison Gage (from whom Dominic seeks guidance to help restore the equilibrium of an inward calm) is a woman boldly facing her own trials and tribulations with an open mind.
As a diligently self-appraising practitioner for whom the guiding advice and discipline of clinical appraisal by another psychotherapist-cum-supervisor is essential to any genuinely empathetic client-therapist interaction, Alison is not relieved of the pressure to lay bare her own self in the process. As with The Bronze Cast, this gesture / device also enables the author of Wall of Fire to explore, in a refreshingly open and transparent manner, many of the taboo topics that might otherwise be ‘unheard-of’, even swept under the carpet, in scholarly discussions around the theory and practice of psychotherapy.
— Marnie Hanlon, BA(Hons), PhD, 19 June 2020
‘It’s hard to find people you can talk to about this kind of stuff’’
She is being consulted in her professional capacity but his words resonate at a personal level as well. Holly Ladall is a therapist and mother of a young son. She is also increasingly unsettled by a combination of things, from aspects of her family history to the unfolding of national and global events. Needy client, fully integrated therapist. Who believed that anymore? She knows the importance of examining her own responses. But it is also easy to deflect from the questions they raise. And as much as she is trying not to, maybe that is what she has started to do.
In this confronting novel, diverse contexts collide. While believing she can handle the escalating pressure, Holly finds herself struggling in unforeseen ways. Can she assist Grant and Aaron, two clients who pose stark and contrasting challenges? Is Sophie, her friend and employee, trapped in a traumatic re-enactment? Are there senses in which she herself might be? Which is worse – not to know yourself, or to be revealed in all your complexity? Against the wider terrain of 9/11 and polarised responses to ‘the refugee crisis’, personal dynamics intersect with dilemmas of abuse, sadomasochistic sex and social justice – to startling effect.
On the brink of (sex, politics, and) psychotherapy
With the publication of Pam Stavropoulos’ “Slow Provocation”, the third and likely most provocative novel of an impressive trilogy published with Tredition.com (see “The Bronze Cast” and “Wall of Fire”) the author fits together pieces in a psycho-somatic jig-saw puzzle where the stakes are high for those of us teetering on the brink of a genuine psycho-therapeutic (healing-of-the-mind) interaction. In all three novels, the author maintains her special focus on what is truly at stake –– for client and therapist respectively –– in a genuinely empathetic ‘client-therapist interaction’. But in “Slow Provocation”, Holly Ladall is a practising psychotherapist who will boldly go where others fear to tread in both her professional and personal life.
Which brings us to the heady mix of sex and psychotherapy and how, in “Slow Provocation”, this compelling combination has a mind-blowing role to play. At issue is a potent mix of psycho-sexual desire, guilt, and trepidation, yet potential healing-of-the-mind in exploration of traumatic re-enactment both inside and outside the clinical setting. The synopsis only hints at why this title might turn out to be a “confronting novel” where “diverse contexts collide” and “Holly finds herself struggling in unforeseen ways” with the escalating pressure in both settings “to startling effect”. It does not dwell on the distress of conscience she will associate with her most private willingness to engage sadomasochistic sex (therapy?) as self-exploration, potential source of political and clinical insight, as well as a form of stress relief and escape.
In her profession the stakes are high indeed, and as a practising psychotherapist, Holly is behoven to tackle the issues raised head-on and at their source. Which she does with the same commitment and dedication to diligent self-appraisal that Pam Stavropoulos also demands of her therapist-protagonists in “The Bronze Cast” and “Wall of Fire” respectively. In “Slow Provocation”, especially, we learn to hone and home in on what it is like to teeter on the brink of a genuine healing-of-the-mind-body interaction through, of all things, sex, politics, and psychotherapy!
— Marnie Hanlon, BA(Hons), PhD, 21 December 2020