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This article is taken from PN Review 149, Volume 29 Number 3, January - February 2003.

Plath and Hughes among the Psychiatrists Felicity Rosslyn

Psychiatrists are not the obvious people to read poetry with. Having trained in the first place as clinicians, they have a scientific background, and if they read anything at all, it is not likely to be poetry. But modern psychiatry embraces the various psychotherapies too, the 'talking cures', and among the practitioners of these are many who have grown to distrust the drug-dispensing culture and have trained in alternative treatments of mental disturbance. These psychotherapeutic psychiatrists are as likely to be filmgoers, and fiction or poetry readers as arts graduates might be. There is also a growing movement to incorporate the arts somewhere in every student's clinical training (already well established in the United States and Australia) and to reach out to the humanities for insight at the professional level, which psychotherapists are very willing to promote. This goes to explain what I, as a university teacher of English, was recently doing with a large group of psychotherapeuticallyminded psychiatrists at a national conference. Some of their colleagues were elsewhere learning about such practicalities as family therapy for anorexia, but a quarter of the conference opted for a literature workshop - with a mixture of excitement and gratitude that testified to a strongly-felt need.

I ran three workshops in the course of the day on the theme of 'The Family Dynamic and the Roots of Violence: Looking Through Literature'. The first centred on the ambiguities of child-rearing, the dangerous proximity of the power to nurture to the power ...


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