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The Therapist by Hugh Mackay

22/03/2023
The Therapist by Hugh Mackay

Social psychologist, writer and novelist Hugh Mackay goes behind the door of the psychologist’s office in his latest book The Therapist. The novel revolves around ageing psychiatrist Martha Elliot and a group of her clients, including a couple who, the reader knows early on, are not on the up-and-up. On the way it deals with themes around relationships, connections and connectedness, love, obsession and secrets.

Martha Elliot has a slightly irregular psychiatry practice. For most of her patients she starts sessions with not only some breathing exercises but with a foot massage. The Therapist introduces readers to a range of Martha’s clients – a man who is struggling in his relationship, an older woman who finds herself engaging with internet spam out of loneliness, a woman who cannot deal with the fact that he husband is himself seeing a therapist and a couple who, to Martha, seem a little off. That final couple, readers are keyed in fairly quickly, are not attending for therapy but as some sort of revenge ploy for reasons that will slowly become clear over the course of the narrative. Other key characters are Martha’s colleague Rob, who has found himself in a destructive relationship which he cannot seem to break free from, and Martha’s single adult daughter Samantha, who has decided to have a child once she finds an appropriate sperm donor.

The Therapist takes a compassionate and understanding approach to all of its characters. They are all interesting and engaging in their own ways and Mackay takes readers through their journeys of growth and self-realisation. Not everything works out as people expect but Mackay explores how their lives improve when they confront the issues that are worrying them or holding them back. Even when Martha’s sins are laid bare, Mackay allows readers to understand how they happened and focusses on how those around her support her dealing with the revelations. And while some of the resolution feels a little like wish fulfilment, by going into the processes Mackay earns his endings.

The Therapist manages to be cutting but also, when it needs to be, gentle and insightful. It explores and explains the art of therapy and why for some people having someone independent and understanding to talk to is essential for working through their issues. But it does not shy away from the need for Martha, Rob or their clients to also put in their own work. That therapy is not the solution in itself but is one way of possibly coming to a solution.

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The Therapist by Hugh Mackay

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The Therapist by Hugh Mackay

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