You Put Together a Book: How Does That Make You Feel? An Interview with the Anthology’s Editor, Sherry Amatenstein
September 28, 2016 § 4 Comments
By Estelle Erasmus
I have a history with Sherry Amatenstein, the editor of How Does That Make You Feel? Confessions from Both Sides of the Therapy Couch, and a therapist herself. We were both magazine editor-in-chiefs at concurrent times in the mid to late 1990s with competitive publications. In the midst of this cut-throat competition, we founded a friendship, confounding our publishers.
After I dropped out of the publishing scene to get married and have my daughter in midlife, after a long struggle with infertility, Sherry and I reconnected. That’s when I learned that she was putting together an anthology with the unique viewpoint of therapy from both sides of the couch (therapists and patients). Anthologies are tricky. I have known people who have gotten involved in less than stellar publications, with less than adept editing and curating. I knew for sure that with Sherry at the helm I wouldn’t be.
I had a long buried secret in my past, that I’d told to a handful of people (including my own therapist of many years), but I knew that in Sherry’s capable hands, the story would not be made into click bait.
Thus, along with 33 other widely published writers, such as Patti Davis, Anna March, Susan Shapiro, Janice Eidus, Pamela Rafalow Grossman, Amy Klein, and therapists/writers like Juli Fragra, Jean Kim, and Jessica Zucker, I entrusted my story to Sherry.
I wrote about the sex-talking therapist I had sessions with as a teen in an essay I titled, “Therapy Undercover: Satin Shirts and Sex Talk.” There was a great early review of Sherry’s book in the Washington Post the other day and in Tablet.
I spoke with Sherry to dish the therapy dirt.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for the book?
A: An early ambition of mine was to be a therapist. As a child of Holocaust survivors I was immersed in pain. I thought of becoming a therapist, but winded up going into publishing instead. Then I volunteered at a suicide hotline, and at Ground Zero Food Service after 9/11. When I became a therapist in midlife, it was the culmination of a dream, because I had wanted to do it for so long. Frankly, becoming a therapist has been very hard work, but it has helped me to accept myself more. We are all crazy and neurotic. Being a writer and being a therapist are very similar. It involves being curious about other people, listening and writing.
I felt that the therapist is this blank screen, and then your patient projects on to you what they want to project. There is this profound exchange in the room, a compelling connection, but when you leave after 50 minutes, it’s over.
I put together the book, because in the age of the Internet, a therapist can’t be just that blank screen any more. I decided I wanted to demystify the process and obliterate the boundaries for people who are in therapy as well as therapists.
People idolize therapists and treat them in ways that are not good for them. I wanted to illuminate the relationships from both sides. I also did the book to preserve therapist’s sanity. We have to take care of ourselves. It’s like you are never off duty. I mean, I sometimes get calls from patients who are suicidal. You need to set boundaries, and be there for patients as well.
Q: What did you look for in contributors?
A: Everyone had to be a professional writer. For a lot of people it was like a therapy session writing these pieces, because some of them had difficulty going to such a deep, dark place. Your piece was really good right off the get go. I have to say I was like a shark. Whenever I saw anyone had any therapy related stories, I pounced. I also met writers I loved at events and invited them to submit. Once I had the deal with Seal Press, it became even easier to get people to contribute.
Q: How did you approach the essays from the therapists?
A: It was harder to get therapists who were good writers. Some very well known therapists dropped out of the book at the eleventh hour, because they were worried about exposing themselves. I was looking for a wide range of voices and for them to reveal the truth about their doubts, fears and processes. Jean Kim, talked about her own therapy, Jenine Holmes wrote about how black people don’t go to therapy, Megan Devine wrote about feeling “imposter syndrome” as a therapist, Nina Gaby’s piece talks about boundaries between therapist and patient.
The therapists are showing that they are real people and don’t need to be placed on pedestals. I had concerns about displaying their essays, but I thought it was important. My point of view is you can’t do this work without caring about the people.
Q: Do your patients know about the book?
A: I’ve been telling my patients about it, although I’m a little nervous about it. I’m still me, but I wanted to be revealing in a way that didn’t hurt my patients. I run groups for writers with self esteem issues. Most knew I’ve published other books in the past, but I don’t mind if they don’t buy my book.
Q: What’s next for you?
A: Right now, I’m not looking into doing another book. After this experience, maybe I’ll dive further into my therapy.
Estelle Erasmus is a widely published journalist, writing coach and former magazine editor-in-chief. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, The Washington Post, Newsweek, Vox, Next Avenue/PBS, and more. She is the chair for the American Society of Journalists and Authors 2017 New York City conference. Her website is EstelleSErasmus.com and her twitter handle is @EstelleSErasmus
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW, is a NYC-based therapist and author of The Q&A Dating Book, Love Lessons From Bad Breakups, and The Complete Marriage Counselor. She has written for Hemispheres, Brides, MarieClaire, vox.com, qz.com and DAME.com. Her website is howdoesthatmakeyoufeelbook.com and her twitter handle is @sherapynyc