therapist memoir unsayable
Book Review

Therapist Memoir: Annie Rogers’ Shining Affliction and Unsayable

This post is about two therapist memoir books. I originally published this as two separate posts, which I’ve combined and updated here.

The therapist memoir The Unsayable: The Hidden Language of Trauma by Annie Rogers, PhD is one of my favorite books that I was assigned in grad school. I first read the book in one day. Then I read a big chunk of it for a second time shortly after. Then after that, I went back and checked out Rogers’ first book. It’s called A Shining Affliction: A Story of Harm and Healing in Psychotherapy. It’s another therapist memoir from earlier in her career.

About Annie Rogers, Therapist Memoir Author

Annie Rogers is a psychotherapist who shares case studies of some of her work with us in each of these books. She also has her own history of mental illness, including hallucinations and hospitalizations. A major focus area of her work has been studying French psychoanalyst Lacan. Studying it and then applying her interpretations of his theory to her own work. She is inspiring in her efforts. It was fascinating to read each of her therapist memoir books for different reasons.

Therapist memoir by Annie rogers

Therapist Memoir: A Shining Affliction

This first book, A Shining Affliction, is a therapist memoir of two different stories. Rogers weaves them together.

The first is the story of one of her earliest patients, a young boy that she worked with during her practicum year. His is a devastating story of neglect and abuse and the acting out that occurred as he tried to cope with the world around him. It’s also a powerful story of transformative healing through the therapeutic relationship. His story reminded me of so many of the kids I worked with in my group home work and her work with him is inspiring.

But her work is imperfect. And for a time she has to take a break from him. That’s because this therapist memoir is also her story – her story of her own breakdown, triggered by her work with young clients and complicated by a negative relationship with her own therapist. We see her work with another therapist as well as some psychology mentors. Furthermore, we see her heal.

These are human stories and so they are stories without endings, without perfect resolutions. Nevertheless, or as a result, perhaps, they are powerful. And it’s inspiring to have read this book after reading The Unsayable because I was already familiar with how inspiring Rogers’ work went on to become. It was even more inspiring after realizing the difficulties she surmounted to get there.

Favorite Quotes from Shining Affliction

What you fear most has already happened.”  This is the first line of a poem that Rogers writes and shares in this book. What a powerful statement. And it is so, so true.

“I feel suddenly wary. Everything within me is about to be named, boxed, contained and controlled. My hands rest on the arms of a green chair, but I feel as if they could lift up and lift me out of here. But they are still, lifeless. The top of my head lifts off (a strange sensation), and with it my answers to his questions lift and float out of me into the street where they mingle with the smoky breaths of passerby. There is no need to explain anything, I realize.” As someone who is always reaching for words, written and spoken, I’m intrigued by elective mutism. I feel like this scene (where a doctor is asking her why she’s in the hospital after a breakdown) gives me a glimpse.

“The gaps in memory draw us into memory, whether we know it or not.”

“In each moment in every life, there is a gesture hovering, to move toward or away from a truth.”

One more quote about silences

“I know already how to listen to different silences. There is a silence that lies in hiding, waiting for words, but the words of the speaker are carefully censored, for all but the ones the listener waits for go unheeded, denied, into this silence. This silence leaches confidence and vision from the speaker, so that the telling itself becomes unnatural, estranging, annihilating. This silence is a bog, thick. There is no breathing space within it. But there is also a silence that opens out, as a simple wood door opens out on a clean white field, cold, its long slope strewn with stars. This silence breathes and expands. This silence waits for words, too, and it welcomes the unexpected ones, the uncanny, disturbing, and surprising ones.” 

Therapist Memoir 2: Unsayable

In The Unsayable Rogers reveals more of her own story. She applies a new lens to it, having studied Lacan extensively in the meantime, alongside just gaining more insight into herself with age. Rogers also shares a large number of other case studies. These are the stories of young girls, primarily adolescents who were victims of sexual abuse. This includes one extensive case study of a girl that she worked with for a number of years, revealing the family’s intergenerational trauma.

Throughout the book, Rogers gives us information about how she works. This includes clear explanations of how she applies Lacan’s theories in her work. Lacan is a complex psychoanalytic theorist, difficult to understand for a number of reasons, but super fascinating. His work intrigues me. In particular, this book explores how “unsayable” traumas emerge not only in behavior but in language. We repeat words and phrases. These can be noticed and tied together. In turn, this reveals the truths about our unsayable things. It’s hard to describe but is endlessly fascinating.

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